I was asked by Sabine to write here about why I became a physicist, and to answer a few ancillary questions she supplied as guidance. I am happy to comply, so let me start from the beginning, as I am a tidy person when it comes to writing.
When I was a kid, I used to be a little mathematics genius. I was fascinated by math and its rationality - everything was simple, and orderly, quite unlike the shattering relationship between my parents. Math was a refuge. And quite naturally, from math I came to appreciate most natural sciences, especially Astronomy.
It was only in high school that I started to study Physics and to love it, stimulated by a very charismatic professor of math and physics. To study Physics at the University became a natural choice, but my interest in the investigation of the organization of Nature at the smallest scales was not love at first sight, but a slow process, and my landing in high-energy particle physics was somewhat accidental - I stumbled in a call for summer students at Fermilab, and got hooked!
I realize that telling the story of how I became a researcher does not fully answer Sabine's question of why I am a physicist, but it is tough to do that. After the University I could have decided to become something else, but so many things pulled in the same direction I did not even start to oppose resistence.
So let me make a list of why I chose a career as a physicist, rather than trying to make sense of each bit in a grand design. Computers are my best friends. I am fascinated by science and basic research. I am ecstatic if I can find a pure thought nobody had before, and use it in my studies. I love to teach. And I love to travel!
But of course there is more. I am not driven by a strong ambition - let's say that my objective is to end my career as a inspirational professor of physics. What drives me in my job is rather the attempt at justifying my life in helping the advancement of human knowledge, and I think the best way to do it for me is by doing research in particle physics.
Of course, I find my job fascinating, and just being part of giant and complex projects such as CDF or CMS makes me proud. There is always so much to learn that one cannot get bored. And it is extremely stimulating also because many of the people I work knee to knee with are at least as smart as I am, and it is a full time job to keep my head above the water.
Yes, I am a happy fish. And my philosophy of life comes to the rescue when I feel I am not doing enough, since I subscribe to Oratio's aurea mediocritas: I do not want to become a general, but just be a good soldier. If they allow me to do my tiny bit to help humanity progress then I feel I have done my duty...
Sabine also asked me about my blog. Why do I spend so much time on it ? I think as scientists we have the moral obligation of doing as much outreach as we can. In today's world there is such a tremendous drift toward irrationality, religious beliefs hindering the progress of a free society, and a continuous barrage fire on the media promoting superstitious beliefs, that if scientists continue to hide themselves in their ivory tower they can only lose the battle. What is the purpose of devoting one's life to the advancement of knowledge, if that knowledge is not shared by many ?
Sure, one could argue that technological advancements are used by everybody even if people do not understand them, but the problem is that as science gest more and more disconnected from the real world the investment that society does will shrink gradually. It took just a few ignorant congressmen to kill a fantastic experiment in the nineties, the SSC. Because of that, we lost 15 years in fundamental physics. So it is our responsibility to educate to science the future congressmen that could kill important new endeavours.
Keeping a blog, maintaining it and making it interesting and stimulating both to non-scientists and to colleague scientists (their contribution is fundamental to keep the effort going) is a heavy burden, but I have some time to devote to it since I do not teach. So I invest part of my research time in explaining particle physics to whomever wants to listen... So far so good!
Tommaso Dorigo is a INFN researcher in particle physics at the University of Padova. He collaborates with the CDF experiment at Fermilab and the CMS experiment in construction at the CERN laboratory. His research activities are in top quark physics and Higgs boson searches. Tommaso is 40 years old. He lives in Venice with his wife Mariarosa, a teacher of latin and greek, and their two children, Filippo (7) and Ilaria (3). When he is not working (that is, most of the time) he is busy with his many hobbies: astronomy, chess, piano. And of course he maintains the blog 'Quantum Diaries Survivor', where he strives to make elementary physics really elementary, by explaining cutting-edge research in simple terms.
TAGS: PHYSICS, PHYSICISTS