Focus on Ester Casula

Virginia Greco

Ester Anna Rita Casula is a postdoctoral researcher at the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) of Cagliari - her hometown. She has been ALICE Run Manager for two weeks between June and August of this year.

During her second week of shift, I meet Ester at point 2, where she spends most of her time monitoring the data taking and making sure everything runs smoothly.

Sitting with me in the kitchen next to the control room, she talks smiling and laughing. I can see that she has a very extroverted personality. Besides telling me about her work, she unveils an uncommon passion of hers…


What's you background and your career path up to now?

I have studied Physics at the University of Cagliari, in Italy, and I have been a member of the ALICE collaboration since when I was working on my Bachelor's Degree thesis. At that time, we didn't have data yet, so I used Monte Carlo simulations. Then, for my Master's Degree thesis and during my PhD I focused on the analysis of low masses in the di-muon channel – thus, mainly the F - in pp, Pb-Pb and p-Pb collisions at all of the energies we have taken data with. I started with the data from pp collisions at 7 TeV - for my Master's thesis - and then continued with the other energies and with p-Pb and Pb-Pb data (in detail: pp at 2.76 and 5 TeV, p-Pb at 5 TeV, Pb-Pb at 2.76 and 5 TeV).

After completing my PhD in 2014, I started a first postdoc with the University of Cagliari and now I am concluding a second postdoc with the INFN in the same town.

I am based in Cagliari, but in the last months I have spent most of my time at CERN and, in particular, in the control room, since I have also followed some runs as a shift leader.

How do you like being the run manager?

It is an interesting experience: every day you might have to face a different problem. For example, during my shift once we were called by the LHC control room to be informed that ALICE was causing the dump of the beam. Of course, we had to solve the issue very quickly. It happened in the dead of the night and I was at home. As soon as I received the call by the shift leader I got up and went to the control room. Luckily I am staying nearby,  in Saint-Genis.

In situations like this you have to react quickly, try to understand the issue as fast as you can and take decisions. In this specific case, the problem was caused by the threshold of the Beam Control Monitors (BCM), which are basically protection devices. We called the expert on call for the BCM, who checked the situation and fixed this issue. Even though the problem seemed to be solved, I kept staying in the control room until 5 am, because I was worried that something else could happen.

What do you like the most of this role?

Certainly this, the fact that you need to keep under control and solve different kinds of issues. In addition, you have to give instructions and take decisions: this is quite challenging, if you are not used to it. Actually, you start training in taking responsibilities already when you are the shift leader. When you become run manager, you go a little step forward. I spend a lot of time in the control room and, when I am at home, I check continuously the electronic log to know how the run is proceeding. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do - even before standing up - is checking online the status of the accelerator, to know if it is working, and of the experiment.

It sounds a bit stressing…

Well, it can be stressing sometimes, indeed. In particular because you have to be ready and react quickly; but, actually, I am finding it easier this week, since it is my second time as  run manager.

You can count on the run coordinator anyway, right?

Sure. But we call her only if something very important happens. For normal issues, such as a shift leader having some doubts about the operations to perform, the run manager takes on the responsibility. Certainly, it is important to know what the most common issues are. That is why, before starting my first shift, I overlapped with the previous run manager for some days.

What's your main field of interest?

I work on the analysis of the F in Pb-Pb collisions. An article on this topic based on data at 2.75 TeV is in preparation and now we are analyzing data from collisions at 5 TeV. I am quite specialized on this topic.

Would you like to change topic to do something different?

Yes, why not?

Actually, when I was doing my first steps in the analysis, I made some study on the U, but it was based on simulations only, so it was more of an exercise than a real analysis.

Anyway, I will see. I will have to evaluate the opportunities.

What are your plans for the future?

My postdoctoral contract at INFN will get to an end soon, so I will have to look for another job. I would prefer to keep staying in Cagliari, but I am also taking into consideration the possibility to make an experience in another country.

Where? Or where absolutely not?

Well, preferably in Europe, but not necessarily. Certainly I would avoid cold places… [She laughs].

Would you like to teach?

I don't know. I have been a tutor for two courses at the University, which means that I helped the professor with the laboratory lessons. It was an interesting experience, but I am not particularly attracted to teaching, mainly because it takes a lot of time to prepare classes and find the right way to explain complex topics.

Thus, I guess you would prefer to work for a Laboratory, as you are doing at INFN?

Ideally yes, I would prefer to focus only on research.

Nevertheless, I don't exclude the academic career either. I think that I can enjoy part of the process of training students, even though I think it can be hard and tiring.

What are your interests outside work?

Well, my main hobby is breeding dogs. I raise them and make them compete in dog shows, which are dog beauty contests. [She laughs.]

How many dogs do you have?

I have three at my place, in Cagliari. Three more are looked after by some friends of mine but I make them participate in competitions as well.

I get a litter of puppies once every three years and I keep some of them. They are all Italian Greyhounds with pedigree. I own the mother and select a father when I decide to have new puppies. [She laughs again.]

What  moves you to do this?

I love them. I have even created the world online database of the Italian hounds, which didn't exist before. I started it by myself, then I got some help from other three breeders in US and France. We have registered about 60,000 dogs. Unfortunately, we could go backward only till the end of the 19th century. Lately, the national dog clubs are putting information online, but in order to collect old data I had to rely on the original documentation. So, I went personally to the headquarters of the Italian National Dog Institution (ENCI) in Milan and photocopied all the certificates they have, from  1912 up to now.

This is cool, but why did you do it?

[She laughs.] This is the same question I was asked by the secretary who attended me at the ENCI…


Alice Matters