25 January 2011

Teresa Fonseca Martin

Nationality: Spanish

Has cooking something to do with physics? Sure! There is a difference, if the meal is cooked in a clay pot or in a metal pot. In a clay pot it will take longer to heat the food up, but then the temperature will stay for a long time, even thought the oven is turned off. On the contrary the metal pot will heat up much faster, but as soon the pot is removed from the oven, the heat is nearly gone.

Teresa Fonseca Martin remembers vividly that her mother used a clay pot very often to prepare the meals. But more important for her was her father's conclusion: “‘Everything is physics’, my father used to say,” Teresa recalls with a smile. “He is an architect, now he is retired, not a scientist. He is interested in everything and very active.” She inherited this curiosity, as well as her love for good food. “I was born and spent my childhood in Ourense, a small village in Galicia in the Northwest of Spain, by the Atlantic Ocean. People say it looks like Ireland with all the green hills. We have fantastic seafood and fish there.”

In grammar school she was not only interested in science but in all the other subjects – history, art, Galician literature, Latin... but history and physics were the most interesting for her. “I was always curious to understand the world,” Teresa explains. “So I was hesitating between history, to understand the behaviour of men or physics to understand the behaviour of matter.”

She had to move to Santiago de Compostela to continue her education. Due to her physics teacher at high school, her interest struck toward physics. Her teacher was very fond of CERN even though he had never been there himself.

As undergraduate in 1999 Teresa joined the experiment NA59 at CERN and stayed for two months in Geneva. The spokesperson of this experiment, Mayda Velasco, offered her a PhD position in the US at the Northwestern University near Chicago, where she finished her thesis on “First observation of the decay of K_S into pi0 mu+ mu- in the NA48/1 experiment at CERN” in 2005. “I loved the years I spent in Chicago: it is a great city,” Teresa recalls.

She spent two years at CERN as a research fellow, then as research assistant at Royal Holloway University of London, and started to work for the university in Bern this year. “I like challenges and changes and I love to learn new things,” Teresa explains. “And CERN building the new collider was the place to be as a physicist. ” She works for the SUSY trigger, doing analysis and building links between SUSY and the Trigger. “With the higher luminosity we have to make sure that, although we have to cut harder, the most interesting events are still covered,” Teresa explains. “That means a lot of meetings, e-mails and shifts,” she adds smiling.

Teresa has based in Geneva for the last five years. She lives downtown Geneva, near to restaurants and – even more important – in walking distance of the movies. But she is not at all interested in the latest Hollywood movies. “The last film I saw was “Biutiful” by Alejandro González Iñárritu. It is the story of a man that doesn't have a proper job fighting for his kids, he has a tough life and he is not an angel. It is a terribly sad story but a very good movie with social contents, remembering us how tough life is for many people without falling in angelical characters.” Another of her hobbies is reading – and there her history-loving side shows, as her last book, “Ines y la alegria” (“Ines and happiness”) by Almudena Grandes, tells the story of a woman (and all the people that surround her) from the Spanish civil war in Madrid in 1936 until the eighties when she comes back to Spain after being exiled in France.

Of course, living in Switzerland means mountains as well. “I love the sight of the mountains, which I did not know when I came to Switzerland. But I am not very sportive,” she admits. “I am still learning to ski with the CERN Ski club and avoid skiing the black pistes.” Another of her hobbies is travelling, that is for her not staying in fancy hotels or being pampered in a spa. Her kind of holiday is a more adventurous one: “I traveled with a backpack and in public transport in Columbia and Chile, when I was in Latin America. I collaborated via email, phone and Skype with people from Colombia, Universidad Antonio Narino for a few months before going there in September 2007. I was working in Bogotá Colombia for one month the last month of my CERN research fellow contract as a postdoc with the HELEN fellowship from the European Union. Then I stayed two months traveling mostly in Colombia on unpaid holidays before starting as a research assistant in RHUL. At that time I also went three weeks to Chile, I worked one week with the people of Santiago de Chile (PUC) also in ATLAS, and then traveled there for a couple of weeks.”

For her future – hopefully permanent – position she would like to be more involved in the analysis, as she has just started working with DAQ. “Maybe in a Mediterranean country.” Going back to North or Latin America would be an option as well. But for the more immediate future, Teresa is simply looking forward to her conference in Lake Louise, Canada, at the end of January.




Birgit Ewert

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