“Innovation starts with research”, interview with P.U.P.A. Gilbert, Italian physicist
In the world of physics, Gelsomina De Stasio is known by the acronym she uses to sign her studies, P.U.P.A. Gilbert. She has won numerous awards, including the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, and introduced the use of synchrotron light microscopy in biophysics. A member of the “Italian Leaders Abroad” community of Aspen Institute Italia, she is a firm supporter of meritocracy. That, she says, is the only way to bring back those who the brain drain has taken away.
What convinced you to do research abroad?
I got my degree in physics in Rome in 1982 and worked as a researcher at CNR (National Research Council) from 1988 to 2000 and at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale di Lausanne between 1994 and 1998. Then I went to the United States as a full professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. My motivation was scientific ambition. I wanted to conduct difficult, costly, but very satisfying research. I wanted to do pure research at the highest level.
What are the implications of this kind of research compared to applied research, which is better known?
I study the mechanisms of the formation of bio-minerals, the basis of the formation of rigid tissues created by living creatures such as shells, coral, teeth and bones. Pure research has important implications for technology. Just think of lasers, atomic clocks, transistors and internet: they all came from pure, not applied research. I am convinced that scientists should be free of the limitations of immediate application; otherwise, they cannot create anything new. We did not get to laser eye treatments because a group of ophthalmologists tried to create a better instrument. The laser was invented by atomic physicists. The application came later. The same thing is true for atomic clocks, now the basis for stock markets all over the world, satellite communication, and the global positioning system (GPS) we have on cell phones. There would be no progressive without pure research. The fact that neither the public nor funding agencies see the immediate application of our research cannot and should not be an obstacle.
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