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Experimentalists are the cowboys of physics,” says Melissa Franklin, an experimental particle physicist at Harvard University. They have to be able to tell theorists, “I don’t care about your stupid theory, I’m going to measure this.”

That feeling of being on the edge, she says, is part of what makes science so exciting. Scientists can also be on the leading social edge. One of Franklin’s heroes, the experimental physicist Ernest Rutherford, had many women graduate students in his lab. “He was ahead of his time in supporting women scientists,” Franklin explains.

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It’s a history that she added to, when she became the first tenured woman professor at Harvard University. Her storied career also included being on the FermiLab team that found some of the first evidence for the top quark.

In this latest installment of Nautilus’ Spark of Science series, Franklin tells us why Rutherford was such an inspiration, and takes us into the heart of her work at the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator.

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