Which is tougher, finding the world’s smallest particles with a multi-million dollar supercollider, or surviving the halls of the competitive, male-dominated Harvard Physics Department as a women? Melissa Franklin, who visited Big Think this week is the only person in the world who can answer this question—she’s done both. The particle physicist was the first to gain tenure at Harvard, and she has led some pioneering work at Fermilab, and soon will be helping in the operation of the latest giant particle smasher, the Large Hadron Collider (or LHC). We asked her how she got her start, what exactly a particle physicist does (and why), what the LHC will be able to do.

Franklin also poked fun at popular scientists, gave her career advice, and explained what keeps her up at night.