Experimental particle physicist Meenakshi Narain, an inspirational leader and champion of diversity, died unexpectedly on 1 January 2023 in Providence, RI. Considered by many as a “force of nature”, Meenakshi’s impact on the physics community has left an indelible mark.
Meenakshi grew up in Gorakhpur, India and emigrated to the US in 1984 for graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook. Her PhD thesis, based on data taken by the CUSB-II detector at CESR, utilised inclusive photon spectra from upsilon decays for both spectroscopy measurements and searches for exotic particles, including the Higgs boson. In 1991 Meenakshi joined Fermilab as a postdoc on the DØ experiment, where she was a principal player in the 1995 discovery of the top quark, leading a group searching for top anti–top pair production in the dilepton channel. Over the next decade, as a Fermilab Wilson Fellow and a faculty member at Boston University, she made seminal contributions to measurements of top-quark pair and single-top production, as well as to the top-quark mass, width and couplings.
In 2007, upon joining the faculty at Brown University, Meenakshi joined the CMS experiment at the LHC. In addition to pioneering a number of exotic searches for high-mass resonances, new heavy gauge bosons and top-quark partners, she continued to make innovative contributions to precision top-quark measurements. Her foundational work on b- and c-quark identification also paved the way for Higgs boson searches and measurements. As a leader of the CMS upgrade studies group, Meenakshi coordinated physics studies for several CMS technical design reports for the High-Luminosity LHC upgrade, and an impressive number of results for the CERN yellow reports. She was also a key contributor to the US CMS outer tracker upgrade.
The tutorials and workshops Meenakshi organised as co-coordinator of the LHC Physics Center (LPC) were pivotal in advancing the careers of many young scientists, whom she cared about deeply. As chair of the US CMS collaboration board, she was a passionate advocate for the LHC research programme. She created an inclusive, supportive community that participated in movements such as Black Lives Matter, and tackled numerous challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A strong voice for women and under-represented minorities in physics, Meenakshi was the founding co-chair of the CMS diversity office and the driving force behind the CMS task force on diversity and inclusion and the CMS women’s forum. She mentored a large group of students, post-docs and scientists from diverse backgrounds, and created PURSUE – an internship programme that provides summer research opportunities at CMS to students from minority-serving institutions.
Meenakshi’s illustrious career has been recognised via numerous accolades and positions of responsibility. She is remembered for her recent co-leadership of the Snowmass energy-frontier study, her service on HEPAP and her new appointment to the P5 subpanel, in addition to her new position as the first woman to chair the physics department at Brown. She will be remembered as a brilliant scientist, a beloved mentor and an inspiring leader who made the world a better, more equitable and inclusive place.