AVA Fellow Interviews – Spotlight on Mattia Fanì

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Mattia at the Palace of Governors in Santa Fe (North Mexico, USA)
Mattia at the Palace of Governors in Santa Fe (USA). (Image: Mattia Fanì)

Now the formal period of the project has come to an end, this is a good moment to look back at the Fellows’ time with AVA. We have asked the Fellows a few questions as part of the AVA Spotlight Interview series; this will give you a more personal insight into their motivation, achievements and outlook.

For this interview we have spoken with Mattia Fanì who was based at CERN during his AVA Fellowship. Here, he worked on the Instrumentation and Detector Beam Line and Test Stand. As part of his work Mattia also studied for a PhD at the University of Genoa which he successfully completed last year before he then took the next step in his career to start a new role in the United States. Found out more about Mattia and his journey in this Spotlight Interview.

What did attract you to the AVA network? Has it fulfilled your expectations?

“I was one of the first Fellows to be selected. I didn’t know about the AVA network before, but it turned out to be a great surprise. I responded to a call for an application on the CERN website that fully matched with my background, interests, and expectations. Not all the frontiers of Physics lie at the frontier of high energies. A number of attempts to formulate quantum theories of gravity or to unify gravity with other forces lead to the possibility of a non-identical gravitational interaction between matter and antimatter. Antihydrogen spectroscopy as well as a direct test of the Equivalence Principle in General Relativity will allow new pieces in the puzzle of the Baryon Asymmetry as well as to advance in understanding towards great unification theories. The AVA call for application was perfect for me. It was about a low-energy antiproton beam line and a dedicated test stand. The goal was to study the properties of a low-energy antiproton beam and measure the response of several detectors to the interaction with low-energy antiprotons. The knowledge and skills I would have developed to achieve those goals would have come in extremely handy. At that time, I had just started my PhD program at the University of Genoa in the AEgIS experiment working on low temperature antiprotons towards the first pulsed production of antihydrogen, then achieved as one of the accomplishments of my fellowship. The next natural step will be to use antihydrogen for a measurement of the gravitational interaction of neutral antimatter. I am extremely happy with this experience. AVA exceeded my expectations. I achieved all the goals for my project, I have contributed heavily to laying a milestone in antimatter physics and I have acquired skills that are still crucial after moving to a different field of Research in Physics.

Why did you choose to go to CERN?

“CERN is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory and the unique place in the world where antimatter can be created at low temperature and studied. CERN was a very natural choice at that moment.”

Can you explain in a few words what your project was about and what have you achieved?

“My research in AVA developed in three main topics. First, I worked on the detector beam line and test stand for low-energy antiprotons available in the AEgIS experimental area, submitting in good time the two deliverables required. Then, I focussed on the pulsed production of antihydrogen, subsequently achieved at the end of the antiproton runs as a milestone towards the first consistent measurement of the interaction between globally neutral antimatter and the Earth gravitational field. I presented the results in antiproton plasma manipulation at an international conference, and I got my proceedings published as a selected paper. Finally, I worked on the characterisation of a new scintillating material for improved sensitivity in the detection of positronium in the magnetic field in the AEgIS apparatus, obtaining promising results and submitting a draft of a paper.”

What has AVA provided you professionally?

“The schools and training provided in the network were of very high quality. Those events typically took an entire week, but that time turned out greatly fruitful. Low-energy antiproton school, hands-on courses, precision studies school, and all the other training have all been beneficial for the work. But I’d like to mention the public presentation courses and the management courses as some of the most valuable I received. The management course provided insight into the management of a project of any kind, from one's doctoral thesis to the world's largest physics experiment. Understanding the requirements of a project, correctly estimating the resources needed, defining a mitigation strategy for all the risks, figuring out how to prioritize the work became even more relevant to me since I moved to the next step of my career. Another thing I greatly appreciated was the freedom I had in selecting my additional training. This allowed me to participate in an international school of my interest and acquire technical skills that turned out to be crucial for my present work.

Can you say something about your next career move?

I’m currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Experimental Neutrino Physics at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), in the United States where I am leading the effort for building the main calibration system of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), the next generation long baseline experiment aimed at measuring charge-parity (CP) violation in the neutrino sector. In fact, leptogenesis could be the key of the baryonic asymmetry riddle, as a possible process treating matter and antimatter differently. The final detector will consist of four Liquid Argon Time Projection Chambers of unprecedented dimensions and technical challenges. Two large scale prototypes of DUNE, called ProtoDUNEs are currently built at CERN.”

“So far, I enabled the first data taking campaign from a deuterium-deuterium pulsed neutron generator on ProtoDUNE and led the installation, commissioning and data taking from the device. I successfully installed, tested, and validated a proposed tilt-meter system for monitoring the stability of the designed detector ports for the calibration system. “In addition, I developed a full simulation tool from scratch reproducing all the relevant detectors’ details to answer some of the critical design parameters. Currently, I am building the main calibration system both for the main experiment and for the two prototypes currently at CERN, where I will lead the installation, commissioning, and operation of the calibration system at the beginning of next year. In parallel, I am working on one aspect of hadron interaction with liquid argon based on ProtoDUNE data.”

What will be your most cherished memory from AVA?

“This is a hard question. Every day spent with the other Fellows would deserve to be mentioned here. Unfortunately, the covid-19 outbreak didn’t allow us to attend the last AVA events all together. Hopefully, we will have more opportunities to meet in the future.”