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Marcos Santander

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Marcos Santander

I was born in General Alvear, a small town in the province of Mendoza, western Argentina, a place that it’s probably better known outside my country for its wine rather than for its physics.

As a young kid, I loved to spend many hours under the magnificent dark skies of my grandparents’ farmhouse, most of the times in the company of my grandfather who taught me how to spot some of the southern constellations and the Magellanic Clouds in the sky. I quickly found out that I wanted to become an astronomer when I grew up. With this objective in mind, I spent most of my childhood surrounded by astronomy books, participated in attending a local astronomy club, and tried to understand as much as I could about the universe, mostly by reading popular science magazines.

But by the time I was leaving high school, my vocational calling was hitting a low note. I was unsure about pursuing a degree in astronomy or astrophysics. With the national economy taking a down turn, spending several years in college to become an astrophysicist did not seem as a good plan to me. I thought it would be more practical to choose a career in the city where I was living with my family then (San Rafael), but this career would anyway have to contain some amount of math and physics to fit my taste. I finally found it: electro-mechanical engineering.

During my first years in college I slowly got used to the idea of working as an engineer. As such, I learned to like the topic. I got used to the idea of facing the challenges and to imagine myself building things to improve the lives of other people (while earning a few bucks in the way, probably.) The path that my professional life would follow in the coming years was clearly planned: no questionings, no contradictions.

But then, it happened...

As Michael Corleone once famously stated: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” I found out that just 200 kilometers away from my city, a group of scientists and technicians was building what it is known today as the Pierre Auger Observatory. I just couldn’t believe my luck.

I volunteered to work in the observatory, at the beginning just as an undergraduate student working for little more than just the fun of it. But I slowly became more and more involved in the operation of the experiment. By the end of college I was selecting bearings for a crane and, on the side, coding analysis software to determine the absolute pointing direction of Auger’s air fluorescence telescopes; this division could not stand, so I chose to follow the long and winding road to physics.

Luckily for me, the people that surround me are crazy and patient enough to support my endeavors. This is how I ended up moving to the US with my wife, Elisa (who I met during a long stay at a lab in Buenos Aires), and our beautiful daughter, Florencia, who has just turned 3. I’m now starting grad school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I’ll be working in the IceCube neutrino observatory, an exciting project to detect ultra-high energy neutrinos using a cubic-kilometer sized detector in the South Pole.

You’re invited to follow my blog if you want to read about the day-to-day life of a newly admitted grad student, and also if you want to hear some random thoughts on the exciting and rapidly evolving field of astroparticle physics.