This week, Swiss skier Dominique Gisin dashed through a 1.7-mile course into an unprecedented tie for the gold in the woman’s downhill event at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
But Gisin’s need for speed goes beyond the slopes. In 2009, the Swiss TV show Sportpanorama gave Gisin—who had just won two International Ski Federation World Cup downhill victories—the chance to pick one of a large variety of exciting activities. She chose to visit CERN, home of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator.
Michael Hoch, a CMS physicist and professional ski instructor, gave Gisin a tour of the CMS detector, one of the two largest at the Large Hadron Collider, during her visit at CERN.
“She was fascinated by CMS,” Hoch says. “She was impressed by the size and the appearance of the detector, but she was also interested in what we are studying and why we constructed it. She was truly interested in our physics and our world.”
Hoch watched Gisin’s Olympic performance and says he was very excited to see her tie for the gold medal with Tina Maze of Slovenia. “It was simply amazing, and her emotional reaction was very touching,” he says.
Hoch thinks it’s natural for a professional skier such as Gisin to be enthusiastic about physics.
“At the level she skis, it’s a science,” Hoch says. “Everything she does has an impact on her performance. I wasn’t surprised that she was fascinated by what we are doing, because her life is also driven by science.”
S: Why did you choose to visit CERN in 2009?
DG: I liked physics a lot in school, so when I was asked about something special to visit in Switzerland, the choice was pretty easy.
S: What was a highlight of your visit to CERN?
DG: To see how immense the whole project was and also how detailed at the same time. It's one of the most impressive things I've seen in my life. It gave me even more motivation to study physics after my skiing career.
S: Why are you interested in fundamental physics?
DG: I just like nature and mathematics, so physics is the logical consequence of this. I had a great teacher for physics in high school; he definitely made me fall in love with physics.
S: Is there any connection between your passions for skiing and enthusiasm for physics?
DG: I think it's all about power, energy, speed. Skiing is full of physics, as is our daily life.