PI Profiles: Guglielmo Lanzani

Camilla Dalla Bona

Interview with Guglielmo Lanzani, coordinator of the Center for Nano Science and Technology of the IIT

Name: Guglielmo

Surname: Lanzani

Place of birth: Milan

Position: PI, Coordinator of the IIT Center for Nano Science and Technology

What does your research team do? Photophysics. We study the interaction of light with matter, how it happens and how we can use it to force matter to do what we want. This include soft, living matter and the control of life functions.

When you were younger, was this the job you had in mind?

Not really, but the answer depends on the age we refer too. When I was a little child, I dreamed to be a puppeteer. Grown up, I did think about science and being a scientist (according to the cartoon stereotype). I could say that I am into research because I liked “constructions toys”, because I was good at math or because I liked science and I was curious. Albeit it is all true, it is not the reason. Indeed all our crucial steps in life are random. I could have been many other things as well.

If this wasn’t your current job, what would you have liked to do? A pro basketball player, but I lack the talent. A writer (same as before). A surgeon, I would like to have practical skills. A priest, to help people, but I lack faith.

That time you would have wanted to drop everything and do something else: I did not! I followed a rather steady path. Between PhD and Assistant Researcher I did look for a job in industry. Because of a bitter economic crisis or my unsuitable CV, no one hired me and I ended up Assistant Research in Sassari.

“Publish or perish”. How does the pressure to publish influence your days and your professional choices?Very little, I try to have fun and I gave up writing up papers for the sake of it.

When did you realise you were going in the right direction? Perhaps never.

What is your next goal? Be a wise guy, but it seems impossible.

What is the toughest aspect of your job? The exponentially growing scientific production worldwide, that is overwhelming me. Too many things to know.

Senior researchers necessarily have to deal with many bureaucratic aspects. Apparently, this aspect does not fit well with the research activity. How is that for you? A nightmare. Bureaucracy is a tremendous drag. It is like cargo-cult, it builds up entities that looks right, but indeed are empty boxes that cannot work. All is based on the belief that researchers will be wrong, and in order to prevent their mistakes cumbersome procedures are set-up (defensive bureaucracy). The results is a serious burden to the activities.

Who would have to invest more in research compared to what it is done today? Basic research can only be funded by governments, due to the very long payback time and fully public reward. Government waste huge amount of money. In our country it is not just a matter of quantity however, but also quality of the investment.

Do people talk about science outside the labs and the academic world?

They like to, but very few likes to work it out. There is a dramatic lack of scientific culture. Anyway the hunger for science is unexpectedly large among people.

Who gave you the most important advice during your journey? Some mentors more than others, but experience is the best teacher.

What would you say to the younger you finishing his PhD? Do what you like and try to be lucky. Go for the cherry on the pie.

Is working in different countries essential for a researcher?

Yes, to open the mind, to go out of the comfort zone, to learn surviving, to better focus on research. Perhaps to understand your country is not so bad.

You can improve one aspect of research in general. Which one would you choose? Recruiting