Elisabetta Nocerino is a PhD student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden doing research within the field of Condensed Matter Physics.
Elisabetta’s educational background is characterised by a very abrupt route change. During her high school, she focused on classical studies (ancient Greek, Latin, Literature and such), but then decided to direct her interest towards STEM disciplines. She got her bachelor's degree in Physics and then a master’s degree in applied physics, Electronics and Technology from University of Naples Federico II, Italy with a thesis about novel technologies for astroparticle detection. Currently, Elisabeth is a PhD student in Applied Physics at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. She is investigating energy materials using the powerful tools of Neutron Scattering, µSR and X-ray techniques. Elisabeth’s project is within the field of Condensed Matter Physics and it is aimed at understanding and at the development of novel quantum materials for sustainable energy applications. In particular, it involves a comprehensive approach to realise and study both novel low-dimensional organometallic quantum magnets (”spin-LEGO”) as well as nano-structured energy-related compounds.
STEM to Elisabetta means STEM disciplines, and in particular her field of Applied Physics is rooted in the fundamental truths and basic concepts of the physical sciences. These are concerned with the utilisation of these scientific principles in issues of practical relevance. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to deepen such fascinating subjects (i.e. the scientific community), have the responsibility to make this knowledge available to everyone for a more equal and sustainable world and for the advancement of mankind (the very recent COVID crisis is a striking example of this fact). In general, STEM to her is sort of a "mission" that the scientific community works on to help humanity and to make the world a better place. Elisabetta shares that her journey towards STEM was driven by several factors. She mentions, she abruptly changed her mind from humanistic studies to purely scientific. When she was young, Elisabetta was determined to pursue a career in law, therefore she opted for classical studies, since she thought it could give her a solid ground for the legal studies. Eventually Elisabetta realised that she was intolerant towards the hypocrisy of this kind of field, where everything is based on opinions and reality can be completely overturned just by the ability of storytelling, but the claim is to pursue truth and justice. She realised that her principles were not compatible with the idea of building parallel truths to be used at convenience. Elisabetta considers herself a little naive and thinks that view was biased, due to the black-or-white kind of mentality typical of teenagers. However, the reaction to her naive disappointment was to turn her attention towards more ”pure” topics. Science deals with the study of natural phenomena through observation, formulation of hypotheses and experimental testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses. Elisabetta believes that there is no room for imaginative interpretations of truth-at-convenience since every position needs to be demonstrated rigorously. She was a fan of this aspect. Also, the main attraction was towards the challenges. Elisabetta was aware that without any background in mathematics it would have been very difficult for her to succeed in such a field. This apparent obstacle was an additional incentive for her to try to push her limits even further. She was extremely fascinated by the possibility to grasp the mechanisms underlying natural phenomena. She felt the need to understand how nature works, and to do so has been empowering for her.
If there is one achievement that Elisabetta would like to go back in time and tell her younger self, then it is the fact that even though when she started studying physics at university, she had enormous initial difficulties. This is due to her background in classical studies, she did not have the required skills in mathematics or physics. At times, she felt tempted to give up are uncountable, but was determined to continue. Elisabetta says, “if I met the younger me, I would tell her that getting her degree in physics was possible, so she should put more trust in her capabilities.” Now she does research in experimental condensed matter physics by investigating materials with potentially interesting physical properties. The projects she has been involved in now appear in scientific papers published on peer reviewed journals.
In general, Elisabetta believes that the Nordic region seems to be on track when it comes to providing women with good opportunities. But there are some changes that she would like to see in the rest of the world. These changes include opportunities for a more stable career. The possibility to have a healthy work-life balance is equally important along with equal pay. She does think that these kinds of issues concern everybody in STEM research, both men and women.
On the other hand, in Elisabetta’s opinion girls should be educated with the idea that they can pursue any career they want. In this regard, a gender neutral primary education is fundamental. In particular, in order to encourage girls towards the STEM fields, they should be exposed to science at a young age through games, science related toys or fairytales, and such. Elisabetta brings an important point, that female role models are probably not missing but are surely underrepresented with respect to their male counterparts. She shared an interesting example; Albert Einstein is probably better known than Maria Skłodowska-Curie even though the impact of their research is equally outstanding in their respective areas of competence. Bringing to light the female contributions to STEM fields with a gender neutral narrative would surely contribute to a more equal distribution of genders in these fields.
Lastly, here are Elisabetta’s closing words of encouragement for young girls who want to join a STEM field:
“You have to be prepared to work hard, but do not allow adversity to kill your motivation and your dreams. Go through the struggling with confidence and you will succeed.”
You can contact Elisabetta Nocerino on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/elisabettanocerino594376123
I thank Elisabetta Nocerino for taking part in this project and answering all the questions in a very informative manner. I hope, your experience and STEM story will inspire a young girl to join a STEM field and excel just like you have.