What do you teach at Ca’ Foscari? What are your main research interests?
My interests lie in the social aspects of molecules. In chemistry, molecules have 'behaviours' that are comparable to human ones, meaning that they tend to interact by forming groups which often have very different and complex functions compared to the characteristics of the individual. In chemistry, too, there is strength in numbers. These aspects are present in nature and characterise biological systems. Understanding these interactions and knowing how to exploit them makes it possible to advance in areas of chemistry such as catalysis, which is at the heart of the most complex chemical transformations, in the current sustainability scenario. My research interests range from green chemistry to catalysis, focusing on selective organic synthesis and the synthesis of bioactive compounds.
Tell us about your academic path.
I graduated in organic-biological chemistry at the University of Padua and obtained my PhD at the same university. I was passionate about catalysis, artificial enzymes and supramolecular chemistry, realising how an interdisciplinary approach can be extremely productive in proposing new ideas to explore. I then spent almost two years abroad, at the Scripps Research Institute (California) in Prof. Rebek's research group, where I realised that with the training I had received in Italy I could engage in international-level competitive research groups. I then returned to Italy, where I became a researcher after a couple of years, putting all my previous training to good use. I have been an associate professor in organic chemistry for a few years now, and was the local coordinator of the joint PhD programme in Chemistry between UniVe and UniTs for three years. I am currently the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems' delegate for teaching.
What are you most passionate about in your research?
Everything. I have no trouble saying that, as when I was just a PhD student, I am often extremely impatient to know the results of the tests and analyses that students carry out in my research group. This drives me to log in from home even at unlikely hours to peek at the results in real time through networked instruments, just to see if my predictions are confirmed or not, and then immediately think, "What's next?"
Have you always known that this was going to be your path?
Yes, ever since high school I have been fascinated by being able to modify matter and understand its secrets as much as possible. Knowing that matter and life are linked by chemical relationships that over the years research has helped us understand, at least partly, in its fundamental aspects is something absolutely fascinating... and at the same time so simple that it does not seem true (but it is).
What do teaching and researching mean to you?
Researching today is much more complex than it was twenty years ago, mainly because researchers now spend a great deal of their time not asking curiosity-driven questions and testing their insights experimentally (curiosity-driven research), but chasing funding in order to be able to do at least part of what they are most passionate about in research. I would like to emphasise that free, curiosity-driven research has led to much greater leaps in knowledge than research aimed at solving specific problems. Both approaches are important, it is just that the latter manages to attract research funds much more easily than the former, and is easier to communicate. Teaching lets you leave a seed of your passion in the soil of others, hoping that it will find the right habitat.