Earlier this month, Journal of Physics G proudly announced the appointment of Professor Jacek Dobaczewski from the University of York as its new Editor-in-Chief. We are looking forward to working with Prof Dobaczewski to develop the journal.
In an interview, below, Prof Dobaczewski gave us some insights into his work and his plans for JPhysG.
Why did you choose nuclear physics?
Already in my secondary school I knew that I want to be a physicist. Then, during my master studies I almost became an experimenter; after classes I had been going to nuclear physics lab to calibrate gamma detectors and to try to understand how gamma spectra could reveal the mysteries of the atomic nucleus. However, finally I decided to work on nuclear theory, mostly because I was attracted by a fantastic performance of the new supercomputer CDC Cyber 170, which featured a fast 60-bit 40MHz CPU and huge 384kB memory. Well, it was in 1973. Since then, with ever improving computer capabilities, I have always been working on computer-oriented modelling of nuclei, and I still find this area of science very challenging with lots of fascinating unsolved problems.
Which results are you most proud of in your career to date?
Undoubtedly, those related to pairing properties of weakly bound nuclei. I was able to show how the standard BCS description of pairing, known from solid state physics, must be corrected in finite systems such as nuclei. This work resonated perfectly well with experimental studies of neutron-rich systems, where pairing, deformation, and continuum effects have to be treated simultaneously.
What are you working on right now?
I am trying to link fundamental properties of the so-called density functional theory (DFT) to practical applications in nuclei. DFT is a miraculous idea that allows for replacing many-body coordinates of a many-body system (a heavy nucleus is composed of up to about 300 nucleons) by one or a few functions of space coordinates that are related to the density of the system. This is a tremendous simplification, which nevertheless has a potential of delivering exact results. The Holly Grail is a single functional of density that would accurately and precisely describe low-energy properties of all 6500-odd nuclei, which are predicted to be bound. Well, the exact number is negotiable, but the key requirement here is the best possible precision and accuracy.
You’re from Warsaw originally and recently moved to York in the UK. How does it compare to life back home?
I have been very lucky to benefit from excellent scientific environment of the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw. I received all my degrees from there – MSc, PhD, DSc – and I went there through the entire career path. However, I have also been living a nomadic life of an ambulant physicist, which is quite typical in contemporary science. I loved every moment of such a life. I had a chance to spend my first postdoc at Orsay, France, which at that time was THE place for nuclear DFT. My second postdoc was at Caltech, California, where I met people like Willie Fowler, the Nobel Prize of 1983. Later I was a long-term visiting professor at Saclay, Oak Ridge, and Strasbourg, but the most fascinating and challenging experience up to now was for me the Finland Distinguished Professor position at University of Jyväskylä, which I will continue to hold till the end of 2017. There I could build an entirely new group of nuclear theorists and attack problems that required a significant concentrated effort of several researchers. With similar enthusiasm, in 2015 I moved to the University of York – well, I wonder if this is the place where I finally settle for good – probably yes.
What is your advice to physicists who are just starting out in their careers?
Follow your untamed curiosity. Benefit from the experience and advice of your seasoned colleagues, but look for your own paths. Be part of a team and learn how to collaborate, but constantly explore directions that appear promising to you. You are right, I am not giving you hints on how to take care of your career – this will come only after your paw makes first visible marks on the sand.
What are the most important things offered by Journal of Physics G?
The Journal offers an excellent service to the scientific community. Its board is composed of high-level scientists whose opinions define Journal’s strategy and structure. Authors enjoy high-standard peer review and fast processing times. And remember that the Journal is owned and run by a not-for-profit organisation, which is the Institute of Physics, so the commercial issues do not overshadow science.
How do you want to see Journal of Physics G develop over the next 3 years?
Science and academia prosper through tradition and stability. For a number of years, Journal of Physics G has been on the rise and I would love to maintain this trend during my term in office. In 2017, I would like to focus on improving the communication channels with authors and on rewarding our best referees for their excellent work. I am convinced that the path to growth and standing of a scientific journal leads entirely through its scholarly quality, which, in turn, depends on offering the best service to authors and on proposing publication channels that are most useful to readers. Therefore, we will continue to develop our very successful Topical Reviews and Focus Issues and further develop our relatively new sections of Tutorials and Letters.
When you are not at work, what are your favourite things to do?
What do you mean by not being at work? An old man was asked what he does when he has some free time, and he said: “I sit on my porch and think”. And when you have no time? “Then I just sit”. So for me the most favourite thing to do is to sit and think. Of course, most of the time I have no time and I just sit, attending to millions of daily responsibilities that come with the description of the job. Well, this is not entirely true: I still find time to read (I love biographies), to listen to music (I love Pawel Szymanski), to go out (escargots!), and the best of all, to ski.
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