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ISSNAF – The 2020 awards recognize the excellence of Italian research in the U.S.

A renewed ISSNAF announces winners during the annual December 1 online event


Minister Manfredi: “International collaborations are key for our country”
Guido Calabresi, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, reflects on the value of bicultural experiences.
The young winners are Marco Bernardi, Stefano Ermon, Alba Grifoni, Patrizia Mondello and Marzia Parisi.

Washington, D.C., December 2, 2020 – More research cooperation between the two sides of the Atlantic, new disciplines, and a strong female leadership component: ISSNAF, the foundation that brings together thousands of Italian scientists and academics working in laboratories, universities and research centers in North America, renews itself and takes stock of its activities during the annual event held online on Tuesday December 1.

The annual ISSNAF event, held under the High Patronage of the President of the Italian Republic, opened with a welcome address by the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, Armando Varricchio. The Italian Minister of University and Research, Gaetano Manfredi, delivered remarks live from Italy. The presence of Minister Manfredi and the essential support of the Italian Embassy testify to the growing importance of this annual event.

“International collaborations are key for Italy,” said Minister Gaetano Manfredi. “Not only because our researchers abroad excel in their fields, making an important contribution to science at a global level – the example of the United States is emblematic in terms of quality and quantity of Italian researchers – but above all because they are the natural link in fostering cooperation between our universities and research centers. Strengthening this system of relations in the field of science and research between Italy and the United States and the partnership between researchers abroad and Italian universities and research centers – added the Minister – is one of the mainstays of our ministry’s international strategy, and of great interest for the entire government”.

“With these awards promoted by ISSNAF, which has my appreciation for its renewed commitment to promoting cooperation in science, academia, and technology between the United States and Italy, we honor the talented Italian researchers and professionals in North America, whose extraordinary contribution to the world of research is a source of pride and inspiration for us all,” said the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, Armando Varricchio. “The inaugural Italian Embassy Award was dedicated this year to young researchers involved in the prevention, management and treatment of COVID-19,” said the Ambassador.

ISSNAF President Cinzia Zuffada spoke about the Foundation, now reorganized to include a leadership with a notable female presence and to encompass disciplines such as social sciences and humanities as well as technical sciences, with the aim of increasing cooperation between Italy and North America. The Foundation, which has always promoted study or research experiences for young Italian researchers in prestigious institutions in North America, aims to increase its commitment to supporting the internationalization of Italian universities. Moreover, ISSNAF can help develop innovation ecosystems in Italy that link universities, incubators, and industry.

“This annual event is a moment of celebration,” commented Cinzia Zuffada. “Both of the decades long excellence, and of the highly potential contribution in the most diverse disciplines made by young talented researchers, something which testifies to the continuous, and continuing, impact of Italian scientific research in the world”.

The Lifetime Achievement Award 2020 was awarded to Guido Calabresi, a Milan-born jurist who since his youth has been active in the U.S., where he is a federal judge of the Court of Appeals and has served as dean of the prestigious Yale Law School. In his lecture, Judge Calabresi noted that, despite the 80 years spent in the US, that he continues to feel deeply Italian. “It is a special honor for me to receive this award, because it is a recognition of what I have always wanted to be: a bridge between Italy and the United States,” said Calabresi. “Transplanting elements of jurisprudence from one country to another is a bit like transplanting organs on to a human body. It is difficult, but if done properly it can be vital. To do so, you must be very careful and have extensive knowledge of the “body” of both the donor and recipient. Just as I have done in the legal field, with its admirable work in the field of research ISSNAF truly has become a bridge between Italy and the USA “.

The Young Investigators Awards 2020 – one of which was awarded equally to two winners – were assignedto five young researchers in four categories: from the fight against Covid-19 to the treatment of particularly aggressive lymphomas, from the prediction of the effects of climate change to investigating the presence of water on other planets to the study of electron dynamics in materials.

Alba Grifoni, a researcher from Rome who works at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (California) won the Embassy of Italy Award this year for researchers fighting against Covid-19. Patrizia Mondello, researcher from Messina at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, won the Paola Campese Award for research on leukemia. Marco Bernardi, professor at Caltech, and Marzia Parisi, NASA/JPL researcher, both from Rome, received the Franco Strazzabosco Award for engineering. Stefano Ermon, originally from Trento and professor at Stanford University, received the Mario Gerla Award for research in computer science.

Young Investigator Awards: Spotlight on the winners

Embassy of Italy AwardAlba Grifoni, from Rome and with a degree from Tor Vergata University, is a researcher at Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, California, where she works in the laboratory directed by Alessandro Sette in research 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. This work has been published in journals such as that of Cell Science. The article published in Cell in June 2020 resonated greatly in the scientific community and was publicly quoted in a conference in the nation’s capital by Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, the National Institute for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases in the United States.

Paola Campese Award – Patrizia Mondello, from Messina, Italy, is an Advanced Oncology Fellow at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City and studies diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most aggressive tumors, with genomic mutation of the CREBBP gene. Her research has helped identify the mechanism that allows to reactivate the immune system and inhibits the proliferation of lymphomatous cells. In conjunction with certain immunotherapeutic drugs, this system is capable of eradicating tumors. This exceptional discovery has been approved by the FDA, and in January 2021 the first patients might be able to receive treatment.

Mario Gerla AwardStefano Ermon, born in Trento and with a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Padua, is now a professor of computer science at Stanford University where he has developed an advanced algorithm that analyzes satellite images and thereby collects data on climate change, deforestation, population movements, famine and pollution. By processing this data, the algorithms can also make predictions on economic indicators, and understand if certain areas of the world are improving or worsening. The answers that Ermon’s research team obtains are open source, and available to the academic world.

Franco Strazzabosco AwardMarco Bernardi, born in Rome and with a first degree in Chemistry from La Sapienza University and ad advanced one in Materials Science from Tor Vergata University. After a doctorate at the Boston MIT in 2015, he went to Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena, where he now teaches. His group studies the dynamics of electrons in materials, with applications in electronics, optoelectronics, renewable energy devices, quantum technologies and ultra-fast spectroscopy. His research has made a pivotal contribution in these fields and opens up potential applications on new materials and new directions in materials theory.

Franco Strazzabosco AwardMarzia Parisi, from Rome, is a graduate of La Sapienza University and has various experiences abroad, such as that in Israel at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Tel Aviv, where she worked on the NASA Juno mission, active around Jupiter since 2016. After having contributed to the JUICE mission of Esa (European Space Agency), she now 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. At NASA, Dr. Parisi has also worked inside the so-called dark room, the operations room where data is collected.

ISSNAF – Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation

Founded in 2007 under the auspices of the Italian Embassy in Washington DC by 36 prominent Italian scientists and scholars in North America, among them four Nobel Prize recipients, ISSNAF 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 pure and applied research in Italy. With a network of over 3,000 affiliates, ISSNAF represents the Italian intellectual diaspora in North America.

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