Filomena Nunes

Professor of Physics, Managing Director of FRIB
Theory Alliance


Education and training

  • Engenharia Fisica Technologica, Instituto Superior Tecnico Lisboa, 1992
  • PhD, Theoretical Physics, University of Surrey, England, 1995


Unstable nuclei are mostly studied through reactions,
because they decay back to stability, often lasting less
than a few seconds. Reaction theory makes the critical
connection between experiments such as the ones to be
performed at FRIB and nuclear properties or astrophysics.

Nuclei are many body systems of large complexity.
Describing a reaction while retaining all the complexity
of the projectile and target nuclei would be a daunting
task. Fortunately, to describe many direct reactions, only
a few structure degrees of freedom are necessary. Thus,
we develop simplified few-body models that retain the
important features.

Another important line of research in my group is the use
of Bayesian statistical tools to quantify the uncertainty
on our predictions and help in experimental design. The
few-body methods we use rely on effective potentials
between constituents that are not well known. The
uncertainties coming from these effective potentials need
to be quantified.


My interest in physics started in middle school. I had
questions about everything and initially thought I would
be an engineer. I did my undergraduate in Engineering
in Lisbon but realized theory was my real passion. I
moved to England for a PhD in Theoretical Physics. In
research, I started out with halo nuclei and modeling their
properties. That lead to the theory for nuclear reactions of
unstable nuclei and the connections to astrophysics. That
lead to uncertainty quantification, Bayesian statistics,
experimental design...

How students can contribute as part of my research team

I enjoy developing new theory, working on equations
and considering their implementation into code. It is
very appealing to me that we are moving nuclear theory
toward a more fundamental formulation, and thus making
the theory more predictive, with known uncertainties.
Equally fun is being able to confront those predictions
with experimental data so we can learn from the data.
To me it is stimulating to be at the place where all the
action takes place! But the most important thing for me
is the interaction with my students. It’s really amazing to
see them absorb so much in a few years and mature into
scientists and then go do great things!

If you have an interest in joining my group, please contact
me. Usually I develop a starting project that serves as a
reaction theory introduction but also allows us to get to
know each other better before jumping into a full-fleshed
PhD project.

Scientific publications