by Virginia Greco. Published: 15 January 2019

After completing her PhD in ALICE, last October Audrey Francisco-Bosson was awarded the L'Oréal-Unesco French national Fellowship, assigned to talented women working in science. We talked with her about her research interests and activities.

Audrey Francisco in her office [Credit: L’Oréal/Carl Diner]


A pronounced curiosity about understanding the world around her drove Audrey towards science and, at first, nuclear engineering studies. During her undergraduate courses, though, she went to the University of Liverpool (UK) for a three-month internship and there she had the occasion to contribute to an analysis project for the ALICE experiment. The timing was very good because that same year CERN organized the open days, allowing thousands of people to visit its facilities both underground and on the surface. Audrey took this opportunity to visit CERN and, in particular, the ALICE experimental site. “Going down in the cavern and seeing the detector with my own eyes was a very overwhelming experience,” she comments. 

She was undoubtedly captivated, to the point that, once she had finished her engineering studies, she signed up for a Master Degree in High Energy Physics at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, in France. “At that time, for me this was like ‘taking a break’ to offer myself the chance to study fundamental physics. Some people go on sabbatical leave to travel the world, I took a sabbatical to discover the quantum world,” she laughs.

During this Master, Audrey joined the ALICE group at SUBATECH, in Nantes, to work on the Muon Forward Tracker (MFT) upgrade and, later, she applied for a PhD in the same group, under the supervision of Ginés Martínez García. “The PhD was an amazing opportunity for me because I could put to work my double background, as an engineer and as a particle physicist,” states Audrey. “In fact, I could work both on data analysis and on detector development.

Her analysis work focused on the measurement of the J/Ψ elliptic flow in Pb-Pb collisions and it produced very interesting results, which were eagerly awaited by the heavy ion community. They showed that some J/Ψ mesons are produced by recombination of charm quarks at the LHC and their comparison with D meson measurements provided strong indications that the charm quark is thermalizing in the QGP. “Something that I find really stimulating is the fact that many theoretical models failed to describe the results in Pb-Pb collisions, which means that there is still a lot to understand in quarkonium physics,” Audrey explains. “Certainly, the data that ALICE has recently collected and the future detector upgrade will provide important insights into quarkonium production, in particular via Ψ(2S) and Υ measurements.” On the hardware side, she worked on the characterization of the ALPIDE sensor for the ITS and MFT upgrade.

Shortly after defending her thesis (last September), Audrey was informed that she had been awarded a L’Oréal-Unesco fellowship for women in science. The L’Oréal foundation partners with the Unesco and the Academie des Sciences to promote gender equality by supporting young female researchers at early stages of their career. Audrey had applied to the fellowship on her supervisor’s advice, but she was not very optimistic, because she knew there were many applicants. “The news that I had been chosen arrived very unexpected and, of course, made me very happy.” She was one of the 30 young women, out of 900 participants, who received a grant to continue their research activities and progress in their career. “It has been a very empowering experience and I hope that I will be able to contribute to raise awareness, as well as to increase the ratio of women in science,” declares Audrey.

Indeed, since she received the L’Oréal-Unesco fellowship, she has got involved in actions to promote the participation of young girls in science. She is collaborating with some French associations trying to bring female scientists to high schools, to inspire the new generations and help contrast the stereotypes about gender and professions.

Winners of the 2018 L'Oreal-Unesco fellowship for women in science (Audrey is second from the right in the front row). [Credit: L'oréal-Unesco]


One month ago, Audrey started a postdoctoral fellowship at the Yale University and joined the STAR experiment. “I was curious to discover a new experiment, since I had already spent a few years in ALICE. I think that by changing the tools that you use – in this case both the detector and the type of collisions – you can understand better what you are studying and also recognize possible biases that might affect your analysis. I also wanted to change topic and study different probes. I believe I will be working on jets, but I don’t know yet in what analysis I will participate. I am still getting acquainted with the new environment and with the STAR experiment.

During her free time, Audrey loves to read, to dance ballet and do sports. She particularly enjoys skiing, something that she might not be able to practice for some time. “Actually, I learnt that not too far away – on an American scale, which means two or three hours driving – there is some mountains to ski on,” she comments.

What will she do later? Will she return to Europe? Will she go back to the ALICE experiment? It’s early to say. One way or the other, ALICE will keep being close to her heart, since it marked her career path. Actually, her first encounter with ALICE occurred even before university. “I was still in high school when, on a science magazine for young people, I found an article on the ALICE experiment. I read it and everything seemed very interesting and fascinating. The funny part is that I had forgotten about that article; it came back to my mind only some years ago, when I was already working in ALICE,” she says laughing.