Solving the Mysteries of the Universe and Using Skype

What’s a Higgs boson? No, it’s not a fancy British surname but rather the missing piece of the puzzle that helps us understand the sub-atomic world. Tentatively proven to exist just this spring, this particle could be the biggest scientific discovery of our time.

Top physicists like Dr. Gabriella Sciolla aren’t able search for Higgs boson through a simple microscope. Dr. Sciolla, who teaches at Brandeis University outside of Boston, must travel to CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab to work with the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider.

Located in a 17-mile long tunnel under the Swiss-French border, the Large Hadron Collider accelerates protons to almost the speed of light and then collides them at the center of two gigantic detectors, ATLAS and CMS, which Dr. Sciolla calls “modern cathedrals of science.” However, there are very few labs like CERN in the world, which means that much of Dr. Sciolla’s career is spent travelling.

Sciolla and her husband, Harvard physicist Masahiro Morii, are both involved with CERN. In theory, they could be traveling to the same labs and sitting in the same meetings, but both must balance their research with teaching responsibilities at their universities and care for their two children.

“If Skype didn’t exist, scientists would be dead or in debt,” laughs Dr. Sciolla. “Most scientists are not wealthy people and we must spend long periods of time away from our families. It is hard. But Skype helps to overcome that.”

Born into a farming family in Turin, Italy, Sciolla first learned of her calling when Italian particle physicist Carlo Rubbia won the Nobel Prize in 1984. Young Sciolla saw the headlines and immediately knew what she wanted to do with her life. She continues to have a true passion for her work, but such dedication has its price.

Contacted by Skype Video Call at her desk at CERN, she says, “I am often away from home, sometimes for periods of one or two months. It is difficult but not like it was in the past because Skype lets me actually interact with my husband and kids. I can see what they are up to and actually be present for the dinner conversation.”

She continues, “Beyond keeping up with my family, Skype is also the unofficial means of communication between my fellow researchers when we are in different locations and is what I use to talk to my PhD students too.”

After the interview, Sciolla made a Skype call to a PhD candidate in Portland, Oregon. Perhaps part of that conversation will lead to the next great scientific discovery.

Here at Skype, we’re not claiming that we helped uncover the mysteries of the universe. But we’re glad to know that we’re involved in our own little way.