Elsa Passaro

Elsa studied physics as an undergraduate and completed a Master’s degree in theoretical physics at the University of Naples before earning a PhD in quantum information theory at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO). Arriving in Lausanne after her husband came to work at EPFL, she did an internship at cyber-security company Nagra, a part of the Kudelski Group, before joining Berend Smit’s Laboratory of molecular simulation group at EPFL and NCCR MARVEL. She is now a postdoctoral researcher working on the Materials Cloud open science platform, concentrating on web development.

Interview by Carey Sargent, EPFL, NCCR MARVEL

The biggest challenge that women scientists face is...

In my personal experience, I don’t think I have faced more challenges than male scientists. That said, one possible challenge is related to the lack of female role models. In academia, at least in physics—it may be different in biology or some other scientific fields—there are very few women. This makes things a bit more difficult, but it is not a big challenge that cannot be overcome. Finding a female role model has been difficult for me, but you can of course have excellent male role models. Having a woman as a role model might give me someone I could identify with more. 

I chose a scientific career because...

I chose a scientific career because I was curious to understand how nature works and because I was always interested in math and scientific subjects at school.

In high school I had an excellent professor of math and physics. She was really dedicated and passionate and she transmitted the curiosity to understand how natural phenomena work. So when I finished high school and had to choose my faculty at university, it was very clear that it had to be something like physics or math or chemistry.  

If I weren't a scientist, I would be...

I think that research is both an analytical and a creative process and so I think I would wind up in another job that combines creativity with an analytical mindset. And like that, I could see myself involved in a technology start-up or something related to technology.