Analysis of distant cosmic sources emitting X-rays is routine for me; I also spend a significant amount of time in disseminating the results of the analysis in talks and articles, and comparing point of views with colleagues in meetings and conferences.
This is how I became an investigator of supermassive black holes.
I was born in Jesi on March 3rd, 1983.
Jesi is a medium-sized city in the center of Italy, with a tiny but well-conserved medieval city center very beautiful to walk. It is famous for musicians, fencers, wine, footballers, and… emperors. Indeed, Jesi has entered history for having become the birthplace of the Emperor Federico II, on December 26th, 1194. That event taught all of us Jesini that chance and unpredictable things can shape your destiny much more than any plan. In fact Federico’s mother, Costanza de Altavilla, stopped in Jesi to give birth to his son because she couldn’t wait a day more. The 40 years old Costanza was traveling to Palermo to meet with her husband Enrico VI, and got ready to give birth right when passing by Jesi. After that, Jesi got linked forever to the name of the enlightened Emperor, gaining the title of “Royal City”. All by chance.
I have been a lucky child: not only wealth, but complete intellectual freedom was given by my parents, Eleonora and Stefano, to me and my brother Riccardo.
In particular, I know since very little age that food and books are the most important things in life; and a huge library in the living room of the house I grew up in, has always been one of my favorites places on Earth: so full of old and new treasures to dwell in, so out of time. I have always been a curious human and an avid reader, and the beginning of my education happened before the internet era: I used to do my research using the encyclopedia in the library of the living room. These days my family does not live in Jesi anymore, but that library still exists, still full of books (encyclopedia included!), in the house where my mother and her partner live, in the Trasimeno Lake. My mother is not into science at all, but she is the one who most shaped the destiny of my profession as astronomer. Among the immensely vast, probably infinite human knowledge that was at my reach (in the meanwhile, internet had arrived in our lives), I remember two book-related episodes which moved my direction toward astronomy and astrophysics; both books were gifts of my mother. The first episode happened when I was very young, around 10 years old. My mother came back from a trip to Venice with two marvelous, shiny, new books: one about the Universe, the other about the theater. When you opened the books, 3D reconstructions came out of the paper, of either magnificent masks and vests, or stars and galaxies. My attention was completely sucked by the second book (I remember being completely shocked — in a positive, enthusing way — in discovering the scale distance of the Universe). The other episode happened later in my life and at a crucial point of my education: around 16-17 years old, I was about to complete my classical high school studies, and a decision about which University I would have chosen to complete my education was soon needed. I had no idea what to choose as subject of my future studies, except for knowing it would not have been economy, nor law, nor medicine; all the rest of human knowledge looked interesting to me. My mother then gave me a copy of “A brief history of time” by Stephen Hawking. I was completely fascinated by that book: I read it rapidly but intensely, gaining an immense and fun amount of knowledge — but, I got stuck on some details. No way to understand elementary particles, quarks and gluons in particular. Not even with that book so clearly written! Therefore I realized that I needed somebody to explain those part of modern physics to me — a human in person: a professor. I seriously started thinking studying astronomy.
The first years of University have been very hard: in fact, at the beginning of the third year I still had to pass the Math exam of the first year. After some pressure by my mother and a summer closed in a room studying a not-so-comprehensible language, I went back to Bologna and passed the Math exam with full marks. The rest of the path has been easy. I got my B. Sc. in Astronomy in 2005, and my M. Sc. in Astrophysics and Cosmology in 2007, at the Astronomy Department of the University of Bologna (today DIFA, Department of Physics and Astronomy).
In 2008 I started my Ph.D. in Astronomy, which brought me to enlarge my vision in a decisive way.