«Begin at the beginning – the King said gravely – and go on till you come to the end; then stop »  – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Here I am, writing the final newsletter of this GraWIToN adventure. Supposedly, this should come about at the time when I finish my PhD. In fact, I still have quite a long way to go: I began to work in January rather than October, and a PhD in the UK lasts about 3.5 years while the GraWIToN project is only 3 years. All this means that I will be wearing the amazing British graduation robes in a little less than a year.


With a Hogwarts-style graduation ceremony like this, who would not want a PhD from the University of Glasgow?

However, the end already looms on the horizon. Your supervisor starts to ask for a thesis plan, suggests that you wrap up the experimental work and write a paper... and then you try to remember what happened in all this time. What’s been going on, you wonder, in the epic battle against lossy optical coatings?

Well… I spent two weeks last summer polishing silicon samples at Gooch & Housego in England, to understand the effect of the polishing process on the optical properties of silicon surfaces. Last September, Glasgow hosted a LVC meeting, the most important conference in the LIGO-Virgo Collaboration, which we had a lot of fun organising. We made sure our guests from all over the world could taste proper Scotch whisky and enjoy the dramatic landscapes of Scotland! In autumn, we GraWIToNs had the last two Schools of our program: one on lasers in Hannover, one about project management at EGO in Italy.

Then, after a quiet winter and spring (sometimes I think we travel so much to present our work that we forget to actually do it!) in July came the big opportunity for me to go to the 12th Amaldi Conference on Gravitational Waves in Pasadena, California. First intercontinental trip of my life! I gave a talk on the construction of a scatterometer in Glasgow, an instrument to measure light scattered off the optical axis from a material. It is important to know this quantity accurately, when we think about what material to use to make the mirrors for the next generation of gravitational wave detectors. After the conference, I took the chance to reward myself with a solo road trip around California and it was amazing (not research-related, ok….)

I have no words to say how lucky I feel about being part of GraWIToN. All the amazing experiences I lived because of it will remain as a fundamental part of my formation, forever. There is one bitter note to this: we GraWIToN are meant to have one last final event in Glasgow next week as I am writing. It was supposed to be the last occasion to meet, discuss our work, and maybe the last time we will see each other ever again. The gravitational wave community is a small world, but not all of us will remain in it. Alas, some GraWIToNs were not granted a UK visa in time to join the meeting. It hurts, when I think I could not say farewell to friends who shared this adventure with me until now, and might soon go to other continents, just for the stupidity of borders and bureaucracy. And it must hurt them, to not feel welcome in a country just because the passport they have is not powerful enough to let them in, unlike my privileged one. Passports do not (or should not) exist in science, but unfortunately they do exist in real life.

Right now, I am working to finish the scattering work in time to attempt to write a paper about it before the end of my PhD. That would be my first first-author paper. Meanwhile, another paper on optical absorption in amorphous silicon coatings is in the making. Hopefully, with the help of my supervisor, I will make the most of the work I’ve done in this time in Glasgow! And then, writing, writing and writing… this scares me quite a lot. And finally, the end of the PhD and the beginning of a new life. Where? Doing what? In what country? I absolutely don’t know. I’d like to join my girlfriend in Germany, we’re seeing if this can work out for me. But there will be time to think about that. First, I have a thesis to write.

I find the division of science in projects, papers and thesis chapters very artificial. It is just a human practical necessity, but knowledge is a continuum and never ends. For every answer you find, more questions appear. What you do today doesn’t mean much, if you don’t consider what you or your colleagues (in the lab next door or on the other side of the world) did yesterday or will do tomorrow. Just because my PhD ends, it doesn’t mean that was I was working on is done. Unfortunately, we are far from having the answer to how the coatings for the next generation of detectors should be.

I have begun this PhD not knowing what lay ahead, and now, after three and a half years, I will be wrapping up my work and trying to put together a thesis, only because I must and not because I think I finished my job or I found all the answers I was looking for. The relay baton of knowledge, that has being passed on from generation to generation for centuries, will carry on regardless of me, and I was just lucky enough to touch on it for a moment along its journey.

Science is a relay race, and GraWIToN allowed me to touch on the baton for a moment.

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