Interview with Boris Hippolyte, one of the two current ALICE Deputy Spokespersons and associate professor at the Université de Strasbourg.
Boris Hippolyte is an associate professor at the Université de Strasbourg and has been participating to ALICE activities in the group of Christian Kuhn at Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien (IPHC) since 2000. He is one of the two current Deputy Spokespersons.
His career has been quite fast and, despite his relatively young age, he has already covered important roles in the ALICE experiment. He completed his Ph.D. thesis in slightly less than three years and, after only two years as postdoctoral research fellow at Yale University, he obtained a faculty position (maître de conferences) in Strasbourg.
What are the steps of your career that you consider as the most important?
Well, I actually do not consider myself old enough to have such a long career behind.
From the point of view of the achievements, I can say that serving for two years as convener of the Physics Working Group 2 - which at that time was the analysis group with the largest scope, gathering the activities of the current Light Flavour Spectra (LF), Flow and Correlations (CF) and Ultra-peripheral and Diffraction (UD) working groups - was an important experience for me. My mandate started in January 2011, when we just had our first Pb-Pb data on tape, so it was really a challenge that I enjoyed.
The best moments, anyway, are usually the ones we share with people we like to work with and all steps are important when they are made with inspiring persons. Organizing for many years the Hot Quarks workshop, which is oriented to young scientists in our field, and trying to maintain its cheerful spirit and top scientific level probably corresponds to some of the best moments I had. I also remember long and intense discussions with colleagues while preparing summary talks for the conferences Quark Matter and Strangeness in Quark Matter.
When did you enter the ALICE collaboration?
I went for the first time to an ALICE meeting at CERN at the end of 1999 with my thesis advisor, and late friend, Jean-Pierre Coffin. I am not sure I was already officially in ALICE at that time, since I did my Ph.D thesis in STAR at RHIC, but our group at IPHC was involved in both experiments.
Probably my first strong involvement in ALICE started when, after being a post-doc at Yale, I came back to Strasbourg as a young faculty: I was asked to participate in the writing of the ALICE Physics Performance Report (vol.2) and to be one of the two editors for the "particle production" part. With the huge amount of data we have recorded and all the results we have published since then, it does not sound that significant now, but at that time it was an important milestone for the Collaboration.
What is your specific field of interest?
All topics of physics we are studying are extremely interesting and I consider myself very lucky because my job is simultaneously a passion. I dedicated a lot of time to the study of hadron production in proton-proton and nucleus-nucleus collisions at very high energies, but imagining and studying how collective effects can build up at very small scales is probably what I prefer in our field. Actually, collectivity is also amazing to observe when people from many countries work together and a large collaboration like ALICE is a fabulous playground.
Being a faculty also means that a significant fraction of my time is spent interacting with students: discussing ideas and seeing how knowledge can propagate can be as rewarding as studying how partons propagate through the Quark-Gluon Plasma.
How did you receive the news that Antinori wanted you as one of his deputies, what was your reaction?
Federico called me last summer and told me that he was contacting a group of possible candidates to inquire about their interest and availability to become one of his deputies. I knew the responsibilities that such a role implies, so I felt honoured. But I also knew that, since I have duties at my university as a faculty, making myself available would certainly be complicated (and it was...). In addition it was clear that being available did not mean that I would be appointed. Nevertheless I managed to reach a compromise with my home institution and finally Federico picked me as one of his deputies. I am glad of this and I am willing to work side by side with him for the next three years.
What is your vision for heavy-ion physics and, in particular, for ALICE?
Looking back at the results that several years before taking our first data we committed to deliver, expectations were far exceeded. We clearly progressed in our understanding of the Quark-Gluon Plasma and managed to extract with unprecedented precision information about its global properties, on flavour abundancies, on the propagation of hard probes and on beautiful details related to the collective expansion.
Obtaining even more precise and differential measurements in heavy-ion physics will be a challenge. The characterisation of the QGP to the level we want is clearly a long and difficult task that will require all the talents in the ALICE Collaboration, but we are on the right path: the ambitious upgrade programme prepared for the second long shut-down will be the next corner stone.