On the road

Living and Doing Research in the Eternal City

Christoph Lhotka exploring Rome Source: Ch. Lhotka (all)

While still doing my postdoc in Vienna in the context of the FWF project of my mentor Rudolf Dvorak, I was approached by Alessandra Celletti from the University of Rome Tor Vergata to accept another two-year postdoc position in Rome. The ensuing co-operation with the Dipartimento di Matematica has already been very helpful in my professional development. Shortly before the end of my stay I applied to the FWF for an Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship in order to prolong my research stay by one year. As I had already agreed to take another research post in Belgium with A. Lemaître when my application was accepted, I thought at first that my chance for the FWF fellowship was doomed. Thanks to the decision by the FWF’s Executive Board to grant me another postponement, however, I was able to return to the Eternal City and carry on with my research after all.

Rome and celestial mechanics – old fellows

Like the City of Rome, my own discipline, celestial mechanics, is a part of astronomy which can look back on a history of many thousands of years. Today, this discipline comprises the mathematical and physical description of the movement of all types of celestial bodies, e.g. planets, moons, asteroids and satellites. Its significance has increased steadily with the exploration and utilisation of near-Earth space, the missions to probe the planets in our solar system and the discovery of extrasolar planetary systems. My own focus lies on the stability of asteroid orbits and gravitational locking in our solar system.

During my first spell in Rome I had developed new mathematical methods to facilitate the examination of special movements and, in some cases, make such examination possible for the first time. During my current project I successfully apply these methods to motion equations describing the trajectory of dust particles in the orbit of planets. I hope this will help me arrive at conclusions about their long-term stability, which is also of interest for basic research, e.g. in the context of questions relating to the genesis of planets, not only in our solar system.

New competencies: creative problem solving

Back in my student days I was told that I would not be able to work in my profession without international experience. This is why I was extremely grateful to accept the offer to work at an internationally renowned research facility. Even though I have come to love Italy and its inhabitants, the decision to work here was more a consequence of my desire to find work in my profession. Of course, working in another country involves having to adapt to the respective rhythm of life and work. As far as Rome is concerned, there is an appropriate saying: “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. To me this translates into: don’t succumb to the adversities of everyday life, find your way through traffic, be patient when dealing with authorities (everything will take as long as it possibly can).

And speaking of classical prejudice, the truth of which I can readily confirm, there are some aspects my research in Italy has taught me: don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal, try different routes, help each other. Co-operation with my colleagues has always been positive, and I can only hope that this creativity in solving problems of all kinds, which is an indispensable element of science, is going to help me in my further career.

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