What a pride a Nobel Prize is, but research needs more

Gone like an old swallow does not make spring. Like Khaled finds minor application even in the news of the hour such as the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Italian Giorgio Baresi, Japanese Siokoro Manabe and German Klaus Haselmann “for their innovative contributions to understanding complex physical systems.”

Thus, if the swallow does not reach the spring, the Nobel Prize is not enough to turn Italy into a country for research. Indeed, it has been 62 years since a scholar active in Italy, like Baresi, was unable to achieve the world’s most coveted honor in one of the areas of human knowledge that ‘benefits humanity’. Since the inception of the prize, 20 prizes have been awarded to Italians, 12 of them scientific (5 for physics, 6 for medicine and 1 for chemistry). To find the last Nobel Prize awarded to one of our compatriots, it is necessary to get to the Mario Capicci Prize in 2007, but the latter conducted his research especially in the United States. Instead, to find a winner who developed their work within our borders, one would have to travel back in time to 1959, when the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Giulio Natta.

Paris’ Nobel Prize: Italian pride

Baresi’s victory is undoubtedly a source of pride for our whole country, but the fact that the first recipient of the prize in 62 years has been working mainly in Italy is a fact that makes us think about the many difficulties that Italian researchers face. By Maria Chiara Carusa, President of CNR: “The award of the Nobel Prize to the physicist Giorgio Baresi makes the whole of Italy proud as well as the National Research Council, with whom the physicist has always maintained close cooperative relations that have continued until recently with the activities carried out with our Nanotec Institute. In addition to Satisfied with this remarkable result, our scientific community sincerely thanks him for his fundamental contribution to the study of turbulent complex systems based on the many lines of research in Cnr, from the study of glass systems, to laser systems and the transmission of light in random media, from neural networks and artificial intelligence, all and metabolic networks and biophysics. Unfortunately, we often complain about the many difficulties facing Italian research, from the scarcity of human and financial resources to bureaucracy, but this award is only the latest exceptional confirmation of the excellence of Italian scientific research.”

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Research and financing: a few numbers

Before analyzing the obstacles that researchers found in Italy, let’s take a look at some numbers. In the past year and a half, scientific research has shown its great importance, to the extent that, according to Istat data referring to 2020, public funding for this sector has seen a significant increase, in contrast to private funding, which instead has shown a significant decrease. A number to take with the usual pliers, in fact, between 2019 and 2020, most of the funding was primarily devoted to experimental development and less to basic and applied research, an increase mainly related to the health sector, probably due to the coronavirus epidemic that has brought the world to its knees All on his knees for two years now. Returning to the public funding figures, again according to Istat data, the resources of regions, provinces and central departments for research in 2020 increased by 6.2%, rising from 9836 million euros in 2019 to 10445 million last year. But when analyzing the regional data, it turns out that almost all the funding was allocated by a few regions: 20.2% from Lombardy, 14.2% from Lazio, 12.9% from Emilia-Romagna, 11.9% from Piedmont, 8.7% from Veneto, and 7.5% of Tuscany. The fact that research funding is increasing is always good news, but the novel must be placed in context, not only in a historical period characterized by a pandemic, but above all in relation to the billionaire cuts that research has had to undergo in recent decades.

Difficulties of researchers in Italy

But why is it so hard to be a researcher in Italy? What obstacles do our brains face, from which we often have to flee. We asked Antonio Zucoli, President of Infn, the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, a body to which Parisi himself is associated: “First of all, an introduction must be made: this award teaches us something important, that our universities are capable of giving researchers an excellent preparation. This Nobel Prize is proof of this, an Italian theoretical physicist, coming from the School of Rome, is recognized all over the world, receiving such a prestigious award for the work done.

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“The problem is another – explained Zoccoli to Today.it – ​​when a young man graduates and gets his doctorate, and then he looks around to choose his path, a decision he makes by following two criteria: finding someone who will pay you first: a salary, then a contract, or a scholarship, or Research scholarship, and start a career with growth prospects. The researcher as well as other workers need a particular position which will provide economic security in a reasonable time, so as to allow him to perform his duties in the best possible manner and with proper serenity’.

Unfortunately, when these conditions do not occur, the young researcher, albeit able and willing, is forced to go elsewhere, often beyond national borders, to be able to conduct research. But then, what does our country need to make a quantum leap? We need to make investments – we need places for young people and competitions to select and hire the best, we need structures, laboratories, infrastructure and an academic environment that allow them to conduct research at their best. Italy has one of the lowest ratios between investment in research and GDP in Europe, a fact that leads us to another problem: there are many Italian brains traveling abroad, but very few foreigners who come instead to our country. This is our problem: to be attractive, whether to keep our youth or to attract young people from other countries.”

What our country needs

The investments, structures, resources and “keys” needed to make a difference, Zuccoli explained: “We need the investment and we have a huge opportunity with the Recovery Plan that provides resources for infrastructure, universities, doctoral and research projects in different sectors, from computing to medicine, passing through technology and agriculture. And that is A unique opportunity.”

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Only time will tell what the effects of these investments will be, but one thing is certain, despite all the Italian troubles, there are and will always be ‘minds’ like Giorgio Baresi, able to excel: Many young people flee abroad and then come to us, but it is also true that in Italy there are great scientists who work in different fields and ensure that despite all these problems, the country always succeeds in making a great contribution to research.”

It reads “Scientia potentia est” a Latin aphorism (attributed to Bacon but actually by Thomas Hobbes), “Knowledge is power”, a short sentence but containing a basic concept: knowledge of discipline is a prerequisite for its full use. The Parisian Nobel Prize is a prime example of this, but stopping here would be a mistake, research needs something more.

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