What do you do?
I am a geologist by training and a universe explorer by passion: Earth, Mars, Moon and the Solar System are my "stomping ground". I use data collected by spacecraft, and analyse and interpret the data using high-end computer programming. At this present time I am mostly focused on the search for ice and water on Mars, but volcanoes and meteorites are also a significant part of my investigations. I am highly skilled also in the use of microscopes and mass spectrometers to figure out the processes of formation and evolution of rocks and minerals which I collect during field work or from museum archives. I integrate all these clues to obtain a consistent model of how Earth and the solar system formed and evolved. I also try to figure out how our solar system is different from other planetary systems in the universe.
Why did you choose this field?
I was always good at maths and I always liked to investigate and understand how everything works. So, as soon as I was allowed to choose a school curriculum (secondary school), I pursued scientific studies. My greatest passion was exploration of the planets, which is why I decided to study geology at university. I have a MS in Geological Sciences, and a PhD in Earth Sciences from Sapienza University in Rome.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
Nothing specific, because I have always thought that, with hard work and ingenuity, humans can figure out the universe. Therefore, I have always believed that if you figure out your passion and work at it, you can achieve anything. I have always believed that unless something is difficult, it is not worth pursuing, so inevitably there will be setbacks along the way: I have had my share of professional rejections and negative experiences, but I have always used them as motivation to try harder.
Why do you love working in STEM?
Exploration and discovery! I wake up excited and looking forward to getting to the lab or to powering up the computer to continue the work from the day before. Often, when I feel I am close to some important answer, I cannot even sleep.
Best advice for next generation?
All kids and young adults are naturally curious and want to explore and find out about the world. They all also possess innate scientific skills: all that it takes is to nurture these natural skills that everybody possesses. The best way to foster the natural human need to understand our own environment, is to study mathematics, physics, and computer programming from an early age. This equips young minds with the foundation tools to then pursue more in depths studies and research in all STEM fields. Another very important tool is the ability to think critically: this is also innate, needing only to be fostered to be allowed to grow. The STEM disciplines are not the only fields where critical thinking is important: I particularly enjoy philosophy, but all humanities stimulate self-reflection and qualitative analysis, and therefore nurture one's innate critical thinking processes. Generally speaking, all these tools are also necessary to navigate life in all its aspects. The complexity of our modern world, and the global problems humanity must address, require responsibility and participation from all citizens equipped with the necessary literacy, numeracy, scientific method understanding, and critical thinking tools. STEM powers our way of life.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
"If you have a theory, you must try to explain what’s good and what’s bad about it equally. In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty." (Richard Feynman).