Bianca Veglia is a Marie Curie Fellow in the QUASAR group of the University of Liverpool and is based at the Cockcroft Institute, UK. Her project ‘Beam Stability and Life Time in Low Energy Storage Rings’ within the AVA network, is looking at creating a source of cooled beams of antiprotons at lower energies than is currently achievable anywhere in the world. The antiprotons will be used for antimatter experiments by the new facility ELENA located at CERN.
On the 150th anniversary of the birth of twice Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, we asked Bianca what inspired her to study accelerator science and follow in the footsteps of this great scientist.
Love of science
My love of physics started when I was about 12 years old and reading a science book about nuclear power. I said, “Oh my god, how is it possible that something small like an atom can create all that energy?” I had heard about nuclear energy but I didn’t really know how it worked.
I'd always been very curious about things and felt that physics was the science that was going deep into things, more than any other.
For me, physics is contemplating nature; that’s often one of the most beautiful things that you can do in this world. I really appreciate going into every detail to observe the same problem from all the possible different points of view, to figure it out in all its aspects.
Coming to Liverpool
I haven’t studied accelerator physics before, so I'm just starting from the basics. It's really fascinating. There is so much that we don’t know. It's very exciting,
After my master's thesis, I was curious about the real working world, because I had never worked before and never had a job.
I easily found a position at a big credit risk management company because they hire lots of physicists. If you know mathematics and something about computer coding then you are very valuable to companies.
I was working as part of a team as our client was a very big bank. The work wasn’t bad but it was routine and I missed physics too much. I needed to feel part of something important.
I started to look at the CERN website because I wanted to go into research but didn’t want to do a PhD in a normal university – I wanted a more open environment, maybe international.
Next to the information about CERN was an advertisement for the AVA (Accelerators Validating Antimatter) project, and I was very curious.
I applied and they gave me an opportunity to come here to England. It was a good chance to live here and work in an extremely international environment. I have always been in love with England.
Everyone in our group is from somewhere else in the world. I like this. Your nationality has an effect on how you see things, so everyone brings a slightly different perspective.
I am involved in this project about the low energy antiproton ring (ELENA). Currently we're doing an optimisation study, trying to understand exactly what happens.
The ELENA ring was designed to avoid the use of thin foils to get low energy antiprotons, as thin foils lead to a lot of particles being lost.
This is thrilling because it means ELENA will increase the availability of very low energy antiprotons for many different experiments. The AVA project is all about improving efficiency. The results won't be immediate as ELENA is not finished yet, but hopefully there will be some interesting results about antimatter in the next few years.
I went to CERN for two weeks recently, and they were trying to set the machine with all the correct values in the magnetic field and this kind of stuff. It was really exciting to be there.
Although ELENA is a decelerator, the physics are the same as for accelerators, but as the energy is very low there are a lot of effects that are not completely understood.
I'm currently doing simulations with some software to try to figure out what happens and why exactly it happens in these kinds of machines.
Because the energy is low, particles with the same charge repulse each other, creating effects within the beam. So interaction of the beam with itself is much more relevant than in high energetic beams.
I'm studying this and also how an electron cooler can be used to keep the beam in the right shape. When it’s decelerated the particles spread so the electron cooler helps keep a slim beam inside of the machine.
Being a woman in science
I read that Marie Curie couldn’t teach in Poland because she was a woman, but in France they created a position just to let her teach. She was the first woman to do this as it was against the usual rules.
Marie Curie is really inspiring because she just followed her path without being held down by this situation. And by winning two different Nobel prizes in two different fields, she really demonstrated that she was worth anything.
I have never experienced any discrimination or anything like that so I think there have been many changes for women in these kinds of disciplines.
I see so many different possible paths in front of me. I would maybe like to share this enthusiasm, so like Marie Curie maybe teaching would be something I would like to do, definitely at a certain point in my life. Teachers that really believe in what they're doing always make a difference and I think it's nice to work with young people that are interested in what you're researching.