Prof. Caterina Petrillo

Head of the Physics and Earth Science Department at the University of Perugia


Professor Caterina Petrillo is the Head of the Physics and Earth Science Department at the University of Perugia. A physicist by training, in 1984 she began her research career in experimental condensed matter physics, initially focused upon ground state electronic and magnetic properties of transition metals and alloys. The results of this work are one of the first and rare benchmarks for the validity of the Density Functional approach, within local density and local spin density approximations, to the calculations of the ground state of an electron system. The interest in the description of the interacting electron gas was the driver behind the studies on the collective excitations in simple metals in liquid phase, which enables one to address the fundamental field of static and dynamic screening phenomena in an electron fluid. A series of experiments based upon inelastic neutron scattering over a kinematic region paralleling the Brillouin scattering regime, was carried out in molten alkali metals and alloys and polyvalent liquid metals to understand the microscopic mechanisms responsible for the propagation of the vibrational collective excitations, which brings information on either the dielectric screening in the electron gas or the effective interatomic potential in the system. More recently, the interest in the study of vibrational dynamics of disordered systems at THz frequencies evolved into the investigation of the excitation modes in complex and/or low-dimensional systems of potential interest in life science research, with a focus on the study of dynamic and networking properties of hydration water of proteins and water confined in living cells or inside polymeric membranes. Indeed, the peculiar properties of water interacting with macromolecules have a deep impact on the specific protein functionality and, generally speaking, on most of the biological activities in living organisms.

Her research activity has been carried out mostly under international collaborations and has largely benefitted of neutron and X-ray scattering techniques available at the major large-scale facilities (ILL, ISIS, LLB, ESRF, Elettra) by either gaining access as a user or managing and leading long term instrument and science projects financed under national and international research programmes.

A consistent thread in her research activities has been the design and development of beam line components and neutron spectrometers nowadays operated at the major European facilities (PRISMA@ISIS, BRISP@ILL, IN4C@ILL), whose implementation was supported by European funding or financed within international cooperation schemes involving countries like France, Germany, the UK and the US. In the nineties, her pioneering work on solid state detectors, based on Silicon diodes and microstrips coupled to a neutron converter to achieve high speed and high resolution performances, was carried out under one of the first European programmes to finance networks of excellence. The searching for novel neutron detector concepts has continued along the years and it is nowadays an important issue considering the recent 3He, the typical filling gas of a neutron detector, shortage at global level.

Starting from 1986, she has been an expert evaluator of several project review and evaluation panels for the major facilities and European research organizations and she has served as a reviewer for the European Commission Marie Curie programme.

As national coordinator of the Italian Neutron Committee (1999-2004) for INFM (the Italian Institute for the Physics of Matter), she had the task of planning the activities and the participation of the Italian scientific community to the neutron facilities of the Institut Laue Langevin (Grenoble, FR) and the Laboratoire Leon Brillouin (Saclay, FR), including hiring a team of 10 young scientists to operate a permanent INFM group in Grenoble (OGG).

As a well-known scientific representative of the large-scale facilities user community, in 2007 she was appointed by the Italian Ministry of Research as Italian Delegate at the Programme Committee Research Infrastructures of the Framework Programme 7th of the European Commission. Under the FP7 Programme and in cooperation with the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), she promoted the preparation of the first Italian Roadmap of Research Infrastructures of pan-European interest, advising on how to get the programme supported to ensure the participation of the Italian scientific communities to international research infrastructures.

She is a member of several advisory and governing bodies of international research facilities, among which the Science Advisory Committee of the ESRF (2006-2011) and the ESFRI expert group on the perspectives of large-scale facilities for condensed matter physics in Europe since 2005. She has been a member of the Steering Committee of the ILL (2002-2009) and she represents Italy at the Steering Committee of the future European Spallation Source ESS to be built in Lund (Sweden) since 2011, being a member of the Lund Round Table since 2007.

Since 1991, as a staff member of the University of Perugia and the Politecnico di Milano, she has been regularly teaching courses of Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism to student classes of Engineering, Biotechnology and Earth Sciences, and courses of Spectroscopy, Solid State Physics and Many-body Physics to student classes of Physics. She has been the supervisors of many student theses, both graduate and PhD as a member of the PhD School of Physics of both Perugia University and Politecnico di Milano. Many of her former students now share responsibilities for experimental work in research institutions of France, Switzerland, Germany and the UK.

The results of her research have been presented in about 150 publications in international peer-reviewed journals, several institutional reports and invited communications to international conferences. She has also contributed to several policy documents for the European Commission and science policy-making authorities in Italy.