What do you teach at Ca’ Foscari? What are your main research interests?
I am an experimental physicist with a degree and a PhD in physics. I teach science courses: I introduce Bachelor students to classical physics, and I teach PhD students about the properties of solid surfaces and physical techniques for surface analysis. In my research I apply my knowledge of physics to the study of materials: my main area of study is the synthesis and characterisation of advanced materials in the form of 'thin films' (solid materials between a few nanometres and a few microns thick). Part of my research also concerns the study of a well-known material, glass, both from a technological perspective (integrated optics and photonics) and from an artistic perspective (study of the degradation of ancient glass).
What has given you the greatest satisfaction in your career?
Ever since I enrolled for my degree in Physics, I was sure that my future would lie in the university. As a research-oriented young man, in love with the freedom to take any idea to its extreme (scientific) consequences, I later discovered a pleasure I was unaware of: that of being able to explain what I knew to others. I gradually realised that knowledge is most valuable when it is passed on. It goes without saying that the greatest satisfaction today is the one I receive from my students: when they write to me that they have understood how little knowledge is without sharing and education, I have the distinct feeling that I am setting a positive example in my role as a teacher. And that is truly priceless.
What do teaching and researching mean to you?
As I pointed out earlier, what I really consider fundamental in my work is the transmission of knowledge. Knowledge that comes from book study and research discoveries would be worthless if it is not made available to everyone. Nelson Mandela said in a famous speech in 2003 that 'education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world'. For me, teaching means having a real chance to be truly useful to the community: young people who enter our classrooms represent the most driving and important part of it, and we teachers must feel the responsibility to provide them with ‘examples’ to be inspired by. I try to be the teacher I always wanted to meet when I was studying.
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?
I recommend that everyone should not be influenced by what may seem to be rigid 'boundary conditions', to use a physical-mathematical euphemism. The first barriers are the ones we create for ourselves, often based on completely outdated stereotypes (if not outright nonsense), which, however, by repeatedly being heard and laughed at, end up corrupting all fair expectations and ambitions. To girls especially, just to make them feel like they are in good company, I would like to mention Rita Levi Montalcini, Margherita Hack, Samantha Cristoforetti, Fabiola Gianotti in science, but I would also like to remind them who our current Rector is, Professor Tiziana Lippiello: the first woman in the history of Ca' Foscari to take on this role of enormous responsibility.
What is the connection between your research and the city of Venice?
Both the study of solid material surfaces and that of glassy materials mean that I can actually interact with many Venetian industries. One of these is the Murano glass industry, which has long been facing a crisis that also concerns environmental sustainability (linked, for example, to the recovery of waste materials and the prohibited use of fundamental chemical elements for colouring glass, for which sustainable alternatives are being studied). At the same time, industrially, important companies not far from our city are working in the production of glass containers for pharmaceutical use, where the study of drug-surface interaction is of primary importance for the safe use of the drug itself.