Name: Fabio Iocco
Current position: Faculty
Affiliation: Università di Napoli "Federico II"
Field of research: Astroparticle physics and Cosmology
What is your career trajectory to date?
I have been an undergraduate and then started graduate studies in my hometown's University: Napoli. I spent a big fraction of my PhD years at Stanford's KIPAC, then moved for a postdoc in Arcetri's Observatory (Florence). I then went to Paris, where I stayed for three years, including two as a Marie Curie fellow. After Paris I moved to Stockholm's OKC, where I stayed for two years as a Wenner Gren fellow. Then Madrid's Instituto de Fisica Teorica at UAM, where I was supposed to stay longer than the year I actually spent in order to take on a tenure track job whose offer I had received in the meantime. For which I moved to São Paulo (Brazil), where I joined the (then) recently opened ICTP's South American Institute for Fundamental Research (ICTP-SAIFR). While I was working there I got an offer for a tenured position in my hometown, where I eventually moved after spending a short term in London's King's College. Finally the circle has been closed, and it took less than twenty years!
What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?
I find the nature of Dark Matter, that of Dark Energy, and the current Hubble Tension open problems to which we do not know the answer, and I find the search of that answer very exciting. Yet I realize that may be "exciting" to me, and not to others. Likewise, I believe that the exploration of the "astrophysical zoo" at very high redshift (z>8) something incredibly stimulating, as it will allow to test our understanding of both astrophysics and cosmology in a yet unexplored realm. Yet I do very much realize that some (many?) may not find this as exciting as searching for an explanation to the g-2 anomaly, or the determination of the exact number of neutrino families. Wouldn't it be exciting if all came -once again- together, astro and particle?
What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?
I like and dislike pretty much the same things, at different times of the day, of the week or of the year: for instance the incredible freedom one gets into the definition of their own goals is an incredibly juicy reward, and a very heavy burden at different times. So is the flexibility in working hours, which can be a curse and a blessing depending of the stage of the career (or of personal life) you are at. And I don't think that goes linearly with (professional and personal) age.
What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
I am quite excited about the high redshift pictures from JWST. I guess there is something atavistically exciting about looking into the past, gazing at the first star or the first galaxy ever formed. Seeing the first light ever produced by an individual object, knowing it was the first nuclear reaction to take place in a local environment. I guess it resonates with the childish fascination for one's own birth.
What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?
It is the same thing that is pushing it forward: its becoming bigger and bigger. The dependence on bigger groups for the achievement of experimental results (and often for their analysis and interpretation) comes because those results are increasingly complex, and it would be impossible to achieve or interpret with smaller groups alone. At the same time the dependence from bigger groups, either an experimental collaboration or large theoretical networks, leaves less time to individual researchers for smaller projects, which can sometimes trigger surprisingly exciting outcomes. I guess this "rigidity" reflects also in the world of publication, something that I believe other fields have experienced before ours, which gives us a chance to steer and take action.
What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?
I would really love it if EuCAPT would help catalyze the formation of smaller groups focused around more specific questions. It is already doing great in making big centers feel closer and coordinate action on big scale, but I feel that it would really be a breakthrough if it could help postdocs and students gather around narrow subjects, and perhaps cooperate spontaneously. A sort of enabler of a grassroots movement -if some conscious language misuse is permitted here- which would empower the new generation with what technology today - and previous generations' efforts- actually allows them to realize.
What’s your favorite food?
Something I have been missing so much over the pandemic years it's the Brazilian fresh fruit squeezes and smoothies. Other than that, I tend to find at least a favorite food local to the country I am in: it is virtually impossible to find decent Ramen in Italy, good pizza in Holland, or decent Tartiflette in the US, so I usually go with the flow. When I am home, I obviously cook a lot of pasta, but I guess that needed no confirmation, right? :)
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?
Probably the exhilarating feeling of spring has been the most surprisingly pleasant memory I have from my years in France and Sweden. Spring is always nice, and April is a specially beautiful month in Southern Italy too. But it is not that transition between the death of deep winter and the life of the March defrosting that one experiences in countries farther North. The joy of the sun finally piercing through the clouds, the grass coming back to cover the cold ground, the beauty of those infinite shades of green in the buds carving their way out of the dead branches. I grew up with less contrast between the winter and the summer, and the fierce opposition between the two makes spring certainly more special in cities like London, Paris, Berlin or Stockholm than it is in Napoli or in California. It is an exhilarating feeling I would have never experienced without spending the full winter in the North, and for which I am very grateful.
How do you like to relax after a hard day of work?
Over the last two years, I moved from the chair to the sofa, leaving the laptop for a book. A one-meter-and-a-half physical shift reinforced by a technological one that had the pretense of assuaging the pandemic related anxiety. But did not quite succeed, to be frank. In pre-pandemic times, I used to roam around the city to reach clubs with interesting live music gigs or dance events. Who knows what new style of relax the future will carry.
Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?
People. I really enjoy to hear people's stories, especially if they are very different from mine.
If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?
The dream has always been orchestra conductor, or professional dancer. More realistically I guess I could have been very good as a UN official, with duties on the field. (But this is all counter-factual, so why not to leave it to the dream :) ).
What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?
I guess the biggest hope is that the field accomplishes something I can not even imagine today.