Meenakshi Narain (May 9, 1964 – January 1, 2023) was a distinguished Indian-born American experimental physicist who left an indelible mark on the world of science. Throughout her career, she held various prominent positions, including that of a Professor of Physics and Chair of the Department of Physics at Brown University. Notably, she also served as the Chair of the Collaboration Board of U.S. institutions in the groundbreaking Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Collaboration, where she contributed significantly to major discoveries such as the top quark in 1995 and the Higgs Boson in 2012.
Early Life and Education
Meenakshi Narain was born on May 9, 1964, in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. As a young student, she faced pivotal moments in her educational journey, transferring to another all-girls school during high school to pursue a math track that eventually led her to the fascinating world of physics and statistics. Despite familial expectations leaning towards a career in law, Narain forged her path in physics. She completed her undergraduate studies with a B.Sc. at Gorakhpur University and a M.Sc. at IIT Kanpur. Her academic journey culminated with a Ph.D. at Stony Brook University, where she conducted groundbreaking research with her dissertation titled “Inclusive Photon Spectra from Upsilon States,” under the guidance of Juliet Lee-Franzini. Following her doctorate, Narain continued to make significant contributions as a visiting fellow at the Laboratory of Nuclear Studies, Cornell University, and as a post-doctoral researcher at the prestigious Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory from 1991 to 1995, where she also held the title of a Wilson Fellow.
Before joining the faculty at Brown University in 2007, Meenakshi Narain was a valued member of the faculty at Boston University, where she served diligently for eight years. Her dedication and contributions to the field of physics led to her promotion to the rank of full professor in 2010. Her research prowess extended across various experiments, including the significant involvement in the DØ experiment at Fermilab, which culminated in the discovery of the top quark in 1995.
Narain’s remarkable journey continued as she actively participated in the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where she played a pivotal role in the discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson in 2012. Her commitment to advancing the frontiers of science extended beyond research, as she assumed the role of Chair of the Collaboration Board of U.S. institutions in the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Collaboration from July 2018 to July 2022.
Advocacy and Outreach
In addition to her groundbreaking scientific contributions, Meenakshi Narain was a passionate advocate for gender equality in STEM fields. She dedicated her efforts to championing the cause of women in science, leaving a lasting impact on the landscape of STEM. Furthermore, she was a fervent promoter of science communication to the general public, actively participating in events such as the WaterFire Big Bang Science Fair in Providence, Rhode Island.
Meenakshi Narain‘s untimely passing in 2023 marked the end of an era in the world of physics, but her legacy lives on through her remarkable contributions to science, her advocacy for women in STEM, and her dedication to advancing our understanding of the universe.