What do you teach at Ca’ Foscari? What are your main research interests?
I coordinate the new Bachelor of Engineering Physics, where I teach "Quantum Mechanics" and "Quantum Lasers and Optics". I have a PhD in the physics of matter, where I worked on nanoscale magnetism dynamics. As my career progressed, I extended my interest to other parts of the physics of matter, first by studying so-called ‘ultrafast’ dynamics in magnetism (using visible, terahertz and X-ray lasers with ultrashort pulses, i.e. of femtosecond duration), and then by using those same techniques to study so-called quantum materials, where new properties can emerge, for example, from atomic or magnetic dynamics induced with ultrashort laser pulses.
What do teaching and researching mean to you?
They are quite different, depending on the context, but they come together at the end of a course of study. When I teach, as I cover fundamental subjects, I mainly try to teach a method of working and thinking, avoiding dogmatism. I try to encourage people to think like scientists, to have the ability to be self-critical even when they think they have understood something. That approach is also the one I use myself when I research and look for new paths that neither I nor other people have explored yet. I try to combine all this with young researchers: I teach them how to research, which means looking far ahead, having a systematic approach, and being able to recognise what is essential in a detail.
Can you offer any advice to researchers in the early stages of their career?
Do it! We need new energy, this is a particularly interesting time in history because of some fundamental advances made in various disciplines. There are many surprises waiting to be discovered in the years to come, and it can be an extremely stimulating and rewarding journey, however much effort it costs. The European and Italian landscape is also changing: the value of a PhD is starting to be understood by companies as well. This is how it has been for decades in the United States, and it is no coincidence that innovation almost always starts there. Large technology companies hire new PhDs from prestigious universities precisely because they know that those years spent thinking creatively, beyond textbooks, provide incredible training.
The issue of gender inequality in STEM disciplines in Italy is still very topical. What would you tell girls who want to approach these disciplines?
To come together and help change this nonsense together! This is a worldwide problem, and various initiatives are being taken in different countries to reduce this inequality. In the Physical Engineering programme, we have annual scholarships to attract female students. Being among the first ones is always difficult, but you have to start, the domino effect can come sooner than you think. It's important to speak frankly and, above all, not just to girls. It's an issue that also concerns boys, and I think we will come out better and faster if the discussion is inclusive. It's quite logical to think that if there's a gender problem in STEMs, and it's been predominantly managed by men over the years, something in that management needs to be reviewed.
A glimpse into the future: how do you imagine your future research?
Quite stimulating! With my new colleagues at Ca' Foscari, new avenues are opening up that have always fascinated me but which I have never had time to explore, such as the physics of complex systems. By exploiting these new synergies I think this will now be possible. I think that in the physics of matter we will try to go more and more in the quantum direction, driven by the prospect of a quantum technological revolution that could change many things in the world today. I also expect surprises from the study of the fundamental properties of matter thanks to the new laser sources, which are virtually capable of operating at any wavelength, that are being built all over the world.