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Previous issues of the newsletter are published below.

  • Nikolina Šarčević

Name: Alba Kalaja


Current position: PhD


Affiliation: VSI, University of Groningen


Field of research: Theoretical and observational Cosmology



What is your career trajectory to date? I completed my bachelor and master degrees at the University of Padova (2013-2018). I spent some months at the ICCUB of the University of Barcelona as an Erasmus student and later as a visiting student. Currently, I am a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen. I work with Daan Meerburg on CMB physics, primordial non-Gaussianity and lensing reconstruction.


What are the most exciting open questions in your research area? One of the most intriguing questions for me is: what happened in the first moments of our universe? Finding ways to explore the smallest scales is very exciting.


What do you like and dislike about being a scientist? There are so many things that I love about my job: the problem-solving process, so frustrating at times but highly rewarding when you see the results; challenging myself with new problems; working with amazingly smart and creative people, who inspire me and keep my motivation high. Obviously, travelling is another perk and I would like to start doing it again once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. I dislike the lack of job security, the idea that I’ll have to choose between having a career and being close to loved ones. Also, I don’t like the toxic environment that still persists in some institutes and universities.


Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful? I like to think that I’m well organized and tidy in code-writing. I’m also a very empathic person... this is a skill, right?!


In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about? I remember the excitement for the first detection of gravitational waves and the latest Planck results. The picture of the black holes was also super cool. On another note, I was happy to see how scientific effort could produce viable COVID-19 vaccines in such a short amount of time!


What new skills would you like to learn in the next year? I would like to improve my coding skills, maybe throw myself into machine learning.


What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to? There are so many upcoming experiments to be excited about! I’m looking forward to CMB missions like SO and CMB-S4, but also Euclid, SPHEREx and LISA. I believe they will give us a huge kick into solving fundamental questions in Cosmology.

What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe? Mainly connecting people, especially young researchers who do not have the chance (or resources) to make meaningful connections.


What’s your favorite food? This is a tough one so I’ll go for food that gives me good feelings: my grandma’s petulla (Albanian fried dough), pizza and fries.


Have you lived in a different European country than you do now? If so, would you like to tell us something about it, e.g. a fond memory or something you found surprising? I was born in Albania, grew up in Italy and lived in Spain. Every country has given me meaningful memories! Definitely, the international vibe and the incredibly good food in Barcelona made me feel welcome.


How do you like to relax after a hard day of work? Usually watching a series, reading a book, cooking, taking care of my plants, sometimes drawing and writing. When the weather allows it, I like to go out on picnics to explore the Dutch countryside.


Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share? I love reading and jigsaw puzzles. I always enjoy a good fantasy or sci-fi book, but I read any genre. Lately, I’ve become more interested in gender issues and sexism in languages (especially Italian!).


If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing? I’ve always had an interest in linguistics, philology and ancient history, so I would probably be doing something in those fields… research, again?!


What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years? In cosmology, I hope we will know more about the early universe and the nature of dark matter/energy. Generally, I would like to see more concrete solutions to climate change, and more sustainable and ethical alternatives to meat and fish.

  • Nikolina Šarčević

Name: Adam Coogan


Current position: Postdoctoral researcher


Affiliation: GRAPPA, University of Amsterdam


Field of research: The nature of dark matter using astrophysical data. I work on improving theoretical predictions and developing new data analysis techniques.



What is your career trajectory to date? I did my undergraduate degree at Brown University from 2008 to 2012, my PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 2012 to 2018, and since then have been a postdoctoral researcher at GRAPPA, part of the University of Amsterdam.


What are the most exciting open questions in your research area? What is the fundamental nature of dark matter?


What do you like and dislike about being a scientist? Likes: developing research questions, figuring out how to solve technical problems to generate impactful results, wrangling code, and working with creative, sharp and kind people at all levels from students to faculty. Having a flexible schedule and getting to travel are also big perks. Dislikes: the precarity of my career. Worrying about finding a permanent position, having little control over where I live, dealing with the feeling that I need to work all the time, and the lower pay relative to industry.


Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful? I'm most proud of my ability to break problems down into pieces and solve them with math and programming. I think I'm good at writing software.


In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about? Two come to mind: - The first observation of gravitational waves. It felt like such a big deal to have a new way to probe the universe. - Getting first results for a project last fall that uses machine learning methods to analyze strong gravitational lensing images to search for dark matter. I'm very excited about the potential of this method, and it felt great to see some payoff after ~1.5 years of work with my collaborators.


What new skills would you like to learn in the next year? I want to learn how to analyze Hubble Space Telescope and LIGO/VIRGO data. I also would like to improve as a mentor!


What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to? Since I work on strong lensing, I'm eagerly awaiting Euclid, Vera Rubin Observatory and the Extremely Large Telescope, all of which will come online in the next few years. These will increase the number of galaxy-galaxy strong lensing systems we know about from O(100) to O(10^5)! Further down the line, I'm looking forward to LISA, and thinking about what it can do for dark matter searches as well as the data analysis difficulties.


