Community Profile: Eemeli Tomberg

Name: Eemeli Tomberg

Current position: Postdoc

Affiliation: Laboratory of High Energy and Computational Physics, National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB, Tallinn)

Field of research: Theoretical early universe cosmology


What is your career trajectory to date?

I studied at the University of Helsinki in Finland and obtained my Ph.D. in 2019. Starting in 2020, I have worked as a postdoctoral researcher in Tallinn, Estonia, in the Laboratory of High Energy and Computational Physics, National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB).

What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?

Models of cosmic inflation are the most promising explanation for the flatness and homogeneity of the universe and can explain the seeds of cosmic structure. However, it is not clear which of the current models - if any - is the correct one. The search can be narrowed down if the strength of early universe gravitational waves, imprinted on the cosmic microwave background radiation, can be measured.

Concerning primordial black holes, there are many uncertainties related to their formation and evolution that need to be figured out to make accurate predictions that can be compared to upcoming observational data.

What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?

I like the freedom in my everyday life: I can set my own schedule and work on the problems I find interesting.

I dislike the uncertainty of a young scientist's career, with no guarantee that I can continue in physics in the future. Sometimes I'm also frustrated by the slow progress of high-energy physics today, bottlenecked by ever more complicated experiments.

Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?

I'm proud of my well-rounded skills in programming and computation. I find them a necessary part of a physicist's toolbox today, even for the most hardcore theorist. Most recently, I have delved into rule-based programming in Mathematica. I also value the wide variety of courses on various topics in high-energy physics beyond cosmology that I took during my studies.

In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?

It's hard to single out a moment, but I'm always excited when a new project reaches a state where results start to come out, especially when the results agree with what I already knew or assumed but also provide something new and surprising on top of that.

What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?

I would like to learn more about the history and philosophy of the different interpretations of quantum mechanics. These are relevant for the initial conditions of the universe, where quantum theory dominates and it is not clear how our classical world emerges.

What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?

I'm excited about the next generation of cosmic microwave background radiation experiments, especially the LiteBIRD satellite in the late 2020s. They will probe the tensor perturbations of the early universe with enough sensitivity to confirm or rule out many popular models of cosmic inflation. I also look forward to the upcoming gravitational wave experiments; I'm particularly interested in the possibility of detecting high-frequency gravitational waves which would carry information of the earliest cosmological times.

What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?

In cosmology and high-energy physics, most easy measurements are done. Today's big experiments take decades and new results arrive slowly. Working on theories and building models is nice, but it's only really useful when confronted with data.

What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?

EuCAPT can provide opportunities for early-career scientists: for example, conferences and workshops to present their work and grants for traveling.

What’s your favorite food?

I eat almost anything, but when the craving hits it's usually for a pizza or a burger.

How do you like to relax after a hard day of work?

I play games alone or with friends, watch TV shows, and read. My favorite genres are fantasy and science fiction. When writing this, I'm most excited about the Sandman series airing right now and the upcoming Tolkien adaptation, the Rings of Power.

Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?

I'm a gamer: I play video games, board games, and tabletop role-playing games. On the role-playing front, I'm currently game mastering three semi-regular games for different groups. I also write new material and would like to publish a game of my own someday. If you are a fellow gamer and we end up in the same conference, come and say hi!

If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?

Designing games for a living would be cool. Realistically though, I think I would work on something programming and data-analysis related.

What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?

In cosmology, I hope the upcoming gravitational wave observations in tandem with other experiments sharpen our picture of the universe. In my wildest dreams, I hope we find something completely new that revolutionizes high-energy physics, such as new elementary particles or hints of quantum gravity. Outside high-energy physics, I hope we develop new solutions to the climate crisis, and I'm looking forward to developments in the interfaces between machines and the human brain.

What question would you have liked us to ask you, and what would you have responded?

Do you prefer Star Wars or Star Trek? This is a trick question: my favorite is Babylon 5.