Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli (1954- ) is a Moroccan nuclear physicist, and her contributions at CERN made the discovery of the Higgs boson particle possible.
Rajaa had to fight against convention in order to study science. She had to persuade her father to allow her to go to France to study for her postgraduate, at a time when Moroccan women rarely moved out of the home until they got married.
After her studies, Rajaa returned to Morocco where she worked as a professor at the University Mohammed V, Rabat. She used her role there to raise the standard of science in her home country. She established several masters courses, and works to get Moroccan universities involved in the international science communities so that they can be up to date with the latest innovations happening worldwide. To this day she works hard as the leader of a range of organisations to push the boundaries of science and innovation. However, her most well known work contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson, one of the most important discoveries made in science.
The theory about the existence of the particle was fist proposed in 1964 by Peter Higgs. Considered to be a fundamental building block of the universe, efforts soon began in order to try to prove it’s existence, which, if found, would greatly improve our understanding of the universe and how it works. It still hadn’t been found in 1996, when Rajaa joined the research team, and it was probably finally found in 2012, almost 50 years after it was named.
‘Professor Cherkaoui El Moursli contributed significantly to the construction, simulation, test and launch of the Electromagnetic Calorimeter, one of the sub-detectors of the ATLAS experiment. To great fanfare and thanks partly to her contribution to the ATLAS detector, the existence of the Higgs Boson was indeed proven. And, along with it, new pathways for exploring the nature of matter and energy.’ (source)
Rajaa is an inspiration to anyone who wants to pursue a career that you’re told could be off limits. Instead of waiting at home for a husband, as she was expected to do, Rajaa forged her own path, and was there for one of the biggest scientific discoveries in history; something which perhaps wouldn’t yet be discovered without her work. Not only this, but she also dedicates herself to being a ‘research activist,’ ensuring the high standards of teaching in Moroccan universities, as well as improving the range of disciplines taught. While she has been awarded multiple awards, I nevertheless feel that she is not well-known enough outside of Morocco and physics, which is why I’ve chosen to illustrate her.