Name: Francesca Capel
Current position: Postdoc
Affiliation: TU Munich
Field of research: Astroparticle physics
What is your career trajectory to date?
I studied my undergraduate in physics at Imperial College London (2010 - 2014), including a year at the EPFL in Switzerland for my master thesis working on plasma physics for nuclear fusion. After graduating, I worked in the Space Environments department at ESA in The Netherlands as a graduate trainee for a year. Finally, I started my PhD in astroparticle physics at KTH in Sweden (2015 - 2020), and now I'm continuing as a postdoc in Munich.
What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?
What are the sources of cosmic rays and neutrinos at the highest energies? How are the different astrophysical messengers connected?
What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?
Like: Freedom to work on interesting problems.
Dislike: The broken academic system.
Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?
I think I am a quick learner and enjoy teaching myself new skills. This has allowed me to get involved in different fields in my career so far and work on both instrumentation and data analysis/theory.
In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?
In 2019, the Mini-EUSO experiment that I had helped build as part of my PhD was launched to the International Space Station. Even though it is a small project, watching it launch to space and learning that my software was working was certainly a huge moment of excitement (and relief)!
What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?
I want to learn more about X-ray and gamma-ray data analysis for some fun project ideas that I have. I'm also interested in likelihood-free inference methods and understanding if they can be used to solve some problems that I'm stuck on.
What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
The many future experiments planned in my field will surely bring exciting results, but I'm also looking forward to more advanced data analysis methods being used to gain insight from the existing data.
What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?
The lack of open data and analysis tools! Most of the time, the high-level information that is published by experimental collaborations invariably has assumptions and models baked into it, making it unsuitable for proper use in an independent analysis. Even if you are inside a collaboration, if you want to use data from another experiment, the problem persists. For multi-messenger astrophysics to really take off, we need to find a way to share information that doesn't involve the overhead of being a member in N different collaborations with complicated agreements between them.
What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?
I hope that EuCAPT can help us form connections and help encourage open data and software initiatives in the field.
What’s your favorite food?
Fish and chips bought from the chippy on Fore St. in Salcombe. Ideally should be eaten out of old newspapers while swearing loudly at the local seagulls who will be viciously attacking you. (I am nostalgic after having not been to the UK since 2019).
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've managed to live in 5 different European countries so far, and it has been a great experience. I would say that it really helps if you make an effort with the local language, and that stereotypes are often (at least loosely) rooted in reality.
How do you like to relax after a hard day of work?
I like to mix up a mean G&T/negroni, or get outdoors and do some kind of fun sport to offset the aforementioned drinking habit.
Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?
Despite having no musical talent, I insist upon teaching myself the guitar and singing karaoke at every opportunity. I also really love long distance sport challenges and have completed marathons and an Iron Man 70.3 triathlon.
If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?
If science doesn't work out, I plan to change my name to Malory Archer and set up an dysfunctional secret intelligence agency.
What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?
Of course, I hope for viable nuclear fusion, the nature of dark matter and dark energy to be realised, a unified theory of nature and a moon-base that accepts tourists. Too much to ask? While scientists are accomplishing these things, I hope that someone also finds the time to make real change in the academic system. It would be great for everyone if the incentives for being successful in academia could actually line up with those of being a good scientist.