Name: Jutta Toscano
I grew up partly in Italy and partly in the UK. I feel at home in two rather different countries and, perhaps as a result of that, I enjoy noticing cultural differences and learning about different ways of living. Even more fascinating for me have always been the similarities across countries and historical periods, the curiosity that humankind displays towards big questions such as: Who are we? Why are we alive? How does the universe work?
The latter question drew me to study chemistry at UCL. During my undergraduate studies I explored different fields by working on atmospheric chemistry and surfactants as summer projects in the UK and France, photovoltaics as an Erasmus student in Sweden, and astrochemistry as part of my Masters project at UCL. I discovered that my interest lies in fundamental research, which is why I came to Oxford to study ultra-cold chemistry as a DPhil student and now as a postdoc.
I am interested in studying perfectly controlled chemical reactions, where we have full control over the velocity and quantum state of the reactants and we can probe the properties of the products after the collision. This can potentially allow us to manipulate the outcome of a reaction by precisely applying electromagnetic fields to deterministically obtain one product over another with 100% yield, gaining ultimate control over chemical reactions.
In order to achieve this, we need to study reactions at very low temperatures (of a few Kelvin down to the milliKelvin regime) where the reactivity is not affected by thermal averaging as it is at room temperature but, instead, it is dominated by quantum mechanical effects. In Oxford, I am developing new techniques to bring radicals into the ultra-cold regime through deceleration and guiding of particles using magnetic fields. This will allow us to study chemical reactions under previously unexplored conditions.
A little bit extra
I am passionate about the importance of blue-sky research that does not necessarily bring an immediate economic return but is nonetheless vital to our understanding of the universe, for the progress of science, and the cultural development of society. In the future I want to experience academia outside the UK, to expose myself to different research environments, points of view, and cultures. The sense of a global community that is collectively striving to understand aspects of the world around us - and is collaborating to achieve this - is what I like most about academia.