Antigone Marino is a researcher in physics, at the Institute of Applied Sciences and Intelligent Systems of the Italian National Research Council. She received her doctorate in 2004, at the University of Naples, in Italy. She studies soft matter optics applied to telecommunication, with a special interest in liquid crystal technologies.
Since the very beginning of her career, she engaged in activities aiming to promote young researchers in physics. She is the founder of the Naples Optical Society (OSA) Student Chapter and of the International OSA Network of Student Projects
From 2013 and until very recently, she was the Chair of the Young Mind (YM) Committee of the European Physical Society, a committee started by EPS in 2010 with the aim of encouraging and supporting professional skills of the next generation of physicists in Europe. Currently, YMs includes more than 400 young scientists from over 36 Sections in 20 countries. The strong engagement of Antigone has been recognized by many awards and the following short interview between her (AM) and the Chair of the Equal Opportunity Committee (LDC) is also a recognition of her work and dedication.
LDC: Why did you choose to study physics?
AM: I attended a high school mostly focused on classical studies like Latin, Greek and philosophy. Physics courses were included only in the last two years. As soon as I met physics, I was struck by the beauty of understanding how things work in nature. The knowledge of the physics laws is among the most powerful tools of mankind for problem solving.
LDC: You have dedicated much of your time to support projects involving student and young researchers. Why?
AM: In academia, almost everywhere, the increase in life expectancy causes an overpopulation of academic staff that leaves little space for young scientists. I’m not just talking about contracts or permanent positions, but also space to develop ideas. This is especially true in conservative countries where I feel that the academic hierarchy is based primarily on the biological age and little space is left for creativity. Creativity in science is an important and complex phenomenon: scientific knowledge is necessary in order to create something valuable; at the same time a free mind is essential to achieve something original. For this reason, creativity is greater in young people. I think that in academia this should be better taken into account.
LDC: What has been your personally most rewarding experience and also the biggest difficulty encountered so far in your career?
AM: The most rewarding experience stems from the words and success of the students I assist, when they say: “when I grow up I want to be like you” or when they thank me in their master thesis report. Being a mentor is a most rewarding experience.
The biggest difficulty I met, was when the professor with whom I used to work told me he was going to stop doing research. I lost my reference, my mentor. Walking on my own two legs was not immediately easy. I’m still learning how to do it.
LDC: You were the Chair of EPS YM Committee from 2013 to 2016, what is your next project?
AM: I plan to continue to work on projects with a social aspect. In our work, physics, we often do not have an immediate perception of the social utility of what we are discovering. When I watch the liquid crystal molecules under the microscope or when I measure the variation of optical constants under the effect of an electric field, I do not feel immediately that this will be useful for society. Therefore, I need to integrate my work as a researcher with something that I can more quickly perceive as useful for society.
LDC: Did you encounter any difficulty in finding funding for a PhD or post-doc position related to the fact that you are a woman?
AM: No, honestly never.
LDC: Any worry to match your family life, your commitment in defending the cause of the young, and a career in physics?
AM: Yes, it is difficult to match everything. You have to learn to identify priorities and have the courage to sometimes say no. But these skills will come with experience, year after year.
LDC: Any particular advise for young aspiring researcher?
AM: Get outside of your comfort zone. Until you stay on your sofa, you can think, you can program, but you will not know if you are ready or what you still have to do to be ready. This is valid in science, as well as in personal life. I love my sofa. But it’s just the place where I charge the energy. Then, I need to experience what’s out the door.