2 febbraio - 20 maggio


Gino Isidori is a theoretical physicist at the Frascati National Laboratories of the INFN. At this moment he is local head of the Theoretics Group.

The following interview with Gino Isidori took place in the building where he works...

I am a researcher at the Frascati National Laboratories. I took my degree in theoretical physics in 1991. I had a fellowship at the Roman Università La Sapienza. After military service, and at the end of my fellowship, I obtained a job as researcher. In order to increase my experience as a scientist, I went to work at SLAC, at Stanford, for a year. After another two years at the INFN I worked for two years at CERN in Geneva, then I came back to Frascati, and then I went to Switzerland, to teach six months at Bern University. I came back to Frascati again, and last year I took a sabbatical to teach theoretical physics at the Pisa Normal University. I have always been involved in theoretical physics, I work out and interpret experiments in order to create new models.

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

When I was a kid I already was interested in science. I remember reading about “Eta Beta”, a character of the Italian children’s magazine “Topolino”. I have always been fascinated by the subatomic world, I liked physics in general as well as to understand the world at a microscopic level. Studying physics came as a natural choice to me.
I have many great memories, but the best moments have been those in which I understood things, in various fields, from quantum mechanics to field theory. It is fascinating to see how a rather simple mathematical theory can explain quite complex natural phenomena.

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

A difficult moment was when I did not get selected for a job because I was too young, and finding a job in general hasn’t been too easy. But in the end I made it, and I consider myself lucky compared to what young people today have to face. On the other hand, there have been moments of satisfaction too: I did some predictions which were verified by experiments, and I proposed some ideas which other theoretical physicists found interesting.

Q: What are you working at presently?

The main problem I am working on now is the problem of the breaking of the electroweak symmetry, the fundamental problem of particle physics of this moment. We need to understand the model which is at the basis and understand the cause of this break by using the field theory, which is the most advanced mathematical instrument we have at the moment.

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

We hope that LHC will reveal the mechanism of this break of the electroweak symmetry, but we cannot say exactly what the answer to this problem will be. The existence of the Higgs boson will probably be verified, even though I would not bet on it, and I hope it will not be the only discovery.

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

The most revolutionary discovery has been quantum mechanics which has changed the classical way of looking at things.
It is difficult to point out just one scientist, but I would say my ideal scientist is Enrico Fermi, who was one of the few scientists who were theoretical as well as experimental physicists.

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

Collaboration is fundamental, at a practical level, to organize experiments, as well as at a cultural level, because it is a way of getting to know different ways of thinking. Working with people of different cultural backgrounds is enriching at a human level.

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

A scientist needs to be a curious person, his first passion should be the understanding of natural phenomena. Obviously, this curiosity should be backed up by a good technical background, but if there is no passion one is not made out for science.

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

I have many hobbies. I like to sing, I have been in several choirs, but I also like sports, like skiing and sailing, and I also like to grow bonsais. A book I really enjoyed when I was at high school was “Goedel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter, and the sequel, “The I of the mind”. They are more about philosophy than about physics. I would also suggest “The Physicist Who Lived Twice” by Fabio Toscano, which I read recently. It is the story of Lev Landau, one of the most prestigious Russian physicists and a famous Nobel Prize winner. The book gives a good impression of his enormous passion for physics. Another great book, although maybe a bit technical and hard to get through is “The First Three Minutes” by Steven Weinberg, which is about the Big Bang theory.

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

I wouldn’t know, because on one side we are now in a very interesting phase of physics, thanks to LHC, but on the other side the crisis might induce governments to spend funds on other things. However, the crisis is not necessarily bad for research.

Q. Do you think LHC is the last frontier?

It is hard to think of another accelerator of the same dimensions and complexity, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop at this. Scientific progress obviously depends on technological progress.

Q. Is there any competition between theoretical and experimental physicists?

Yes, there is, but we need each other to do what we like to do, so we have to collaborate.

Q. What changes do you see between a scientist like Einstein and today’s scientists?

Einstein was a theorist par excellence, doing all his research at a desk with only pen and paper. But even he started off from experimental observations to arrive at his famous theory of relativity, and he has always been very interested in the possible experimental verifications of his ideas. Compared to his times, nowadays there is much more discussion: immediate long distance communication has become much easier, and the amount of scientists thinking about the same problems has increased considerably. The amount of exchanges of ideas has also increased because the experiments have become much more complicated, so they require collaboration between more people.

Q. What is it that attracts you in Physics?

It is so fascinating to see how we are able to explain apparently complex natural phenomena through mathematical methods.