One minute with Flavio Cavanna, neutrino scientist

Flavio Cavanna is an active member of the global neutrino community. He is a co-coordinator for ProtoDUNE and an experimentalist on both MicroBooNE and LArIAT.

Flavio Cavanna is an active member of the global neutrino community. He is a co-coordinator for ProtoDUNE and an experimentalist on both MicroBooNE and LArIAT.

How long have you been at Fermilab?
I’ve been a visiting scientist in the Neutrino Division for a year and a half, coming from Yale University, where I hold an adjunct faculty position. But I’ve been coming to Fermilab since 2007, spending essentially every summer here. Before that I visited from time to time. My original institutional home is in Italy at L’Aquila University and INFN.

What experiments do you work on?
I’m involved in most of the liquid-argon detectors for neutrino experiments, including LArIAT, MicroBooNE and DUNE.

What are your responsibilities for DUNE?
Just last week I was appointed co-coordinator for ProtoDUNE at CERN. It’s a joint effort between CERN and the international community, most of it based here in the U.S., to build a full scale prototype for the DUNE detector. When it’s built, around mid-2018, it will be the world’s biggest liquid-argon detector — about 800 tons of liquid argon. We just met here at Fermilab to discuss the first part that will be assembled, the cryostat. The schedule to build ProtoDUNE will proceed very quickly, with an every-other-week goal to achieve. It’s a very exciting time. “It’s hard, but it’s doable,” people keep saying. With a comprehensive coordinated effort of the components of the collaboration, which I hope will increase in the near future, we can achieve this ambitious goal.

What does a typical day for you look like?
The MicroBooNE detector recently became fully operational, and in this phase of its life it’s like a baby that is learning to walk, and we stay nearby in case of need. So we have two people on shift 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I’m just coming from four consecutive overnight shifts. During the shift, while accumulating neutrino data, we monitor the detector to make sure everything goes smoothly. The nicest thing that can happen is that, at the end of the shift, there’s nothing to pass on to the next shifter. A smooth shift.

The LArIAT experiment takes a good fraction of my daily activity, which I’m so happy about. It became fully functional in April, when we had the first run at the test beam facility. We closed the detector, filled it with argon, and the second after we switched on the high voltage, we started seeing beautiful tracks, intriguing events. Now we want to extract physical results. To have the full picture, you have to put together the thousands of pieces of a complicated puzzle. The most rewarding part of my day is sitting next to our younger colleagues, discussing physics and struggling with the way to maximize the results and minimize the error. I feel this is just what an experimentalist is supposed to do.

What do you like to do outside the lab?
I run five miles almost every day. I live on site, so I profit off the flatness of the region — perhaps too flat for my liking — but for running it’s good. Previously I was living in a mountainous area where I skied, and that’s what I hope to do in the next few days. But what I love the most is spending time with my wife and with my son, who’s 12. I help with homework, some of which I’ve forgotten how to do, but it’s a nice way to catch up on the basics and to spend time next to him.