Well above cloud nine, with my head floating in interstellar space, oozing with delight
Favourite Thing: Science is about being curious and finding new answers to hard questions about the world nobody has thought about before. My favourite things is the rush you get when you finally crack a problem after having worked on it for a long time.
I went to school in a small city in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, right across the border from Italy (1992-1996). I then did my Master degree at ETH Zurich (1996-2001), before moving to Geneva University (also in Switzerland) for my PhD (2001-2004). As a result, a speak Italian, German and French (sometimes all mixed up together).
I spent 3 years at Oxford University as the Lockyer Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a Junior Fellow at St Anne’s College (2005-2008), before being appointed a lecturer at Imperial College London. Since last Oct I have been an STFC Public Engagement Fellow.
Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics
Imperial College London
Me and my work
I try to find out what our Universe is made of and where it came from.
I study tiny bits of matter that are all around us but that we can not see, which we call dark matter. We know dark matter is out there because it changes the way other big far away things move, such as stars, and star groups. We want to understand what dark matter is made of because it could tell us about where everything around us came from and what will happen next.
To study dark matter, people like me use big things that have taken lots of money, thought and people to build. Some of those things fly way above us. Some are deep inside the ground. Some are large rings that make tiny pieces of normal matter kiss each other as they fly around very, very fast – almost as fast as light. We hope that we can hear the whisper of dark matter if we listen very carefully.
We take all the whispers from all the listening things and we put them together in our computers. We use big computers to do this, as there are lots and lots of tiny whispers we need to look at.
I go to places all over the world to talk to other people like me, as together we can think better and work faster. Together, perhaps we can even find new, better ways to listen to dark matter. Most of them are good people, and after we talked we go out and have a drink and talk some more.
If the above sounds a little weird, it’s because I’ve written it using only the most common 1000 words in English. In fact, I’ve just written a book that explains the entire All-There-Is (ooops, I meant the Universe!) using only those 1000 words.
My Typical Day
There is no typical day! My work is different every day, and that’s one of the reasons I love it.
What I'd do with the money
I’d set up a competition for school-aged students: the winner gets to carry out their research project at Imperial!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Curious, restless, stubborn.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
That’s a hard one! Probably steak, rare. With loads of mustard.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Running a marathon.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I didn’t have any big plans. I started studying physics, then astrophysics and I got hooked.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
This one if for my parents.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Probably physics – I had a very inspirational teacher.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I’ve found a new way to look for dark matter — but I haven’t found dark matter itself yet!
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
I loved Star Trek and the idea of exploring the Universe in a starship. I got no starship now, but I do get to do the “explore the Universe” part!
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A writer. Or a restaurant critic. Perhaps a food writer!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Go to space. Run a marathon in less than 3 hours. Eat at the Fat Duck restaurant (in this order!).
Tell us a joke.
How many astronomers does it take to change a light bulb? Two, one to change the bulb, the other to complain about light pollution! (Bonus, a nerdy joke: An exponential function is bored and alone in a bar. The bartender asks: “Why don’t you integrate yourself a bit?”. Answer: “It doesn’t make a difference!”)
This might be how an alien life-form would see me…
The view from my office: Looking over London from the 10th floor of the Blackett Lab in South Kensington.
My office as seen from my computer screen. In case you are wondering, what looks like a strangely balanced pile of rocks on the left is indeed a strangely balance pile of rocks. It’s granite, and it comes from the bed of an alpine river near my hometown.
Running an Hands-On Universe activity with 10 year olds — everybody is having great fun!
On the set of “The Theory of Everything”, where I helped with the science of this fun Cosmology & Love short story.