This fortnight, ALICE Matters met with Mateusz Ploskon, ALICE’s current period coordinator.
Mateusz Ploskon/University of Frankfurt
Hello, Mateusz. So, what do you do in ALICE?
I'm the period coordinator; essentially, I make sure that things at the ALICE Control Room are OK, that we are taking data when we are supposed to take data... If there are issues, then they need to be immediately resolved. I am working closely with Chilo, who is our run coordinator, to make sure that ALICE delivers.
How are you finding your time as coordinator?
Yes, it is enjoyable, it is very interesting. It has been fascinating, especially when the first collisions happened. There was a lot of excitement and a good atmosphere.
What have you enjoyed the most about your job?
It's an interesting question. I think that it is the fact that I have this opportunity in ALICE: this is the heavy ion period and these are actually the first heavy ion collisions we are measuring. It's a new energy frontier. From the physics point of view, to be at the ALICE control room and to make sure that everything runs specifically at this interesting time is great.
I also really enjoy the fact that I'm meeting a lot of people at ALICE. As much as being period coordinator involves coordinating the various hardware and software, and how the operation goes, it is also about the people. There are a lot of interactions, and discussions.
Tell us about your background.
I'm actually from Krakow, in Poland. At the Jagiellonian University I did my masters degree, and then I moved to Germany to GSI Darmstadt, University of Frankfurt, and did my PhD, and my post-doc. Then I moved to Berkeley to do my second post-doc. Since January I have been there as a career-track scientist.
How did you get into studying physics in the first place?
So, I always liked mathematics. I have to say that in high-school I was deeply involved in literature and all-sorts of arts things. But, then I thought mathematics is interesting. I always had excellent grades from maths and physics. It went well, so I never had to worry about it.
Then, at some point, I decided to move to physics, because it was something on the verge of philosophy and science. The philosophical aspects of what we are doing are a non-negligible part of who I am.
What do you mean by that?
Essentially, we are trying to explore why this thing called the universe works, and what happened a second ago or what happened billions of years ago, and that makes it fascinating; the part when we go deeper into the questions of how the universe is built. That gives you an additional flavor of the philosophy. It's interesting how people perceive reality.
So, what do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I like jazz music; and playing soccer and basketball. The older I get, the more I like to dive into history books. I do read a lot. Sometimes a good book just pops into my hands when I pass by a bookshop! In recent times - since I started my PhD, however – this has had to go into the background. Work is a little intensive!
Your time as period coordinator will be over soon. What's next for you?
I shall be very excited to join the analysis team and, to look at all the data - getting all the physics out!
What can we infer already from the data ALICE has gathered so far?
Well, I think ALICE is just about to send out the third publication, so we have already learnt a little bit about elliptic flow, and we have also learnt that the energy stored in the system is much higher than in the previous experiments, and that is very interesting. This tells us that we definitely have a higher density system.