A Biologist at CERN

Polly Bennett

At some point north of Dijon the strained groaning from my little Ford Ka suggested I might not make the journey here from London. It could have been a lack of oil, or water, or a problem with the exhaust. I have no idea. I am a biologist by training and so inanimate objects are a constant mystery to me. Luckily the radio drowned out the noise and so it was forgotten. Fate dictated I would make the journey un-scathed, which is a shame in one way as an odyssey would have been more entertaining to report on. However, French motorways are just too well maintained (but so they should be for what they cost in tolls).

Polly Bennett

Polly Bennett on her travels

I have just finished my Msc in Science Communication at Imperial College London and come to CERN to serve as your new journalist on the ALICE Matters editorial team. I anticipate that I might not be very popular as I will regularly be bugging you all for interviews or stories.

Although my physical journey to CERN was straightforward, my life journey has been via a very convoluted route. My school life was dominated by a fascination with the arts, but a 7 month round the world trip when I was 19 changed my mind about that. I travelled through such beautiful and diverse ecosystems as the hanging valleys of New Zealand, the Gobi Desert, and the unforgiving Tibetan Plateau. I was utterly taken aback by the beauty of how these ecosystems flourished and so did my undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Southampton in my home country of England. I specialised in plant biology and ecology, which introduced me to the tangled and controversial world of genetic modification and plant biotechnology. The issues seemed less about the science and more about media management and the PR machines of conservation organisations and biotech companies. In this confusing soup of exaggeration, subversion and sensationalism I saw clear and un-biased communication was lacking. With this inspiration, and the skills I learnt as travel editor of my student newspaper, I threw myself into my Msc and the science communication world of London.

I find myself here at CERN due to a chance opening in the editorial team, which coincided perfectly with the end of my studies. This is in fact the perfect place for me to be following my Msc dissertation. I wrote a piece of experimental philosophy, about the relationship between science and that core, elemental thing that is the ‘self'. It was fascinating to see how this relationship played out in my test subjects and will be something I enjoy witnessing here.

I am excited to be in France/Switzerland as I am a keen hiker and general lover of the outdoors. I will be living in a village half way up the Jura and so plan to spend my weekends scurrying across the mountains. I read and read and read – mostly fantasy or science fiction and am an unashamedly obsessive fan of The Lord of the Rings. But I am also a lover of travel writing and popular science.

All in all I want to channel my varied education and experience so that I might enjoy my time here at CERN and be of use in the job I am meant to be doing. It's nice, finally, to be free of the chains of academic essay writing!

Alice Matters