by Iva Raynova. Published: 16 December 2015

The last period run coordinator for 2015


It is the last day of the technical stop before the long expected lead run. The first collisions are about to happen the following day and ALICE is finalizing its preparation for this important moment. I meet Grazia Luparello over a coffee and she shares with me that this is the reason why she only had three hours of sleep during the night. And it seems like she is prepared for even worse. ”I was happy when I was chosen to be a period run coordinator. I was also a little bit scared when I found out that the period was the lead-lead one – she tells me and then adds – But, OK, it’s a challenge.”

The love for challenges that she has, as well as the love for science, originate from her childhood. “My father is responsible for that. He likes maths a lot. When I was young, he was always giving me little maths problems to solve.” Today, all grown up, Grazia has dedicated her life to solving one of nature’s most complex riddles: what is everything made of. “When you work in particle physics, you add your little piece to the puzzle. But you cannot do it alone. You need a lot of other people to add their little pieces as well.” 

In 2007 Grazia obtained her Master’s degree in physics of fundamental interactions at the University of Turin, after successfully defending her thesis on “Commissioning of the zero degree calorimeters for the ALICE experiment”. The zero degree calorimeters (ZDC) detect the energy of the spectator nucleons in order to determine the overlap region of the two colliding nuclei. She started her PhD at the same University the following year, which allowed her to continue her work on the commissioning and the calibration of the ZDCs. “It was very exciting because it was the real beginning of the experiment. This was the first time we were switching everything on and we didn’t know what was going to happen” – she remembers.

Later on, in 2011, Grazia got her Postdoc in the Netherlands. For the first two years she was based at CERN, working as expert of the Silicon Strip Detector (SSD) of the Inner Tracking System. At the same time she also started studying the production of open heavy-flavoured particles, such as D mesons. At the end of the Run 1 operations, at the beginning of 2013, she moved to the Netherlands focusing more on the physics analysis. Currently she is one of the coordinators of the ALICE physics analysis group responsible for the study of heavy-flavour production. After finishing her Postdoc in the Netherlands, she got a second one in Trieste.

And since she has experience both in the hardware specifics of the experiment and in the analysis of the collected data, she could easily change her field according to her current preferences. ”The most interesting thing in both cases is that you learn new things every time you change your role” – she says.

While studying in Turin, Grazia used to work as a scientific explainer in the local planetarium. There she used to meet people of all ages, but what she liked most was the interaction with kids. “When you are talking to children, you are stimulating their curiosity. They might forget everything you have told them, but they learn to be curious.

Grazia doesn’t have clear plans for her future, since, as she says, you never know what will happen a bit later. Even though her dream is to work as a physicist for her whole life, she could still imagine herself doing something different. “I don’t know what it might be, but in any case it must be challenging. Otherwise I get bored.”

When she steps out of the physicist’s shoes, Grazia usually puts on her dancing shoes. She is passionate about dancing tango, which she started doing three years ago after an unexpected invitation by a friend. Although she has lived in many different cities so far, her favourite place in the world is Turin, her home town. “There are many things to do in your free time there. You can listen to some live music, go to the cinema or to the theatre. There are mountains very close where you can go hiking. It’s just amazing. If I must choose a city to live in permanently, this would definitely be the one.”

Even though she has to resolve many problems, Grazia tells me that she actually enjoys being a period run coordinator. “I have to constantly interact with people, in order to have everything fixed and working properly. And it’s always interesting to understand what every person’s role in the process is. So far I’ve learned a lot of new things about the overall functionality of the experiment. It’s just exciting” – she adds with a smile.