2 febbraio - 20 maggio


Mario Calvetti teaches Physics at Florence University. He is now Director of the Frascati National Laboratories.

The Director has kindly received us in his office at the LNF where this interview took place.

I teach physics at the Florence University. At the moment I am Director of the Frascati National Laboratories, which is the largest of the four laboratories of the National Institute for Nuclear Physics. The INFN has local divisions all over Italy, with four national laboratories, divisions at 19 university departments, eleven connected groups, the European Gravitational Observatory and the CNAF computational center. The INFN collaborates closely with the universities to enable young people to participate in the building of the science of the future.

Q: How and why did you decide to study physics and which is the best memory of your life as a student?

I chose physics because I liked it. At the elementary school I wasn’t a very good pupil. Only later I started to be interested in physics because I understood the beauty of applying mathematics for the explanation of nature and the description of the world. The day I took my degree was the best moment of my life as a student.

Q: Which difficulties did you have to face and what was the most exciting episode of your career?

I cannot say I have encountered any big problems, I consider myself to be quite lucky. Maybe the most complicated moment was when my contract at CERN came to an end and I decided to return to Italy, without having a job there. The most exciting moment was the start up of Professor Rubbia’s experiment at CERN, of which I had run an important part. In that moment I really felt I stood at the frontier of physics.

Q: What are you working at presently?

Right now I am running the Frascati National Laboratories, and organizing research work. Until four years ago I was involved in an experiment which tried to verify whether matter and antimatter behave in the same way, and in the end we found out that they don’t.

Q: Which do you believe will be the next discovery in physics?

I hope the next discovery in physics will be the famous missing particle, the Higgs boson. If we do it will enrich our present knowledge. But not to find it would also be interesting, because it would mean having to adjust the theories we have used so far. However, finding the Higgs boson would not be the greatest discovery, but rather to find other, heavier particles which would highlight the difference between matter and antimatter.

Q: In your opinion, which is the best discovery ever and who is your favorite scientist?

I believe that the greatest discovery of the past has been the invention of the scientific method by Galileo, which has brought man to believe that the movements of the planets and everything that surrounds us can be described with mathematical formulas. But beyond that, the calculus of the planet orbits by Newton , Maxwell’s electromagnetic equations and Einstein’s relativity theory have been of considerable importance. My favorite scientist, apart from Galileo, is Maxwell.

Q: How important is the collaboration in scientific research, especially among researchers from different countries?

Collaboration between different countries is essential, also because I think science does not take differences of nationality in consideration.

Q: How can a scientist be defined and how do talent, intuition and study influence his profession?

A scientist is someone who studies and work in a laboratory to try and understand nature better. Study and intuition are of fundamental importance, especially intuition which helps in making the right choices for the future.

Q: What are your hobbies and passions and what book would you suggest us to read?

My hobbies are swimming and fishing. I mainly read books on humanistic topics. I have been particularly struck by a book I recently read, “Guns, Germs and Steel”, by Jared Diamond, which explains how agriculture and sedentary lifestyles have influenced the development of civilization.

Q: How do you see the future of research in this period of global economic crisis?

Actually I am not worried about research, because it has always been there and always will be. Because it is a part of mankind, there will always be someone who devotes himself to science in order to help man face and improve daily life thanks to the application of science.

Q. Italy is going through a period of crisis, and modern research constantly requires state financing. Do you think this is right, or should that money be spent elsewhere?


I believe that science is a luxury because it uses means that can be quite expensive, but I am also convinced that it is a necessary luxury since it allows the transmission of knowledge to the next generation, which can only have positive effects on society. A country without scientific research is bound to impoverish.

Q. Have you ever had to study something you did not like?

I have been fortunate in that I have been able to pursue my passion for physics, to which I dedicate myself every day. I would advise you to choose a kind of work you really enjoy. As a Director I am neglecting experimental activities, but my present occupation is very satisfying in other ways.

Q. Looking at your past work experience, which kind of work did you like best?

I have enjoyed all the kinds of work I have done, each for its own reasons. I love to teach because it is fun, and I think it is one of the most beautiful jobs you can do. In my research work I have been very lucky in that I have been involved in some experiments which turned out to be among the most important of the last twenty years. From a human point of view, the biggest experience is the one I am living now as Director, with human relationships with all kinds of people, each with his own problems and interests. Somehow it has brought me to a better understanding of society, and without this experience I would feel incomplete, even though the administrative part can be somewhat boring.