10 Questions with Tara Nanut
Tara Nanut, 26, from Slovenia is a Ph.D. student at the Jozef Stefan Institute in Slovenia.
Her research is about CP-violation, the fundamental asymmetry between matter and antimatter, which is clearly noticeable based on the fact that the universe is made of solely matter, not antimatter.
Tara is a participant of the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting which is dedicated to the field of physics in 2016.
Enjoy the interview with Tara and get inspired:
- What inspired you to pursue a career in physics / STEM?
The fundamentalness of it. I was both blessed and cursed with the fact that I was equally good in all subjects at school, thus liking all and nothing, and nobody was able to advise me a career path – saying “well you can do anything, really”. Suggestions ranged from literature to geography to languages, but somehow I could not see the “magic” in any of them, something that would really capture me above all else. To the point that, in this search for “magic”, I blurted once that I’ll go do metaphysics and study the powers of mind control, and such. To which my mother replied calmly that if I want to do that, I have to study physics first. “If you want to understand how a mind can influence a spoon,” she said, “you have to first understand all the physical laws of the spoon”.
And the more I thought of this, the more intrigued I was in this basic proposition: physics. To understand the physical laws of the spoon? To understand the most fundamental laws there are. To understand, in a way, the world. This was magic by itself.
In this pursuit of fundamentalness, I further chose particle physics, and to this day, what goes on in this tiniest world of the most basic particles still blows my mind.
- Who are your role models?
I have thought long and hard, trying to find a name to put here, until I realised that if I have to think so much about it, there obviously isn’t one. No, I don’t have any particular role models. I don’t really pre-set my life with very precise future goals. I work it one thing at the time, and somehow the next goal always presents itself in the right way. I am not pre-determining my goals for too far in life, who knows, maybe an idea will come later that will be better of anything I can think of now. As long as I do my best in what I’m doing at any time, I believe things will develop in the right way at the right time.
- How did you get to where you are in your career path?
A career in science was always a subject to look at in awe – it’s the best of the students that continue to a phD, and the best of them that then go on in science. I had this in the corner of my mind, but it would’ve taken a big step and a lot of confidence to actually set it as a goal. But before I had to actually decide what career path to pursue as I was nearing the end of my studies, the professor that I would’ve wanted most to work with approached me with an offer of a position. It was like a dream come true before you even dared to acknowledge it as your dream. Sold!
- What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The Belle II experiment. It is the next generation high energy physics experiment going online 2018 and is expected to push boundaries of flavour physics and high precision measurements even further. It is very exciting to work on such a project that will shape high energy physics in the next decades.
Also, it’s a collaborative effort of hundreds of physicists from dozens of institutes from all around the globe, taking years to develop and set in motion. It really is a huge thing. And it’s amazing, starting to watch the reports of simulations and small tests, then blueprints for production, then the real components actually being produced, tested and working! And then assembling the whole thing, combining projects and parts from different groups, each of them state-of-the-art themselves, and often pioneers in their field. Isn’t it mind-blowing, when everything in the end falls together, and it works just how it was meant to?
- What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
With the preliminary results of my phD work, I got a Young Scientist talk at a big conference to present them. Obviously, it was a huge step for me – presenting my very own results for the first time! You want to really give the best of yourself, and more. I got really nice comments afterwards, but the best acknowledgment came the next day. I was walking down a hallway when I heard a “Hey! Excuse me!”. Turning around, I saw one of the conference organisers on the phone. He put the phone down, ran the few meters to me, patted me on the shoulder and said “Congratulations, excellent talk!!”, before resuming his phone call. I knew then that I had really done my best, and that it was good.
- What is a “day in the life” of Tara like?
I don’t think I can really answer this question in a general way. And that’s a good thing! Wouldn’t it be boring if I could? Experimental particle physics is a truly collaborative field, so the intensity of the work is a very dynamical variable. Sometimes, you sit alone in your office for days, churning data and trying to fit an elephant-like shape with bifurcated Gaussians. Sometimes, you sit at online meetings at all kinds of weird hours with people from all over the world, trying your best to understand all sorts of exotic English accents. And sometimes, you are still in your office at 10pm, finishing your presentation with one hand and booking a dormitory and plane tickets for a collaboration meeting in Japan with the other hand…
- What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
Experimental particle physics is the prime example of collaborative work. You really pick up the feeling “it’s not me, it’s us”. The most rewarding thing I can think of now is to be there, to be a part of it, when New Physics is discovered. To hold a champagne glass in a room with everybody else when the press conference goes on.
- What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
Travel. I (at least try to) collect fridge magnets from everywhere I go. Looking at them, it’s like the whole world is right there in my kitchen.
- What advice do you have for other women interested in physics / STEM?
It’s great, you should do it!
- In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physics research?
When New Physics is found! Something that is so new, we don’t even know what it is now! Anything is possible…
What should be done to increase the number of female profs of physics?
Not much can be done from today to tomorrow. But I think we’re actually getting there. If I speak to older colleagues, we can see that with time, the number of female students at our faculty is steadily increasing. The key for the future is in the younger generations – make them believe there are no differences, then why would there be, when they come to the stage?