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.