How I ended up being a physicist

3rd July 2017
Silvia Biondi

When I was young, and I mean when I was a child, I had my favorite armchair in my parents' home. I loved sitting there for hours reading. Like a lot of other children, I was very curious and at a very early age I started reading my mother’s books and many more, like the "Divine Commedy" by Dante Aligheri. I was a little different from the other children also because, instead of persuading my parents to buy me cards full of colored pictures, I was asking my father for a science magazine. But I do not think I was a weird child. I mean, I had the same desires as other little girls: I had a lot of dolls and I loved watching Sailor Moon on TV (I still do, but this is not the point). So, why did a little girl want science magazines so much? Coloring books were much more fascinating...

The answer is in my father’s passion for science: he does not have a favorite movie but he has many favorite documentaries. I started watching these documentaries with curiosity and I ended up loving them as much as my father did. I would like to mention one of the most influent (and I think almost the first) Italian journalists who started talking about science to the public in the '80s. I was not born yet, but in the '90s he was still there, telling people about dinosaurs, time, Romans, technologies, stars and planets.

Piero Angela was, and still is, one of my role models. So, sitting in that armchair, I started reading his "Quark" magazines and I started traveling among stars and planets, among ancient populations and great discoveries. I totally fell in love with that stuff and I kept reading it for years. Growing up, I chose a high school focusing on science and I was very happy with it, I had so many questions in my mind that needed an answer! However, when I started studying physics it was a total catastrophe. When I was 14, I totally messed up with my first physics test, I felt stupid and not able to understand the subject! My expectations were so high that I underestimated the difficulties of the subject, even if I liked it a lot. When I failed that test, I understood that I should have studied more and embrace this new challenge that Physics was sending me. 

I did and on my eighteenth birthday my friends gave me a present that made me as happy as a baby at Christmas: a telescope! At the time I was sure I wanted to be an astrophysicist. And I kept this same aim during my first two years as an undergraduate student at the University of Rome. I finally started to study astrophysics in my third year. The moment I'd dreamt of for years was there! Galaxies, stars, planets and giant nebulae were all around me and were waiting to be discovered! Well, studying astrophysics was actually a sort of big delusion, simply because it wasn’t as I had always imagined it. This does not mean that I didn't like it, I only understood that astrophysics was not my cup of tea; it does not answer my deepest questions. In the meantime, I started studying high-energy physics and its history. Particles, field perturbations, relativistic kinematics and weird zoology of resonances: everything seemed so fascinating and powerful! That was the moment when I decided what I really wanted to be, what I wanted to discover and study.

Following this hard road, I got here, I'm an INFN researcher that has spent two years at CERN, learning a lot about physics, technologies and people. Being a researcher is not simple, it's not as many outsiders may think. We are not super-heroes or world-savers, we are just people with a strong passion for what we don’t know yet and with a big curiosity. Since we were young we've been reading science magazines as if they were comics. 

This is how I ended up being a particle physicist!