by Virginia Greco. Published: 16 August 2018

Kunal Garg, a Ph.D. student at the University and INFN of Catania, has been awarded a prize for his poster on hadronic resonance studies in ALICE that he presented at the LHC Physics 2018 Conference. He has also been recently asked to join the Alice Juniors Committee. We talked with him to learn more about his career path and scientific interests.

Born in Kot Kapura, a very small town in the state of Punjab (India), at the age of 15 Kunal had to leave home and move to Delhi, where he could attend a two-year preparatory school that would give him the training necessary to take the university entry exam for engineering. Even though he was more inclined towards pure sciences, his original plan was to study engineering, due to the larger availability of jobs and even university courses in this field. But, while he was filling in the form for the entry exams, he came across an advertisement of the National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER), which is a University dedicated to pure sciences, and decided to apply for it as well. There were only 50 open positions, but he tried his odds anyway and he actually was selected. “I don’t know how I managed,” comments Kunal, “maybe I was more relaxed than in the other exams since I did not believe I would succeed and, as a result, I performed better.

While studying at NISER, he fell in love with particle and nuclear physics and decided that he wanted to follow this path. A bad experience with a project on particle physics data analysis that he performed for an exam, though, made him consider looking at other fields, so he chose to develop a Master thesis in biophysics. He completed his studies in 2015 and, after a few months of break, he started looking for a doctoral position. At that point, he was open to various options, which included astrophysics and quantum computing as well. Kunal contacted the Head of the Physics Department at NISER, Bedangadas Mohanty, to get advice on his PhD applications. Aware of Kunal’s interest in nuclear physics, Mohanty suggested to him to apply to the University and INFN of Catania (Italy) to work in the ALICE experiment. He followed the advice and actually was accepted: “I was very happy to start this adventure. Besides, when I was told that I would have to spend some time at CERN, I got really excited: that was a dream coming true,” he explains, showing evident enthusiasm still after three years.

Under the supervision of Angela Badala and Franco Riggi, Kunal is working on hadronic resonances. In particular, his research is focused on the study of the charged K* resonance (K(892)±) in pp collisions at various centre-of-mass energies (5.02, 8, and 13 TeV) and comparing it with the neutral K*0resonance and with simulated models.

Since K(892)±and K*0are very short-lived, with a lifetime (about 4 fm/c) comparable with that of the fireball produced in heavy-ion collisions (about 10 fm/c), their study can provide important information about the hadronic phase formed in the heavy-ion collisions and, probably, in high multiplicity pp collisions.

 “The yield of these hadronic resonances is expected to be modified by the regeneration and rescattering phenomena inside the fireball,” Kunal explains, “thus, by comparing its value in different collision systems, it is possible to characterize the hadronic phase. For example, we have observed that the production of K*is suppressed in Pb-Pb collisions; in other words, the rescattering is more pronounced than the regeneration.

During these past three years I have been studying the charged K* resonance in pp collisions,” continues Kunal, “and we are now close to have the first draft of the paper. The next step would be to perform the same analysis in high multiplicity pp and in Pb-Pb collisions, to check whether the effect that we have seen for K*0 is observed for the charged K* as well.

This work, which he presented at the past LHC Physics conference in Bologna , earned him a poster prize. “I was very happy, certainly I can put it in my CV, which is something helpful when you are starting to look for a postdoctoral position,” he comments smiling.

Indeed, soon Kunal will have to move on with his career, which might mean changing topic and maybe even experiment. “I know for sure that I want to stay in physics research,” he declares, “and possibly in the heavy ion field, but I am open to various options. I feel that, even within ALICE, I haven’t been exposed much to other analysis beyond the specific one I am working on, while there are plenty of fascinating topics that I would enjoy exploring.

At the same time,” he adds, “I have always been interested in neutrino physics too, hence I would not mind working in that field, even though it would mean changing experiment.

He has also served in the ALICE Inner Tracking System upgrade group, covering maintenance tasks of the database and several shifts in the ALICE Run Control Centre, and, at the moment, he is  on-call shifter for the Silicon Pixel Detector. He is more passionate about analysis work than hardware activities, though. “I would like to continue working on analysis,” he explains, “not only because I really like it, but also because I feel I don’t have much experience in the hardware field.”

What pushed Kunal towards science is certainly curiosity, which characterized him since he was a child. “I have been playing with computers since the age of six and I assembled my own pc at 14. When the first computer arrived in my house, it was maybe the fourth or fifth in my town, we were privileged. My brother and I played around a lot with it and we messed up the operating system quite a few times,” he says laughing, “but we also learned a lot from that.

The same enthusiasm and curiosity is driving him now in his research in physics. “I feel the need to understand, to have more and more information,” he explains. “Science is not already all written, as for example history is; on the contrary, it is dynamics, scientists are actively exploring new knowledge.

Kunal also enjoys participating in the ALICE Juniors group’s activities and he has recently joined its Committee. This means that he will be co-responsible for organizing the Juniors events – which normally take place during each ALICE week – and for conducting surveys among the members. 

He spends his free time playing videogames –­ he is addicted to “Defence of the Ancients 2” –, watching tv series and reading fantasy books. Actually, this passion for the fantasy genre made him meet his girlfriend: “We were both very fond of a specific book and I was managing a forum dedicated to it. We started chatting there.” Sounds good!