by Polly Bennett. Published: 20 January 2012

“Usually I don’t say much about myself. This is already a long time to have been talking.” Corrado Gargiulo, the new ALICE project engineer, shifts in his seat and seems to want me to leave, or at least to stop asking him questions. But he is kind enough to tolerate the interview and is charming throughout.

Corrado Gargiulo

Corrado Gargiulo

A born and bred Roman he has worked with CERN for a number years on different projects, as a member of Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN). He has a background in aeronautical and aerospace engineering, with a specialisation in the structural engineering of materials within these fields. After studying at university in Rome in the mid-90s he joined an aerospace project on composite materials. “In-between these things I had my military service. I don’t think I did much that was useful but I was in Rome so it gave me the possibility to continue my studies with the aerospace project. I chose engineering because I was interested in mathematics and aeronautical and aerospace things, but also because, when I started, it was easy to find a job.” Laughing he adds, “By the time I finished, things had already changed.”

After the aerospace project Corrado joined INFN and started work with CMS. “In particular I worked on the Electromagnetic Calorimeter (ECal) with a group of engineers responsible for its design and production. Following this I got responsibility of the mechanical project office in Rome, which meant I started to collaborate on several different projects.” One of these was the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) project. This is a particle physics experiment that is now installed on the International Space Station. Corrado explains how it differs from Earth-based particle physics experiments. “It’s more or less the same story except that you have to make the detectors smaller, lighter and able to survive the intense environment in space. Also, you don’t have access there once you send it up. This is why we tested things so much. We went to a large testing centre in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, where they have a huge thermal-vacuum chamber which can simulate a space environment. We tested the detectors in here.” Corrado took charge of several sub-detectors on AMS, which was launched onboard a space shuttle last May.

In 2007 Corrado was asked by the spokesperson of AMS to take the responsibility of the integration in the CERN clean room in Prevessin. “We spent a few years there putting the AMS experiment together. I spent a large part of 2010 and 2011 at the Kennedy Space Centre working on AMS and preparing for the launch but otherwise I’ve been at CERN for a while, working on AMS or other INFN projects. I moved here with my wife and son in 2007.” After setting up a life here on the French/Swiss border Corrado searched for a new job close by once the AMS project had finished. “This position was open for ALICE, so I applied and now here I am.”

I ask how he compares Rome with Geneva and the surrounding area. “I think Rome is one of the most wonderful cities I have ever seen. Geneva is quite different. I’m not looking to spend much time there. When I go back to Rome I really get astonished at the museums and life on the street and really with how nice it is. But it’s starting to get a little tough to live in Rome because it’s a really crowded city. It can take over an hour to get to work. Although it’s true you have everything there it’s not so easy to live there anymore, at least for me. So this is one of the things that made my family and me decide to come here.” However, Corrado confesses that what he really misses is the sea. “I am proud to be Italian and I love the sea. I like the mountains and the natural outdoors and to walk around a lot, but I grew up next to the sea so it’s a bit tough to get used to just mountains. And I cannot ski! Maybe I will learn. But then I’ve been saying that for a few years and never started.”

Corrado’s role with ALICE is to help finish the 2011-2012 shutdown and then to work on the upgrade plans. “I will be involved with developing new design and building new detectors. I have been here since December 1st and so far I have been watching and learning a lot because ALICE is completely new to me. I was lucky to arrive during shutdown so I could go into the cavern and see everything. And I think that with my past experience I can help.”