Giorgio Parisi, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics 2021, Talks to Trieste Public

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photograph courtesy of Keiron Mayora
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by In Trieste

Giorgio Parisi, Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales, talked to Trieste public this morning, 22 October, at ICTP.

photograph courtesy of Keiron Mayora

As Parisi entered the room at 11 am, a 3-minute standing ovation welcomed the “rock star” of physics world. It was Parisi’s first scientific talk after the announcement of him winning the Nobel prize on 5 October by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm.

Parisi started his talk by saying that “science is like sex as both have practical consequences. But most of the time practical consequences are not the reason we do it.”

What do we need science for and why trust it?

Science in the modern world is essential for everything. From phones to refrigerators –  everything is based on the quantum mechanics. Not to mention climate change to combat which science is essential. It’s important to get acquainted with science from early age by introducing kids in kindergartens to simple scientific experiments and helping them understand on their own what it means to learn from experience. 

photograph courtesy of Keiron Mayora

At times we think science is omnipotent. But during the pandemics some things were hard to explain and people were scared (just look at the fear based protests in Piazza Unità). Science can’t resolve all problems. What do you think?

Every time there’s a new event, it’s normal to have different opinions. It’s only with time that science comes to a common denominator. This is what we see happening with the pandemics. 

Did scientists make mistakes in communicating with the rest of the world? 

As scientists, we are not taught to go on talk shows but to be understood by other scientists. It was all very new to us.

Many Italian scientists have and continue to emigrate. What can we do to help them stay here in Italy?

Unfortunately, Italy is not a place for young people nor for scientists. If there are no work opportunities for scientists, of course they go abroad. What we need to do is to make Italy more hospitable for researchers, Italian and from around the globe. It’s important to have constant funds available to be able to sustain long-term research. Many researchers are around 30 years old and want to have a family and only with enough funds can we guarantee good life and thus possibility of research for these young people. If we look at South Korea which spends twice as much as Italy on research and development, it’s easy to see we are lagging behind. 

What can science do to change common opinion on climate change?

Communicate with the public. It is especially important to instruct the younger generation as it’s the younger generation that will be hit the hardest. It’s important to give everyone all the necessary instruments to understand what is going on around them and thus to make informed decisions. In France there’s the concept of “hands in the dough” where kids from early age come in contact with science and learn to experiment, on their own. 

Why are there so few female scientists?

It is indeed a serious problem. There’s a lot of discrimination gender wise, and this needs to be continuously addressed by the Academia, as well as by the rest of the world. In practical terms, whenever a young female scientist is offered a position in one place and her partner in another, more often than not they choose to go to the partner’s destination. Academia should help younger couples like these.

What are your thoughts on vaccines?

It is of course fundamental to get vaccinated. Vaccines by nature are experimental but they also go through serious control and safety inspection. I will be getting my third doze soon.  

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