What do you teach at Ca’ Foscari? What are your main research interests?
I am Professor of Theoretical Physics and I teach General Physics for students of Environmental Sciences. I deal with statistical physics and focus on complex systems and their structure, which is often in the form of networks. These networks are often the only way to quantitatively describe the behaviour of social and ecological systems and enable the methodologies used in hard sciences to be extended to other situations.
Tell us about your academic path.
I graduated at La Sapienza University of Rome in 1992, in 1996 I got my PhD at SISSA Trieste, then I was a postdoc in Manchester and Cambridge (UK) and I came back to Italy with a grant from the Italian Institute for the Physics of Matter. After 10 years at the National Research Council of Italy, I became a professor at IMT Lucca. Throughout my career I have been a theoretical physicist of the structure of matter, and I have retained, also in my current position, an interest in the physics of solids and materials with a particular focus on experimental results and their interpretation.
What's an area you have always wanted to be involved in but have not yet had the opportunity to explore?
I believe that complex networks, which set a metric in the space where they are used, can be a valuable tool for studying materials.
Of course, a major problem is choosing the materials to explore and the type of network to use. We have already started to make the first attempts here in Venice.
What are you most passionate about in your research?
Physics has a tradition of innovation (!) and its mission is to describe the natural world. That is why I believe it is the best tool to describe the changes in this world we are living in, which is very different from the past. A world that is hyper-connected and where every piece of data about our activities is stored, and is available on demand, defines a new situation for which no one is ready yet. I believe that contributing to our understanding of how the world is changing is very rewarding.
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?
That problems are so complicated that we need smart people :D
Unlike what their male counterparts say, women contributed to STEM disciplines even when they were not allowed to and achieved outstanding results. Think of Rosalind Elsie Franklin who discovered DNA crystallography or Maria Salomea Skłodowska and her discovery of chemical elements and radioactivity. If I may add a personal note, we owe one of the most beautiful theorems linking the symmetries of a physical system with conserved quantities to the genius of Emmy Noether. There is really no reason not to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in these fields, and from what I have said above, it does not look to me as though STEM disciplines are unsuitable for women, quite the contrary.