Community profile: Irene Tamborra

Name: Irene Tamborra

Current position: Professor

Affiliation: Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen

What's your field of research?

Theoretical particle astrophysics. I like to explore the role of weakly interacting particles in astrophysics and cosmology. Within a multi-messenger framework, I also work to unveil what can be learnt by adopting neutrinos as probes of extreme astrophysical sites.

What is your career trajectory to date?

I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Bari (Italy) in 2011. I then spent two years at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich (Germany) as Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, before joining the GRAPPA Institute, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) for another couple of years. In 2016, I was hired as Knud Højgaard Assistant Professor at Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen (Denmark) and was promoted Associate Professor in 2017. I am Full Professor since the beginning of 2021.

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

The advent of multi-messenger astronomy is offering unprecedented opportunities to learn about the unknowns of the universe, this is extremely exciting. My favorite messenger is the neutrino, its physics in the context of astrophysical sources is still poorly understood. With the upcoming large-scale neutrino telescopes, the growing multi-messenger datasets, and progress on the theoretical front, I hope we will be able to address these questions.

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

I really enjoy the excitement that comes when I finally man a riddle that has kept me busy for long time and everything falls into place, I am lucky enough to have experienced this feeling in many instances. An extreme example is when I discovered the LESA instability; it was such a counter-intuitive and unexpected phenomenon that I thought I had a bug in my code, but I could not find it and I worked on it extremely hard and for a very long time. It has been very rewarding to confirm and understand my findings. In addition to scientific discoveries, I am really thrilled to see students grow into junior scientists. What is the biggest obstacle that is slowing down your research field right now? Neutrinos require a lot of patience. As for the high-energy tail of the neutrino spectrum, we do not understand which are the sources of the neutrino events observed from the IceCube Observatory; we should probably gather a larger number of events to gain better insights on the origin of these neutrinos and the conditions under which neutrinos are produced. In addition, we have not detected ultra high energy neutrinos yet. At lower energies, neutrinos play a crucial role in the physics of some of the most extreme events in the universe, such as core-collapse supernovae and neutron star mergers, as well as in the early universe; however, we do not really grasp neutrino mixing at such high densities--this is a very hard problem, but progress is being made. These issues also have implications on the possibility of discovering physics beyond the Standard Model through astrophysical sources and on our understanding of the source physics.

If you were not a scientist, what do you think you would be doing? I would be an artist or a professional gymnast. What do you hope to see accomplished scientifically in the next 50 years?

I am eagerly awaiting for the next nearby supernova explosion, of course!