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Nicola Prezza
Informatics

Let’s talk about you: what is your background, what do you teach, and what are your research interests?
I come from the province of Udine. I'm fond of music (I've been playing guitar and bass for 15 years and lately I've been dedicating myself to singing), science and the combination of the two (about ten years ago I built a bass guitar that accompanied me in many concerts). At Ca' Foscari I teach C++ Programming, Data Management and Informatics. In research I work on efficient algorithms and data structures to search for information in large databases containing hundreds of thousands of genomes (the famous DNA that each of us is programmed with). Given their enormous size, this data must be kept in compressed format. My algorithms can perform calculations on this compressed data, without going through the decompression phase.

What was your academic career?
I got my degree and PhD in Informatics at the University of Udine (PhD in 2017). In the following three and a half years, research took me around a bit: first 1 year at DTU in Copenhagen and 2 years in Pisa as a research fellow, then 6 months at LUISS in Rome as Assistant Professor. Finally, I joined Ca' Foscari in September 2020. Here I am a tenure-track researcher (RTD-B).

What were your greatest professional satisfactions?
Firstly, being able to work with the brightest international researchers in my field. From a human perspective, it is very nice to be part of such a diverse international scientific community (among other things, it has given me the chance to travel a lot). From a scientific perspective, it has introduced me to new techniques and important results that have influenced my research. My greatest professional satisfaction (obtained also thanks to the work done with my international colleagues) was definitely the award I obtained in 2018 as the best young theoretical computer scientist in Italy (delivered by the Italian chapter of the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science).

What is the aspect of your research you are most passionate about?
There are two things I find particularly exciting: the mathematical simplicity and elegance behind every important result (mathematics is an art: every theorem must be correct, but we prefer simple and 'elegant' theorems to complicated and unreadable ones) and the unexpected (and very useful) practical applications. Algorithms developed two decades ago by pioneers in our field of research are now used in bioinformatics laboratories all over the world to analyse DNA, with dramatic implications in medicine: in certain situations where time is of the essence (e.g. detecting rare mutations in order to develop appropriate treatments), a fast algorithm can literally save lives!

Have you always known that this was going to be your path?
No, although from a very young age I have always preferred to invent new things rather than study things that were already invented. Obviously this does not go against the importance of education, on the contrary: for me, studying (at least as far as scientific subjects are concerned) has always meant learning from the textbook the minimum I needed to re-invent the concept, and then comparing my technique with the one proposed by the book. I have to say that it has always worked great (and the absence of preconceptions occasionally leads to discovering innovative things: in that case you publish!).

Last update: 14/02/2024