A Nobel-worthy Venetian. An interview with Fabrizio Tamburini

The internationally renowned astrophysicist talks about his relationship with numbers and the stars, and his great passions for Venice, which he had to leave, for racing cars and the violin.

Versione Italiana

Aside from my passion for cars, I have unworthily adopted three violins, a French one from the mid-nineteenth century, one from the early eighteenth century and one from the early twentieth century. When I can, I relieve my nerves during and after work, if there is a room free at the SerenDPT H3 factory center on Giudecca island in Venice.

Fabrizio Tamburini’s work is highly specialized. He is Venetian, but is now an inhabitant of the mainland. He graduated with honors in Astronomy from the University of Padua, then pursued a specialization curriculum, earning a Ph.D in relativity and quantum physics in England. Today he is a researcher at the Rotonium Society of Udine (which works on the study and development of optical quantum algorithms and calculators, etc.). In May 2011, Tamburini, working together with a varied team, was the author of the experiment on the vorticity of electromagnetic waves from the Loggia of Palazzo Ducale to the Island of San Giorgio. Awarded Venetian of the year in 2012, he collaborates with several Italian and foreign universities. After the pandemic he left his position in Karlsruhe in Germany,

where I had taken the opportunity to hold the position of research director (which corresponds to full professor in Italy) with full freedom for my work, and in 2018 I was nominated for the Ångström Lecture, the Lectio magistralis held every year in Uppsala in Sweden with the support of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Institute for Physics. After five years in Germany I returned and today I mainly deal with applied research on quantum computers: a calculation tool which, using the properties of quantum physics, superimposes various states to the point of reducing a particular class of very complex calculations which would require a very long exponential time if solved by a normal computer, to a linear one that can be solved in acceptable times.

Prof. Tamburini has been passionate about fast cars since he was a child. Here he is with his colleague Anton Zeilinger, Nobel Prize winner for physics, next to a Ferrari. Altino, 2014
The young racing enthusiast

If decrypting a code would require millions of years, or similarly, simulating some molecular dynamics in the pharmaceutical field, with the quantum computer calculations are obtained in acceptable times, but these objects of the subatomic world used in particular calculations tend to dissipate – the technical term is DECOHERENCE. Now we are trying to use light particles with the properties of vortices so that we can encode more information in each individual light particle and have less decoherence. The goal is to build a photonic quantum computer: this type of computer will be sold and offered on the market for research in the medical field, or any other, with the aim of making quantum computing systems accessible to the public in the future, once it has been possible to lower costs for universal use. Instead of bits, quantumbits, or qbits, will be used, which is information encoded in the quantum properties of matter or light that overlap one another: for example, in a classic system of 16-component bits, its complete description requires all 16 bits, while for a quantum system with 16 qbits it is possible to obtain information encoded in a number of elements of 2 raised to 16, an extremely greater number. Today a 9 qbit quantum computer costs 900,000 dollars. Google’s, which has 70 and is still in development, has so far cost 3.3 billion dollars, with incredible applications: we are trying to design and build something affordable first for national and international research centers and then for the general public. We have collaborations in various research centers and with various researchers in Italy and abroad.

At the ZKM DI Karlsruhe Fabrizio Tamburini with Vittorino Boaga and Peter Weibel, September 3, 2015
Fabrizio Tamburini with Bo Thidé, Anton Zeilinger and Janos Bergou, 4 October 2022

And thank goodness that these complicated – for the layman – statements are diluted in the background by the meows of the cat, Cici, another of Tamburini’s passions after cars and the violin: a cat who is accustomed to answering from home to the voice of his human friend on the telephone during his frequent trips abroad, who during his venerable seventeen years of age has also been pampered by Margherita Hack…

Unfortunately, the Company will leave the Giudecca office. I moved to Padua for logistical convenience, because the problem that collaborators have told me about is not only linked to the cost of parking at Tronchetto and the boat ticket: technicians and investors today are in a hurry, and they say that arriving in the heart of Venice takes up the whole day. So every time they offer to have me meet them in Mestre… It’s real shame, I repeat, because in the center at Santi Cosma e Damiano I feel great, and I’m surrounded by friends. But the world today is made up of meetings defined by the minute, with time passing by at the edge of hysteria… Clients either come for work and stay to enjoy the city or their minutes are limited…

