About

I studied physics at the University of Genoa (Italy) where I got my bachelor and master degrees. I obtained my PhD in astrophysics from Université Sorbonne Paris Cité (France). I currently am a postdoc at UCLA (USA) in the Galactic Center Group. In 2017 I spent some time at Keck Observatory as a Keck Visiting Scholar.

My research focus is the study of the Center of our Galaxy. I am interested in understanding how the center of a galaxy works, what regulates its activity and what is the effect of the central supermassive black hole on its environment. I carry on my research through data analysis, primarily using spectro-imaging data acquired with infrared telescopes. I am also involved in the development of the tools that enable my research, such as adaptive optics. To know more see Research.

I truly believe science is about sharing and spreading knowledge, and I love engaging in outreach activities such as public talks, educational events and in everyday life head to head conversations. To know more see Outreach.

Eclipse

Research

The center of our Galaxy is 100 times closer than the nearest spiral galaxy’s core. Therefore, it offers a unique opportunity to study the processes allowing the central supermassive black hole to access the reservoir of material that can potentially enhance its activity.

Interstellar Medium in the Galactic Center

I studied the structure and dynamics of the interstellar medium in the central parsec of the Galaxy, using spectro-imaging data (gathered by the VLT) and a new method: a regularized 3D fit (CubeFit). This method injects as much prior information as possible into the spatial gradients of flux, velocity and linewidth of emission lines, and allows to recover low signal-to-noise emission lines and well-characterizes the interstellar medium’s extended emission. In the central parsec, where the strong UV field is supposed to dissociate the molecular phase of the interstellar medium, molecular hydrogen (H2) is detected everywhere. These molecules might have formed in the winds of evolved mass-losing stars in the region, and produce the observed emission shortly before being dissociated by the strong UV radiation.

Environment of the central black hole

The inner few tens of arcseconds of the Galactic center have been observed at high resolution with Keck telescopes for 20 years, with the primary goal of monitoring stars orbiting around the central supermassive black hole. This unique dataset also allows to closely examine gas features and their dynamics. In particular, I highlighted several compact emission sources in Brγ emission line (near-infrared hydrogen recombination line) which are in orbit around the central supermassive black hole. These objects appear to have many of the same characteristics as the tidally-interaction G2. The debate on the stellar or purely gaseous nature of G2 (and G1) is still open. The discovery and characterization of the new sources (G3, G4, G5 and G6) demonstrates the existence of a population of these "G objects," which helps to constrain assumptions about their origin. The G-objects could be the product of a fusion of binary star systems, in the form of a stellar core masked by a gas and dust envelope. These results represent an important step in understanding the nature of these objects as well as the environmental conditions of the Galactic Center.

PSF-reconstruction

The knowledge of the PSF (Point Spread Function) is central for extracting science information from observations made with adaptive optics systems. However, it is often challenging to have a good PSF estimate, for instance in very crowded fields (e.g. the Galactic Center) or extended sources (e.g. galaxies). This happens for the Keck’s integral field, OSIRIS, which small field of view prevents from obtaining any good empirical PSF estimate. OSIRIS is equipped with a parallel imager, but its distance of 20 arcseconds from the spectrograph makes it impossible to apply its PSF directly to spectroscopic data. The Galactic Center Group at UCLA has developed algorithms to predict PSF variability (Off-axis PSF reconstruction): AIROPA. Its approach consists in predicting a PSF at a given position starting from an empirical on-axis PSF and taking into account instrumental aberrations and atmospheric perturbations. AIROPA allows to use the parallel imager to predict a PSF on the spectrograph. This semi-empirical approach to off-axis PSF reconstruction, applied to an integral field spectrograph, represents an example for future instruments of extremely large telescopes.

Observing
Summit

Outreach

I have always considered education and outreach activities as important and complementary parts to the researcher's job.

During my postdoc, I followed a training within the Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators (ISEE): Professional Development Program (PDP). The workshops focused on various effective and inclusive teaching strategies. The program included discussions on pedagogical research and teaching theories, highlighting why and how different strategies work more or less effectively. Based on these lessons, I then designed my own inquiry activity, which I then put into practice with undergraduate students. I engaged in other teaching activities, for example holding a seminar at UCLA Extensions to teach professionals looking for enhanced education, and I further sponsored elementary school classes and held lessons for students of all ages. I am also part of the Global Sphere Network which aims at connecting mentors and schools for teaching STEM.

I have been involved in several outreach activities. I held seminars in schools (for example Parker School in Waimea, HI and Mirman School in Los Angeles, CA) and public talks (Ventura County Astronomical Society). I have also taken part in numerous outreach events, such as Exploring your Universe at UCLA, the Keck Observatory open house in 2017 and the Festival della Scienza in Genoa (Italy). For two years, I led a public lecture on the Milky Way at the Palais de la Découverte, a popular science museum in Paris. One of the experiences that particularly marked me was being part of the Space Bus Senegal (organized by the Senegalese Astronomers Association and the Senegal Ministry of education): the bus traveled through Senegal in March 2015 to promote scientific culture in schools and public spaces in Senegal, reaching out to kids of all ages and genders. In the time I spent there I had the opportunity to talk with a very large public on various subjects in astronomy and in science in general, learning about different points of view and adapting my teaching skills.

SpaceBus
talk

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