Name: Gabriela Barenboim
Current position: Faculty
Affiliation: University of Valencia and IFIC (UV-CSIC)
Field of research: Cosmology and Neutrino phenomenology
What is your career trajectory to date?
I graduated from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina and obtained my PhD in Valencia doing mostly flavor physics. Moved then successively to Germany (Mainz), CERN and Fermilab and during those years, I adiabatically shifted to neutrino physics and cosmology mainly due to first and second neighbor interactions (and I am being literal here, it was through discussions and talks with my nearest office neighbors). Finally, I obtained a tenured position in the Theoretical Physics Department of the University of Valencia and IFIC, where I have been even since. But watch out. I am established but not settled! I still enjoy moving around, spending time in other Institutions, mostly though long visiting positions during summer.
What are the most exciting open questions in your research area?
There are so many exciting questions that it is hard to pick just a few. But I would say that the nature of the neutrino (whether it is a Dirac or Majorana particle) makes it always to the head of my list together with the generation of the baryon asymmetry of the Universe and whether there is anything hiding (very effectively indeed) behind the Standard Model. The nature of dark energy and dark matter as well. Then in a somehow distant second group, I will put extra (sterile) neutrinos, non-standard interactions and the inflationary paradigm. And of course, also the resolution of the Ho tension.
What do you like and dislike about being a scientist?
I do like the job altogether, teaching included. I really appreciate the freedom we are given. We are essentially paid to satisfy our own curiosity, to develop and fully exploit our own imagination, and to test our own limits. I also love the interaction with other scientists. Through the years, I realized that we can discuss and confront ideas in a friendly atmosphere and not be hurt or take it personally if proven wrong (I usually tell to my students “do not buy what you sell”). This does not happen outside the academia, unfortunately.
What I dislike the most is the environmental pressure. We are evaluated so often in so many ways that it is almost impossible to stop, re-evaluate and think. Let alone to work in something really outside the main stream. Specially if you have young people involved.
Which of your skills are you most proud of, or find most useful?
I guess someone knowing more psychology than myself could say I do have an authority problem. I do not take anything for granted and have a natural tendency to distrust the “authority” and question everything. This can make your teenage years miserable, but it is indeed the right mindset for a scientific career. I would say I am also very creative which is quite useful if you work in theory and above all I am extremely hardworking. I would like to consider myself a good mother too and even if I am far from being one, my two boys (now grown-up mathematicians) are the “projects” I am most proud of, to this day.
In your career so far, at what point were you the most excited, and what were you excited about?
Again, too many to list. The discovery of neutrino masses and the accelerated expansion of the Universe were really exciting times. Also, many anomalies that died but left us with a lot of fun and a lot of physics learnt. And also, the approval or the kick off of many experiments (Planck for example) which shed light on many physics topics I am puzzled about.
What new skills would you like to learn in the next year?
Bayesian Statistics. I have been using Monte Carlo Markov Chains for quite some time but do not think have a profound understanding of Bayesian statistics. I have taken an online course on it during the pandemic and would love to take a more advanced one.
What advances or new results are you excited about or looking forward to?
I am particularly excited about the next generation of experiments in high energy physics, astrophysics and cosmology. We have reached a point where the overlap is such that we have made true an economic theory proven wrong long ago. I mean, the “Trickle-down economics” is a scam but in physics we do have a trickle-down effect. And because of that, we are guaranteed to have something exciting in our (near) future.
What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now?
I do not think we are being slowed down. We, as a society, are facing some challenges and physics is not an island.
What role do you think a community network like EuCAPT can play in developing theoretical astroparticle physics and cosmology in Europe?
EuCAPT can and should play a role in Europe, building and articulating a community first and at the same time promoting/educating the surrounding society about the importance of fundamental science. We have sophisticated our science to produce extremely fine quality products. Now we have to educate people’s tastes accordingly. There is no better time. We have emerged from a pandemic, where it was transparent not only the role of science/research in the development of the vaccine and the policies to fight the virus, but also the dangers associated to scientific ignorance. EuCAPT is the ideal tool to help us align ourselves into a body and develop bridges inside and outside our community.
What’s your favorite food?
This is a very difficult one. Only one? Eggplant parmigiana probably and seafood (of any kind and cooked almost in every possible way). Also, some Indian dishes, like chicken madras. Or the Korean kimchi. Let alone desserts. And above all “dulce de leche”, the Argentinian number one favorite.
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?
As said before I was born and grew up in Argentina, and lived in Germany, Switzerland, US and Spain. Not surprisingly, I have several “culture shocks” over the years. I remember the first time I was supposed to take a train in Germany, scheduled to leave at 2:39. It didn’t even cross my mind the possibility of a schedule exact to the minute. I showed up 2:40 and seeing no train, I assumed it hasn’t even arrived yet !!!! I had a lot to learn, and I did it. And then after many years of living in Germany and Switzerland, once I moved to the US, I tried to go to the sauna of the Homeowners' association's club naked (in the Midwest!). I was lucky, I didn’t end up in jail.
How do you like to relax after a hard day of work?
I like to walk and as I do not live too far away from Campus, if I am very stressed out, I walk home. It is approximately 5 kilometers distance, 45 minutes door to door. If my stress level is high enough, a pit stop at a bakery for a piece of chocolate cake can also be quite useful. When everything else fails, I pamper myself.
Do you have any non-physics interests that you would like to share?
I love to read, to go to the theater and to study. I have finished not that long ago a course on Greek mythology that I particularly enjoyed.
If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing?
Probably I would be a mathematician. But I honestly find it hard to believe I would enjoy something else as much as I enjoy physics.
What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?
I will be over 100 in 50 years, so to keep seeing (to be alive and well) would be amazing enough for me.
What question would you have liked us to ask you, and what would you have responded?
What advice would you give to your 20-30 years old self ? Believe in yourself. Do not be afraid to speak up your mind. Keep around you only those people you truly love and trust.