What do you teach at Ca’ Foscari? What are your main research interests?
At Ca' Foscari I teach Fundamentals of Nanotechnology in the Science and Technology of Bio and Nanomaterials Master’s degree programme. The subject of the course is very relevant to my research interests, which include new nanomaterials and their application for the production of renewable energy. The most interesting aspect of my research is designing optical and optoelectronic properties of composite nanostructures to maximise the efficiency of a range of devices, from solar cells to luminescent concentrators to electrolytic cells for hydrogen production using water and sunlight.
Tell us about your academic path.
I studied physics in Padua. I got my PhD in electronic engineering in Trento. The two-year research grant I was counting on was not renewed, and that was my lucky break: I was a researcher in Brescia at the Italian Institute for the Physics of Matter, so a National Research Council researcher. I then moved to Canada with a Marie Curie global fellowship, and from there to Luleå, in northern Sweden, to be a full professor in Experimental Physics. After six years in the north, I arrived at Ca' Foscari at the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems, taking advantage of a direct call under the law to reverse the Italian brain drain. I believe that the key to my academic career is travel, as an opportunity to meet important people on the international scene and have important and educational experiences.
What are your professional references?
Ingemar Lundström was the chairman for the Nobel Prize in Physics committee in 2010, when the prize was awarded for graphene experiments to Andre Geim and Kostantin Novoselov, and he has been a pioneer in biosensor studies, with a very brilliant career. When I arrived in Luleå in 2014, I received a message from him saying that he had grown up in northern Sweden, that he would like to work together, and asked if I might be interested. His courtesy, respect and poise won me over. His enthusiasm and curiosity are contagious to our students every day, showing them the qualities of a top-class researcher and a delightful person at the same time.
What has given you the greatest satisfaction in your career?
In the early 2000s CERN wanted to measure an effect (volume reflection) in the interaction between a beam of charged particles and a curved crystal, which had been predicted theoretically by a group of Russian physicists. Our task was to design the most accurate goniometer, on which the success of the experiment would depend. Measuring the volume reflection of a proton beam in a curved silicon crystal for the first time was very satisfying! The IOF Marie Curie fellowship was a turning point in my life (professional and otherwise), which I remember with great pleasure. With a bittersweet taste, I remember the letter from ERC announcing that my Consolidator grant had been rated A, but "sorry", the budget was not enough to fund it...
Can you offer any advice to researchers in the early stages of their career?
I see my job as a passion rather than an occupation. A career in research is not easy, not straightforward and difficult to plan. In many cases, chance drives career development more than many other factors, and this can be overwhelming. However, research gives you priceless freedom. Freedom to imagine things that were not thought of before, to formulate new hypotheses and discuss them with colleagues, to produce original results and to see them appreciated even by people you do not know. In some cases, research also gives you the satisfaction of seeing the results of your efforts applied, contributing to the development of our society. I consider it both a wonderful job and a great responsibility towards future generations.