by Ian Randall. Published: 31 January 2011

In this issue, ALICE Matters chatted with Chiara Zampolli, who has been working with ALICE for eight years, three of which were at CERN.

CERN/The ALICE Experiment

ALICE's Chiara Zampolli, center

Hello, Chiara. So, what do you do in ALICE?

I work for the offline group at the moment; taking care of the calibration framework - that's my main responsibility. In ALICE there is this thing called Shuttle – a framework which collects data from the online sources – Data Acquisition, Detector Controls System, Trigger and High Level Trigger - and gives it to the detectors to create calibration objects. This was very interesting to work for because you had to liaise with everybody.

I also do some physics, as I work for the physics working group three, looking at heavy flavor. I do some work also for the minimum bias working group for the LHC experiments.

What is heavy flavor?

It is the branch of subnuclear physics which studies the bottom and the charm quark, which are the second and the third heaviest quarks of the existing six. It deals with the decays of these quarks. The study of charm and beauty is in fact one of the key tools in the physics of the Quark Gluon Plasma, which is this “mysterious” outcome of heavy ion collisions, those of major interest in ALICE. In my case, I concentrate on D-mesons coming from charm quarks. It is the study of the open charm channel, where only one charm quark is bound to a quark of another type. In particular, for the heavy flavor group, I was working on the extraction of the efficiency and acceptance corrections for the D0 decay into K?.

We understand that you are leaving CERN soon, for a permanent position at the University of Bologna. Will you miss it here?

Of course! But I am already looking forward to the food...

…and what will you be doing in Bologna?

I will work for the Time Of Flight, one of the ALICE detectors. I still don't know all the details, so I can't say what exactly I will be doing, but this is the main topic. Also - I will look for an apartment. Very important!

So, how did you get into physics in the first place?

It was a difficult decision. When I was a student at high school I didn't know what to choose for university; I liked almost everything, but I preferred scientific subjects. As everyone was telling me “no mathematics or physics, you will never get a job,” I subscribed to statistical sciences in Bologna.

But, I was a bit disappointed there; also, the rooms where the lessons were taken were next to the rooms for physics. Every day I saw the timetables for physics lessons - so, after four days I changed.

So, you don't regret choosing physics in the end?

No, absolutely not! After two days at statistical sciences I was already thinking: what am I doing here? This is not my place!

And I also think I was a bit influenced by some friends – ex classmates - of mine who were very fond of physics, big fans of Star Trek (while I had no idea who Captain Kirk was…). I liked them, so I liked physics.

What led you into the field of particle physics?

I did my masters in astrophysics in Bologna, and after that I wanted either to do a PhD or to become an actress. But the second looked more difficult (maybe I was wrong… ). I tried to continue what I was doing, because I really enjoyed it, but it was not possible.

So then I got a position for a PhD contract still in Bologna - and I joined ALICE because, having checked all of the possibilities for my PhD, I thought that ALICE was the one that would be most interesting for me; because, you know, you study the big bang, somehow - and as I came from astrophysics, this was what I wanted to do.

So, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I like to do many things - some people say that I am like a spinning top, because I keep on going and never have a break. Even if I hate the alarm in the morning. I want to do everything! I do a lot of sports, I often go swimming, I used to do thai box before coming here, and here I used to go the gym. From time-to-time I go running.

I also like reading, watching movies, and listening to music; which sounds nothing special, but it means a lot to me.

Being here, I also discovered a love for travelling. When I was in Italy I did not used to travel, but here I met someone that travels a lot – and since I have been here I have had many weekends around Europe: Berlin, Budapest, Bordeaux. I went to Greece, Finland, Portugal, and many other places. I also went to Scotland - it was great - and I learned how to camp! I'm bored of the typical Italian holiday, lying in the sun all day like a lizard. This is something nice, with respect to Geneva - from here you can go anywhere. Travelling is fantastic. I just read that if the world was a book, then people who don’t travel read only one page.

So, what was your favorite thing about working in ALICE?

My favorite part is that while working in ALICE at CERN you know almost everybody, and almost everybody knows you, and you really get a feeling for every kind of activity that is done to run an experiment. When I was doing my PhD, I knew my own reality only, but being here, I’ve been really seeing how an experiment works. The people here are also lovely to work with.

So, you’ll miss ALICE, then?

I'll still be working for ALICE, but yes, I shall miss ALICE at CERN.

But, then I shall have ALICE in Bologna, so it shall just be something different!