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Melissa Franklin is the first woman ever to achieve tenure in the Harvard physics department. She is an experimental particle physicist who has been working on the Collider Detector at[…]

Melissa Franklin never had any intention of becoming one of the world’s leading particle physicists. She says went into the field because “she wasn’t smart enough” to do anything else, and was lured by having the chance to build things, play with computers, and philosophize all in one job.

Question: At what age did you know you wanted to be a scientist?

Melissa Franklin: Yeah. I never really wanted to be a scientist, but I got very interested in physics when I was about 15. I had quit school when I was 13 and I just somehow got interested in physics and then I just thought I’d study it for a while until I could do something else. And things happened in such a way that that never happened.

Question: What did you want to be?

Melissa Franklin: Well you know, I wanted to be an editor for fiction, or a filmmaker, or a great writer, or a Jazz musician.

Question: And what led you particle physics?

Melissa Franklin: I wasn’t really smart enough to be any of those other things. Unfortunately. The thing about particle physics is that it’s very intellectual alluring and then you get to do a lot of really fun things in it. You get to build huge experiments and you actually do it yourself. So you get to drive forklifts and you get to work with flammable gasses and explosive things and you get to drill things. At the same time, you get to think about quantum mechanics and philosophical things and you get to write computer code. You get to do a lot of things that are very fun and you don’t normally get to do them in life. Usually you just move into an apartment that’s already made and then you just cook dinner. I mean that’s it, right? But in this case you get to build the whole thing and wire it and do everything. That may not make any sense, but you really get to do a lot of fun things and I guess that sort of kept me in it.

Recorded on: October 21, 2009