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Community Profile: Elisa Chisari

Name: Elisa Chisari

Current position: Faculty

Affiliation: Utrecht University

Field of research: Cosmology


What is your career trajectory to date?

I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I got my bachelor’s degree in Physics. After leaving Argentina, I completed my PhD in Astrophysics at Princeton University in 2014. I then moved to University of Oxford, where I held two different postdoctoral fellowships between 2014-2017 (Beecroft Research Fellowship) and 2017-2019 (Royal Astronomical Society Research Fellowship). During my stay at Oxford I was also a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College. Since 2017, I am an assistant professor at the Institute for Theoretical Physics of Utrecht University.

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

I think the biggest questions in my research area concern the nature of the dark components of the Universe. Dark matter makes up about 25% of the energy density in the Universe today, and dark energy, 70%. We are still at a loss for understanding the origin of these components. Is dark matter an unidentified particle? Is dark energy compatible with a cosmological constant and Einstein's theory, or do we need to explain the large-scale expansion of the Universe in some "modified" way?

What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?

I love about being a scientist that I meet and get to work with people from many different cultures and backgrounds. I enjoy solving the challenge of solving problems and also the small moments when I come up with a new idea to work on. I like to be surprised by the ideas and questions my students have, either in research or in the classroom.

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

I am proud of having accomplished a set of software programming skills which I can use for research but also in the classroom. I am also proud of the effort I put on embedding day-to-day research in the classroom, bringing students closer to experiencing what life as an actual scientist is like.

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

I think there are many things that would be incredibly exciting in my field and in astrophysics in general. Revealing the nature of dark energy and dark matter, of course, would be one of them. I am looking forward to seeing the full potential of ongoing and upcoming lensing experiments. But I would also be excited to see new results coming on gravitational waves, particularly from the early Universe!

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

Time and people power are always the main obstacle! But scientifically I think one area where we still need to improve in my field is being able to accurately model the Universe to more nonlinear scales.

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?

From 2014 to 2019 I lived at Oxford in the United Kingdom. I loved the ambiance in the pubs, especially the live folk music. Not many people know this, but I also lived in Italy for a year as a child, although I do not have explicit memories from then.

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

I like to relax by taking a walk or going on a short cycle after work, especially if there is good weather and even if it's late in the evening.

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

I love listening and dancing to tango music. I am also a big fan of Zumba.

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

I think in 9 lives out of 10, I would still be a scientist. But in 1 out of 10 you would probably find me writing, either fiction or journalism.

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

I would certainly hope we have pinned down the nature of dark matter and dark energy within the next 50 years.

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

I think it would have been nice to ask a bit about the composition of my research group. I work with many talented students and postdocs who deserve a lot of credit. At any given time, there are about 10 people in my group and they work on different aspects of cosmology, though mostly connected to the large-scale structure and the shapes of galaxies. They also contribute to the analysis of experimental data, such as the Kilo-Degree Survey, or play significant roles in developing the theory pipelines of future experiments, like for the Dark Energy Science Collaboration of Rubin Observatory.


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