December 2021 ESRFnews
Leading with pride INFN president Antonio Zoccoli explains why Italy s biggest fundamental-physics research institution earns widespread respect.
To kick off celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Italy s National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) this year, the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome hosted a diverse mix of speakers: senior Italian members of the science community, such as Fabiola Gianotti, the director of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), as well as a roll call of promising early-career physicists. It was great to feel the enthusiasm of these young researchers, says Antonio Zoccoli, the INFN president. As INFN scientists have always been, they are dreamers they want to challenge themselves, to discover something. With big institutions, age does not
always imply virtue yet the INFN is one of those that still enjoys wide respect, as Zoccoli knows. People are fascinated by the fact that we are trying to discover the mysteries of the universe, he says. Also, the INFN is a benchmark for an effective organisation it is for this reason, in addition to our high-level scientific results, that people feel proud of us. One of the hallmarks of the
INFN which co-ordinates the country s research in nuclear, particle and astroparticle physics is the partnerships it makes with other research facilities. Not that Italy does not have its own leading facilities. Most famously, it is home to the largest underground research centre in the world, the INFN Gran Sasso laboratory, which for decades has been probing the secrets of neutrinos and dark matter. According to Zoccoli, however, these are not enough. We need international collaboration, he says. This is why we contribute to CERN for particle physics, and to the ESRF for its advanced infrastructure to study materials. It s strategic for the INFN. In fact, the ESRF and the INFN have
collaborated since the ESRF began, more than 30 years ago. Scientists from the Italian institute helped design the ESRF s first storage ring; likewise,
BORN: 1961, Bologna, Italy EDUCATION: Diploma experimental particle physics, the University of Bologna (1985). CAREER: Fellowship, INFN (1986 1988); researcher (1988 1992); associate professor, University of Bologna (1992 2003); full professor (2003 ); director, INFN Division of Bologna (2006 2011); president, Giuseppe Occhialini Foundation, Italy (2008 ); executive board member, INFN (2012 ); vice-president (2013 2014, 2016 2019); board of directors member, Gran Sasso (2016 ); president, INFN (2019 ).
The ESRF is a great infrastructure. It will play a major role in the field in the future
they helped design and construct the vacuum system for the synchrotron s upgraded storage ring, the EBS. Today, the collaboration has been formalised yet again (see News, p9). The ESRF is a great infrastructure, says Zoccoli. It will play a major role in the field in the future.
Travelling far At heart, Zoccoli is an experimental particle physicist, however, he has studied muon-catalysed fusion at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK, and he has searched for CP violation in heavy quarks at DESY s HERA accelerator in Germany, all while overseeing a 30-strong research group at the University of Bologna. The pinnacle of his career was leading his Bologna group at the Large Hadron Collider s (LHC s) ATLAS experiment at CERN during its discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. That was the most beautiful moment, he says. Many particle physicists had hoped
that the LHC might also turn up evidence for exotic theories such as supersymmetry, which would have paved a clear way forward for the field. For Zoccoli, herein lies a lesson: the value of non-discovery. It s an important message for young people, that you can learn even if you do not find what you are looking for, or if you make mistakes. Now Zoccoli is joining leaders of other European institutions to discuss where to go next. Among ideas on the drawing board of the INFN and its collaborators is a yet more powerful particle collider, new experiments at Gran Sasso labs, a plasma-wave accelerator at the INFN Laboratory of Frascati, and a more sensitive gravitational-wave detector known as the Einstein Telescope. Sometimes, says Zoccoli, the greatest discoveries are those you make when you are looking for something else.
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