What made you want to be a physicist?
Feynman’s autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! I read it as a teenager and it kicked off a long-lasting fascination for physics. For a while I also thought about becoming a mathematician, but then I was drawn by the richness of physics, a subject that stretches from the understanding of the origin of the universe to the conception of next-generation electronic devices. As many others I entered university thinking I wanted to be an astrophysicist, but after finding out more about the marvels of solid-state systems I ended up being a condensed matter physicist instead.
If you weren’t a physicist, what would you like to be (and why)?
I considered studying classics — I was particularly fascinated by the evolution of the Greek ancient language, as it gives insight on how languages developed. However, my secret plan has always been to open my own factory of soft toys. I would make fluffy versions of all the cutest animals, from the domestic to the rare. But I haven’t totally discarded the idea of owning a chocolate factory either.
Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with — and why?
Dinner with Aristotle would be cool. He was such a great thinker I suspect there would be no shortage of topics to discuss, starting from his deep questions about the physical world. Maybe he could bring along his pupil Alexander the Great. He must have had a magnetic personality.
What would be your (physics) superpower?
Teleportation! I could pop in for lunch with friends in Paris, and chill on a beach in Sardinia in the afternoon. Coffee and cake on the Amalfi coast.
What’s your favourite (quasi-)particle?
Definitely skyrmions. They look so awesome with their arrangement of colourful spins. There is a lot of fascinating materials research going on to obtain smaller and more controllable skyrmions, and they have cool potential applications. Lately I’m getting into Majorana quasiparticles as well, as their observation requires top-notch condensed matter physics experiments and they might enable error-protected quantum computers. In preparation for when I will have my toy shop, I made a soft Majorana fermion that keeps me company in the office.
What Sci-Fi gadget / technology would you most like to have / see come true (and why)?
In Italy there is a comic-book character, Eta Beta, who wears a little black skirt in which he can stock anything, a bit like in Mary Poppins’ bag, as objects become incredibly small (and hopefully light!) as they are stored in the pockets. I find such a garment would be practical, provided the storage is organized enough to find stuff speedily.