Close-ups

Elisabetta Zendri
Chemistry (environmental, analytical and for cultural heritage conservation)

Let’s talk about you: what is your background, what do you teach, and what are your research interests?
I graduated in Industrial Chemistry at Ca' Foscari and I teach Science for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Since my dissertation, I have worked on natural and human impact on architectural, artistic and archaeological artefacts, the development of methods to monitor the state of conservation and the development of techniques for artefact conservation. I am currently focusing on the impact of marine environment on architectural surfaces, a topic of great interest that involves not only Venice but all coastal cities. The research is carried out in partnership with national and international heritage protection agencies and research centres, and is therefore constantly evolving and being updated.

What was your academic career?
I graduated with a dissertation on the stability of polymers for the protection of stone surfaces. Immediately after graduating, I won a research grant funded by AIRI (Italian Industrial Research Association) to continue the research started during my dissertation. I then worked at the Scientific Laboratory of the Superintendency of Venice and then won a competition for a Technician position at the Department of Industrial Chemistry at Ca' Foscari, which gave me the chance to keep working in Chemistry for the conservation of cultural heritage alongside Prof. Guido Biscontin, one of the founding fathers of 'Restoration Chemistry' in Italy. I then won a competition for a Researcher position and then for Associate Professor.

What were your greatest professional satisfactions?
Definitely participating in many projects to study and preserve important works of art in Italy and abroad. I am particularly pleased to see how ideas developed years ago, which were considered far-fetched at the time, have now become internationally accepted lines of research. A personal satisfaction also comes from having contributed to the birth at our university of a high quality, close-knit and constantly growing group of female researchers.

Which is the area you have always wanted to be involved in but have not yet had the opportunity to explore?
I would like to work on conservation operations in crisis areas. This activity is currently carried out by the Blue Helmets of Culture, a UNESCO organisation that restores and secures cultural heritage in areas affected by disasters or wars. I believe that the contribution of science in this area is very important because, besides providing materials and technologies for operations, it can support the development of local resources and skills.

What is the aspect of your research you are most passionate about?
Definitely the direct contact with the problems of cultural heritage conservation and the first-hand experience with works of art. I also find the multidisciplinary nature of our job, the exchange of knowledge and the resulting open-mindedness exciting.

Have you always known that this was going to be your path?
I have always been interested in research in general and I became particularly interested in chemistry for the conservation of cultural heritage during a course given by Prof. Biscontin. At first I was mainly curious, but then I realised the important contribution of science to solve real problems in cultural heritage conservation. I then tried to build a career that would lead me to do research in this field, also thanks to the help of important references who supported me in this choice.

What do teaching and researching mean to you?
For me, teaching is the most important moment in the transmission of knowledge, experience, interest and curiosity. My relationship with students is very intense and when I feel their attention I feel rewarded. I have to say that today's ways of communicating are very different from those we were used to, so teaching also means finding the right tools to make this transmission of knowledge effective.
For me, researching means having the chance to actively participate in the advancement of knowledge, regardless of the field you work in. In my field specifically, researching means contributing to the development of technologies for the protection of cultural heritage, using my scientific skills and constantly engaging with researchers working in other fields. It is a continuous exchange, which has the merit of stimulating curiosity and therefore the promotion of new lines of research.

Can you offer any advice to researchers in the early stages of their career?
Definitely approach it with an open mind. Consider the fact that you can find inspiration in other areas of study, and therefore consider the possibility of small ‘detours’ into other areas in order to open up the horizons of your own knowledge.

Last update: 14/02/2024