Fabrizio Tamburini being awarded at Palazzo Ducale, 2017

Venice is therefore also losing from this point of view – it should be a city that encourages contacts as it has always been over the centuries…

Unfortunately, I will leave Venice, where I was able to study and work voluntarily like a hermit, to do pure mathematics applied to quantum physics: to develop my mathematical models I have to be alone with no one around, completely concentrated… I see the cat in the evening… at home … it takes me an hour and a half from Mestre to Giudecca.

What areas have you studied and how have they developed in recent years?

There are three main strands: the first is astrophysics, which continues with the application of vortices and studies on light and the properties of the electromagnetic field. There are aspects related to light that we do not use in science even though we have known about them since the early twentieth century, when physicists discovered various symmetries: for the knowledge of the cosmos and for telecommunications we only use a small part of it. The idea was simple, to also use the vortices and other known properties of the electromagnetic field in addition to the usual quantities, such as intensity, frequency and polarization. Astrophysics and astronomy are like Formula One, if they work in extreme conditions they will work for every application, such as for telecommunications, which is the second strand of study, a sector that invests and involves an enormous amount of capital. The third area of study is quantum computing.

My true passion remains astrophysics and pure mathematics together with mathematical logic, the subject of many of my publications, my pastime…

These days for fun I’m reading Treatise on Harmony and Tartini’s Devil’s Trill (a sonata in G minor for violin written by the composer in the first half of the eighteenth century, which is particularly difficult and which I will never be able to play decently), the subject of a treatise by the composer himself (Pirano 1692-Padua 1770) where there are harmonic proportions of acoustic physics to which I take my hat off.

Therefore, there is an important tradition that continues for Italian and international physics, from the Ragazzi di via Panisperna to today.

The problem is that no ghe xe schei [and finally the true Venetian in him comes out, Fabrizio Tamburini, who is reluctantly leaving his Venice office after leaving the house in Sant’Aponal where his sister lives today… With the temptation to move abroad, but let’s hope not].

After the 2011 experiment from the loggia of Palazzo Ducale, the vortices of material life have also followed Tamburini: so, where have the antennas that were used in the transmission from the turret of San Giorgio to the Palace gone?

One antenna is in the Karlsruhe museum, and I have the others, an indelible memory of the experiment, organized by Tullio Cardona, a journalist who covered Venice a great deal…

Two of Fabrizio’s violins
“Blasted thing, I’ll kill it!”

Our conversation ends in Venetian, with all the necessary ceremonies.

I live in Cipressina, where many old Venexians live…” concludes Tamburini, perhaps with the slightest hint of melancholy in his voice. “However, it is impossible to return to Venice, except as a representative office. Venice is unable to keep up the pace required today: interlocutors don’t want to go beyond the ponte della Libertà. I venexiani dise che i xe persi quando che i passa el ponte, viceversa chi dalla terraferma arriva a Venezia se sente persi per le complicazioni di raggiungere il centro… Penso che più avanti andemo, sarà sempre peggio, anche per tutti i centri storici, in mano ai foresti che i gà comprà tutto, la città no xe gnanca più nostra neanche economicamente… Venetians say that people are lost when they cross the bridge, and vice versa those who arrive in Venice from the mainland feel lost due to the complications of reaching the center… I think that as time goes by it will get increasingly worse, for all the historic centers, which are in the hands of foreigners who will buy everything – the city is no longer ours, not even economically…

A cat, a passion for cars, violins, and a lot of science.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

Cover image: A brain trust in the Venetian kitchen of Vittorino Boaga, in the photo with Fabrizio Tamburini and Bo Thidé

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A Nobel-worthy Venetian. An interview with Fabrizio Tamburini ultima modifica: 2023-12-15T17:14:00+01:00 da BARBARA MARENGO
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