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Fight against Covid, Leukemia, Computer Science and Engineering: ISSNAF awards the best research projects of young Italian scientists in North America

On December 1, ISSNAF will present awards in four categories:

Finalists include young scholars active in US universities and research centers. The ISSNAF Lifetime Achievement Award will go to Guido Calabresi, a federal judge in the United States, and professor emeritus at Yale University Law School.

They have made discoveries about the immune response in Covid patients, study the effects of the virus on blood vessels, or analyze its composition with super electron microscopes. They seek new ways to treat leukemia, develop artificial intelligence systems to combat climate change or particle accelerators to study the structure of materials. They are the finalists of the Young Investigator Awards assigned by ISSNAF, the foundation that brings together thousands of Italian scientists and academics active in laboratories, universities and research centers in North America. Theirs are stories of brilliant young minds who, in different fields, from medicine to engineering to computer science, add luster to Italian research in the United States and Canada.

The winners of each of the four different awards will be announced during ISSNAF’s annual event, which will be held on December 1, 2020, in a virtual format (click here to registerto register), in collaboration with the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, and under the High Patronage of the President of the Republic. The thematic awards are as follows: Embassy of Italy Award for researchers who are contributing to the fight against Covid-19, the Paola Campese Award for leukemia research, the Franco Strazzabosco Award for engineering, and the Mario Gerla Award for research in computer science. The recipient of the ISSNAF Lifetime Achievement Award 2020 will be Guido Calabresi. Judge Calabresi was born in Milan in 1932, moved to the U.S. at a very young age and is Professor emeritus at the prestigious Law School of Yale University, of which he was dean, and federal judge of United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit with jurisdiction in three states, Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

“The finalists for the three annual awards of the Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation (ISSNAF), which this year the Embassy has added to with a special prize for Covid-19 research, are driven young people seeking new discoveries and to cross new finish lines even in the face of difficulties and challenges that seem insurmountable,” said the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, Armando Varricchio. “Young Italians abroad that are a reflection of the strength of our country and of the prestige that our researchers and scientists enjoy in North America. Their determination and preparation, their trust in science and their contribution to the quest for excellence help ensure a better future”.

“Despite the pandemic-induced stress of the past few months, the ISSNAF Young Investigator Awards has drawn strong participation, and excellent finalists,” commented Cinzia Zuffada, ISSNAF president. “The impossibility of gathering at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C., for the traditional annual event, prompted us to create a virtual Symposium in October to permit finalists to present their research to juries and the public, and was enriched by material available on the ISSNAF website. Overall, the format of this event allowed for a greater participation both from North America and Italy, a fact which partly compensates the disappointment over a lack of an in-person event”.

Young Investigator Awards: the finalists

Embassy of Italy Award

Jessica Gambardella hails from Naples (Italy) and works at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where she investigates the involvement of vessels and endothelium, the tissue that covers the inner surface of blood vessels, in patients who contract the virus. Alba Grifoni, originally from Rome, is a researcher at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, California. Her research is based on T cells and the “crusade” immune response, i.e. caused by other more common viruses, in patients who contracted (and healed from) Covid-19. Francesca Vallese, from San Donà di Piave (near Venice), works at Columbia University where she studies the use of CryoEM, a transmission electron microscopy technique in which samples are studied at cryogenic temperatures to analyze the E protein, one of the most important SARS-CoV-2 proteins related to its replication and virulence.

Paola Campese Award

Patrizia Mondello, from Messina, Italy, is a researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and discovered the mechanism that allows to reactivate the immune system and to inhibit the proliferation of lymphomatous cells in B Lymphoma, one of the most aggressive tumors. Angela Maria Savino, originally from the province of Bari, also at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center studies the metabolism of leukemia, and discovered, in particular, how the disease finds the nutrient to proliferate in fructose. Davide Seruggia, from Vimercate (province of Monza and Brianca), studied the MYC gene, the accelerator of cell proliferation, at Harvard Medical School in Boston, to find new therapies capable of inhibiting leukemia and tumors.

Mario Gerla Award

Stefano Ermon, born in Trento and professor of computer science at Stanford University, has developed an advanced algorithm that, by analyzing satellite images, can predict poverty, the effects of climate change, pollution and population displacement. Ferdinando Fioretto, originally from San Severo (Foggia) and professor at Syracuse University in New York, has developed a system that, through artificial intelligence applied to electrical networks and transport, can contribute to the fight against global warming.

Franco Strazzabosco Award

Marco Bernardi, born in Rome, at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) develops quantum mechanics calculations aimed at understanding the dynamics of electrons in materials, developing new ones and finding applications in the most diverse fields of electronics. Emilio Nanni, born in Miami but with Bolognese origins, is a physical engineer at Stanford University and works on a powerful particle accelerator realized through the use of special waves with can be used to manipulate electron beams, capturing the structures of materials in an instant, a discovery that could have important medical and clinical consequences. Finally, Marzia Parisi, from Rome, works for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Caltech in Pasadena, California, where she investigates, through computer simulations, the presence of water or underground oceans on the moons of Jupiter.

ISSNAF Annual Event: the program

This year ISSNAF’s annual event, which will be held in a virtual format, will be attended by the Minister of University and Research Gaetano Manfredi, with a live-streamed address from Italy. The event will open at 12.00 EST (18.00 in Italy) with welcome remarks from Ambassador Armando Varricchio and ISSNAF President Cinzia Zuffada. Following this there will be videos from three Italian hospitals funded by the special “Covid-19 Fundraising” promoted in spring 2020 by the foundation, in partnership with the Embassy. Antonella Nota, Office Head of ESA Space Telescope Science Institute and ISSNAF Scientific Council Chair, will present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Prof. Guido Calabresi. This will be followed, from 12.40 pm on, by the presentation of the Young Investigator Awards and the announcement of the winners. The respective Jury Chairs will intervene for each of the awards: Damiano Rondelli (University of Illinois), for the Paola Campese Award; Marcello Romano (Naval Postgraduate School), for the F. Strazzabosco Award; Elisa Bertino (Purdue University), for the M. Gerla Award; Camillo Ricordi (University of Miami), for the Embassy of Italy Award. In closing, ISSNAF vice-president Enrica D’Ettorre will announce the foundation’s plans for 2021.


The Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation (ISSNAF) was established in 2007 by 36 prominent Italian scientists and scholars in North America, among them four Nobel Prize recipients, under the auspices of the Italian Embassy in Washington DC. The Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes cooperation in science, academia and technology between Italian researchers and scholars working in North America and the world of research in Italy. With a network of over 3,000 affiliates, including distinguished scientists and young researchers, ISSNAF represents the Italian intellectual diaspora in North America, bridging the two shores of the Atlantic to promote the sharing and promotion of a priceless heritage of knowledge and identity. In its activities, ISSNAF collaborates with other organizations and foundations, institutions and government agencies, including the Italian Embassy, the Consular Network and Italian Cultural Institutes in the United States and Canada.

ISSNAF annual event: register here

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