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Tommaso DorigoRSS Feed of this column.

Tommaso Dorigo is an experimental particle physicist, who works for the INFN at the University of Padova, and collaborates with the CMS experiment at the CERN LHC. He coordinates the European network... Read More »

Coming Clean

Coming Clean

May 11 2009 | comment(s)

Chessplayers are a strange lot. Those who get attracted by the game and end up sticking to it, making it the game of their life, are typically intelligent, creative thinkers; yet among them one may usually count a unusually large number of nutcases. It is not a secret, for instance, that several of the best chess players of the past were disturbed souls. Whole books have been written on this topic (see for instance the famous "The psychology of the chess player" by R.Fine), and I cannot offer any meaningful contribution here. However, I can tell you the personal story of the worst moment of mental insanity in my chess career.
When I became an amateur chess player and I enrolled in the "Esteban Canal" chess club in Venice, about a quarter of a century ago, I met and got to know personally dozens of people sharing my interest for the game of the kings. Many of them became good friends of mine, but only maybe two or three have made a permanent dent in my soul and have stayed in my heart since then, despite our lives took different routes. Among this small subset was Francesco, universally known as "chicco" by all those who loved him.

The job of experimental particle physicist is strongly correlated with worldwide travel. Paid for and self-inflicted, sure. But not exactly always pleasant, nor to exotic destinations. In fact, experimental facilities are usually located in notably un-fancy places. The Chicago suburbs, country at the border of Switzerland and France, a mine underground in a God-forgotten place, not to mention the South Pole. One learns to take it as part of the package.
The Fermi collaboration released yesterday a paper describing their measurement of the electron and positron flux of cosmic rays. Simultaneously, a second paper was published by the HESS collaboration on the very same topic. Together, these two important new articles provide the means for a significant advancement in our understanding of the spectrum of electrons and positrons from nearby sources.

It is especially meaningful to consider the two results together because the two instruments are as different as salt grains and tequila. Let me see where to start:

This morning I signed a contract with INFN, the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics, which grants me tenure in the role of research scientist. Start date: 05/04/2009. End of penalty: never.

Am I happy about it ? Maybe I should, but I have to confess I feel absolutely nothing - a void. Signing the contract felt like signing the receipt of a mediocre meal. Lest I get flamed, let me explain why I am not rejoicing, nor  am ordering a box of Dom Perignon.
Triggered by a preprint appeared three days ago on the ArXiV -a fundamental resource for particle physicists willing to stay in touch with the latest developments of the theory and new experimental results-  this morning I was gearing up to write a post with a careful, didactical discussion of why we believe that the subnuclear world includes three generations of quarks and three generations of leptons, what is the evidence for this peculiar fact, and what would a fourth generation of matter imply for e.g. searches of the Higgs boson. Unfortunately, my memory is still good enough to let me remember that I did write about those things in my old blog, about one year ago.