It was a passion for numbers that led Antonio Pellegrino, project leader for LHCb’s outer tracker, to life as a physicist. Growing up in the southern Italian city of Lecce, Antonio received a classical education, but his interest in mathematics meant picking a career was far from straightforward.
“When I finished school I was really split between my interest in ancient languages and mathematics,” recalls Antonio. “So I went to speak to various people in the town who were highly qualified in their subjects. One was a very famous professor of mathematics. He said, ‘yes, mathematics is interesting, but it’s a little bit limited.’ He pushed me towards theoretical physics.”
Antonio made another leap - both in his studies and geographically - when he moved to Amsterdam in 1990 to pursue a masters’ degree at the Dutch national institute for subatomic physics (NIKHEF). “I studied theoretical physics at university in Lecce and could have easily carried on with that. But when the time arrived to do a master’s thesis, one of my professors proposed for me to go for six months to Amsterdam. I was in my early twenties and wasn’t really thinking about the physics - I just thought how great it would be to live in Amsterdam for half a year!”
Although he took well to life in the Dutch capital, the transition from theoretical to nuclear physics wasn’t so easy. “When I arrived there I didn’t understand anything that was going on – it was so far from anything I’d studied. But I accepted the challenge and my masters’ lasted two years as I adjusted to a new subject.”
Antonio ended up staying in Amsterdam for another four years to study for a PhD. Then, after working for several years in Hamburg, he returned to NIKHEF in 2002 to take up the post of senior physics researcher.
In 2003, Antonio became project leader for the outer tracker group. “My job is essentially to coordinate the various aspects of the detector design, cooperation, construction, and installation,” he explains. “Around 30 people work on the outer tracker, mostly technicians and students, and many different institutes are involved. As well as my institute and another university in Amsterdam, there are two universities in Germany, two institutes in Poland, and one university in Beijing.”
Now that the start of the experiment is within sight, Antonio and his team are looking forward to finally seeing some data. “Some people in my project have been working on this project for more than 10 years,” he says. “We’ll be relieved to see it work and know for sure we’ve done a good job.”