2 febbraio - 20 maggio


Johann Marton is a scientist working within the SIDDHARTA project on x-ray spectroscopy of kaonic atoms.

Here is Johann Marton's interview sent us by e-mail in which he tells us about his life and his work.

My name is Johann Marton. I was born in a small village of Upper Austria. I attended the Gynasium which I finished with the Matura with honors. I finished the study "Technische Physik" after 6 years wih the diploma (graduate engineer) and started my PhD work afterwards. After 3 years and I finished the thesis related to surface physics (in this period I had also to complete my military service). Then I joined a research group of the Austrian Academy of Sciences which was working on exotic atom studies at Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Switzerland. At that time muonic atoms and molecules were the central point of our studies. Actually the results on muon catalyzed fusion gained much attention in the international scientific community and many publications ant talks followed. In 1987 I became Deputy Director of the Institute for Medium Energy Physics of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna which got a new name "Stefan Meyer Institute for Subatomic Physics" in 2004. I finished my habilitation ("venia docendi") at the University of Technology in 2007. The field of exotic atoms was the starting point and it is still the center of my research interests but after PSI other facilities are used now (DAFNE/LNF, AD/CERN, ...).

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

I had an excellent teacher in chemistry in the Gymnasium. Therefore after the Matura I wanted to study chemistry at the University of Technology in Vienna - but I changed to physics before starting my study. The reason was that I had the impression that chemistry is to a large extent related to applications and I wanted to learn more about nature in a deeper and broader view.

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

The time boundaries represent a major difficulty. As scientist one has to concentrate the efforts to research but one has also to focus and that results in the difficulty to decide in which direction to go in spite of the fact that there are many interesting topics around - especially in physics. There were some exiting periods: firstly the experiments on muon-catalyzed fusion at PSI in which we could directly observe the fusion processes by neutron detection. It was also exciting because of the challenge with physicists from US working also in this field at Los Alamos. Secondly the DEAR experiment at LNFrascati was very exciting where we succeeded to get the most precise values of the strong interaction observables of kaonic hydrogen finally.

Q: What are you working at presently?

At present I am working within the SIDDHARTA project on x-ray spectroscopy of kaonic atoms. This fascinating research project aims at the study of the low-energy antikaon-nucleon interaction which might have the potential to produce a new form of matter with strangeness bound by strong interaction. Some other projects are in a preparatory state like projects with antiprotons at FAIR/Germany and kaons at J-PARC/Japan.

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

As many people I am aware of the fact that the current understanding of nature is incomplete in the sense that the microscopic picture cannot explain findings in astrophysics like dark matter or dark energy. I hope there might be the chance to either have new explanations or results from new high precision experiments. Regarding experiments at LHC: I hope the search for the Higgs particle will be successful but might needs longer time than anticipated. A major impact to the picture of modern physics would be the discovery of super-symmetric particles.

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

This question is very hard to answer because there are quite a few favorite physicists. Since I am Austrian I am maybe a little bit biased. I think Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906) discovered with entropy as a measure of (dis)order one of the most fundamental rules. He was also fighting for atoms and at his time this was revolutionary: Mach a famous Viennese professor always asked Boltzmann "Did you see them (atoms) already?". Another physicist Wolfgang Pauli found a basic rule which is also a kind of cornerstone of physics and it is not just a principle, it is HIS principle. Also this topic is studied with high-sensitivity measurements in which our institute is involved (VIP in LN Gran Sasso).

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

The joint work in (international) collaboration is a "condition sine qua non" for modern physics - especially for experimental research in nuclear and particle physics (c.f. as an extreme case the big LHC experiments like CMS, ATLAS etc. where several thousand physicists are working and bringing in their expertise). Also the experiments in which I am involved like SIDDHARTA at LN Frascati show that the research work can only be done in an international collaboration.

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

I think the following definition in principle holds true: "A person with advanced knowledge of one or more sciences"
I think a scientist is somebody who tries to find out new knowledge which can be used as a basis for further studies going deeper into the subject. Often there is either a direct application or a spin-off having positive impact to our society. For the profession the knowledge about methods, technologies, and certainly the talent are necessary. This knowledge is not enough to discover new things - one has to have intuition, one has to be brave to go beyond known boundaries and this may also lead to battles with traditional-oriented people: see the case of Boltzmann above. To quote Niels Bohr about quantum physics: " We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough".
Also sometimes true: "Physics is, hopefully, simple. Physicists are not".
(Edward Teller)

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

I have some hobbies like skiing, hiking and photography. Sometimes I have time to paint - my skills are not so great but hopefully improving. Cooking is also a kind of small passion and sometimes I read books about cooking. I remember a cookbook written by a famous German Physicist and founder of the Laue-Langevin research center in Grenoble, Meyer-Leibnitz, Kochbuch für Füchse (cookbook for foxes). I would recommend for reading some books written by Feynman - not only his lecture series - e.g. Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman.

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

Research is important for the future in many ways, e.g. application of new technologies in medicine. Therefore I hope that politicians realize that an investment in research is also an investment in future. Even in economically difficult times one should not save money in the wrong field.