What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now? I think the hardest thing about working on dark matter is that we have an enormous range of models to study, and it's difficult to narrow the scope without observational hints about where to focus.


What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe? Astroparticle physics and cosmology have a lot of niches, and I think it's useful to have EuCAPT as a channel for improving communication between them. I'm optimistic it will help with find collaborators and keep track of interesting developments in adjacent subfields.


What’s your favorite food? So hard to choose! Pizza napoletana with mozzarella di bufala is one of the top, for sure. I also love burritos (especially from Taqueria Santa Cruz II!), ramen and kimchi.

How do you like to relax after a hard day of work? Cooking some new tasty dish -- I've been making lots of Korean food over the past year. Baking and watching Netflix with my partner. I also like to run, read, draw and work on learning languages.


Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share? I've been obsessed with rock climbing since the beginning of my PhD, and used to go on climbing and camping trips quite often when I lived in California. I'm looking forward to being able to climb again once the pandemic gets under control.


If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing? I would find a way to apply my technical problem-solving skills to help with some of the big problems facing the world, like climate change, inequality or improving health care. I'd like to get a van so I could travel around exploring the outdoors while working remotely for part of the year. Further down the line I could see opening a little restaurant.


What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years? I really hope we figure out what dark matter is.

  • Nikolina Šarčević

Name: Armando di Matteo


Current position: Faculty


Affiliation: INFN Sezione di Torino


Field of research: Astroparticle physics, in particular ultra-high-energy cosmic rays



What is your career trajectory to date? I did my BSc, MSc and PhD at University of L'Aquila in Italy until 2016, a postdoc at Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium from 2016 to 2019, and now I have a permanent position at INFN in Italy.


What are the most exciting open questions in your research area? The environment(s) where and the mechanism(s) by which ultra-high-energy cosmic rays are produced (basically, all of my career is devoted to answering these questions).


What do you like and dislike about being a scientist? I like being able to work on what I am excited about rather than just on what I am told to work on, having a pretty flexible schedule most of the time, and travelling for work a lot (though not recently, due do the pandemic). I dislike having a few extremely busy periods every few months, occasional feelings of a lack of motivation, and the extreme lack of job security for young people (personally, I've had a permanent job for two years now, but nowadays this is pretty rare even for people my age, let alone younger ones).

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to? The main observatories for detecting ultra-high-energy cosmic rays are being extended with several hundred new scintillation detectors, which will take data which will help us discriminate between various theoretical hypotheses. In addition, machine learning techniques look very promising for extracting more information from the data we already have.


What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now? The collaborations operating the main observatories for detecting ultra-high-energy cosmic rays do not openly share all of their data, either with each other or with the rest of the community, hence full-sky studies require ad hoc agreements between collaborations, and historically there has been some reluctance in participating in such joint studies, mostly for "sociological" reasons, though recently the situation is improving. A model such as the one used in gravitational wave detection, where the two main collaborations have de facto merged and do all their analyses together — or ideally even the one used by certain other astronomical facilities, which release all of their data to the public a reasonably short period after they are taken, would be much more conducive to studies requiring full-sky data. Furthermore, the pandemic has delayed the ongoing upgrades of the observatories, though not as much as I feared it could.


What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe? It might be useful for conducing to more cooperation between researchers from different subfields, and to produce "unified" recommendations to funding agencies. But we should keep in mind that it can sometimes be difficult for people from very different communities to understand and work with each other, and we should not forget the importance of also cooperating with researchers outside Europe.


What’s your favorite food? Too many different ones to just pick one!


Have you lived in a different European country than you do now? If so, would you like to tell us something about it, e.g. a fond memory or something you found surprising? I lived one year in Ireland as an Erasmus student back in my MSc and three years in Belgium as a postdoc, and I was amazed by how much more "international" those countries are than Italy. For example, the overwhelming majority of students and faculty in Italian universities and research institutions grew up in Italy, whereas elsewhere almost half of them are foreigners.


How do you like to relax after a hard day of work? Before the pandemic, I liked to go to bars and have a few beers, especially when there was live music (and I even played the bass in a rock band when I was younger). Nowadays, I mostly just watch TV series on Netflix with my girlfriend. But I plan to resume getting out more after nearly everybody in my area can get vaccinated and there isn't much danger of the situation getting as serious as it was last year. I also read lots of books and blogs.

If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing? Most likely a computer programmer or data analyst of some sort. I would also have liked to be a professional musician, but I realize I would have had very little chance of actually becoming one.


What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years? From an idealistic point of view, a complete theory of quantum gravity unifying general relativity and quantum field theory in a consistent way, and an explanation of dark matter. More pragmatically, some advance in condensed matter physics and similar fields allowing more energy-efficient technology and cheaper, more capacious energy storage.