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A talent and a love for physics: Olga Borisovna Igonkina 1973–2019

9 July 2019

Nikhef particle physicist and prominent member of the ATLAS experiment at CERN, Olga Igonkina, passed away on 19 May in Amsterdam at the age of 45.

Olya, as she was known to most of us, was born in 1973 in Moscow. Her father was an engineer, her mother a biological scientist. At age 14 she went to a special school for children talented in mathematics and in 1991 started her studies in physics at the Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology. Two years later Olya moved to the ITEP institute to specialise in particle physics, working at the ARGUS experiment and later the HERA-B experiment at DESY.

Olya wrote her dissertation about J/ψ production in HERA-B, with Mikhail Danilov as her supervisor. In 2002 she moved to BaBar at SLAC as a postdoc with the University of Oregon in the group of Jim Brau, where she worked on searches for lepton-flavour-violating tau decays and became convener of the BaBar tau working group. In 2006 she moved to CERN to spearhead Oregon’s new ATLAS group. Her work in ATLAS concentrated on the trigger, where she contributed to many activities with great ideas and enthusiasm, in particular as the trigger-menu coordinator during the startup of the LHC, and later on physics with tau leptons. She began her appointment at Nikhef in 2008 and in 2015 became a professor at Radboud University in Nijmegen.

For her efforts on the ATLAS trigger, Olya was given an ATLAS outstanding achievement award in 2018. Physics-wise, her passion was lepton flavour violation, in particular in tau decays. Intrigued by the hints of lepton-flavour violation in B decays reported by the LHCb experiment and B factories, and always on the lookout for a niche in a large collaboration, in 2018 Olya moved some of her efforts from tau to B physics. She took responsibility for the B-hadron triggers with the aim of collecting an even larger sample of B decays in ATLAS for the final year of Run 2. She was working on preparations for an RK measurement until her very last days.

Besides being a talented scientist, Olya was a dedicated teacher. She supervised an impressive number of PhD students and was very successful in obtaining research grants. She was also very active in outreach activities, with masterclasses and open days at Nikhef, and in community building at ATLAS. Recently she organised the 15th International Workshop on Tau Lepton Physics conference in Amsterdam.

Olya was a passionate physicist who was bursting with ideas. Among several tributes from her colleagues, Olya was described as a future experiment leader. She had a memorably strong work ethos, and until the very last moment refused to let her illness affect her work. She was always cheerful and always positive. Her attitude to work and life will remain a source of inspiration to many of us.

Olya leaves behind her husband, Wouter Hulsbergen of Nikhef, and two children.

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