Good afternoon, and welcome to the inauguration ceremony for the academic year 2021-2022 of the Scuola Normale Superiore.
I would like to thank all the Authorities for their intervention here today: Minister Bianchi, President Giani, Mayor Conti, Prefect D’Alessandro, and the Council Members and Rectors.
I also welcome all the civil and military authorities as well as our lecturing staff, our technical and administrative personnel and our students.
The 18th October marked the 211th anniversary of the foundation of the Scuola Normale Superiore. As you know, on 18th October 1810 Napoleon signed the imperial decree imposing the institution in Pisa of an “academic residence” along the lines of the École Normale Supérieure of Paris, aimed at training the future teachers of the Italian schools
The Napoleonic act of foundation thus refers to the insertion of the Scuola Normale Superiore into the national educational system. Naturally, its original function, as a “school of norms”, that is, of the fundamental principles of scholastic and civic education to be transmitted to teachers, was from the start interlaced with further potentiality; indeed, in the words of Luigi Russo, a former Director, the Scuola Normale Superiore was, and is to this day, “a breeding ground for eminent scholars in the field of letters and of the sciences”, to which we have more recently added the Faculty of social sciences. However, since “destiny may change, but our nature never can” (quoted from Schopenhauer), the Scuola Normale Superiore continues to adopt an attentive and participatory attitude towards the national school system, with multiple interactions to which I would like to dedicate the first part of the introduction in order to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Education, Patrizio Bianchi. We also intend, in our ongoing revision of the Statute, to lend greater emphasis and visibility to this part of our mission, in the awareness that we are the only university higher education institute whose subjects mirror almost perfectly those taught at the upper secondary schools.
A traditional collaboration with the schools is represented by the university orientation courses, which each year – although in 2020 and 2021 practically all the courses except one were conducted online – gather around 500 of the best students just promoted to the fifth year of the upper secondary school, in localities of the Italian peninsula, from Pisa to Rome and from Naples to San Miniato, where, after the stasis caused by the pandemic, we intend to bring back some of the activities, in the past also including Camigliatello Silano, Rovereto, Cortona and Colle Val D’Elsa. Over the course of a week, conferences at university level are held on a wide variety of disciplines, many of which are not included in our study programmes. Indeed, our orientation does not necessarily direct these young students towards a university career at the Scuola Normale Superiore: in fact, some of the lectures are given by lecturers not belonging to our institution, in a ratio of 3 to 1 with respect to the lecturers of the Scuola Normale Superiore. Thus we are in a decided minority, as we do not intend to engage in self-promotion but rather to offer an overview of the best Italian university syllabuses. In fact, only a small, albeit to us significant, percentage of the participants in the courses then decide to try for admission to the Scuola Normale Superiore (only 17% entered this year's admission competition). Hence the spirit is to prevent the dispersion of the talent of the students with unwise choices – a service to the country that in the last 41 years has involved around 20,000 participants, made possible by close collaboration with the head teachers of the Italian schools: it is they who choose for us the most deserving of their students to be admitted free of charge to our orientation courses. We confirm our commitment to achieving a new and wider orientation season, thanks partly to new ministerial funds, involving as always institutions such as the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei and the other Higher Education Institutes with a special status, in the hope that next summer the students will be able to experience the season once more as a collegial one, with the exchanges of impressions and the sharing of expectations that have always been at the heart of this initiative.
The refresher courses for school teachers that we offer in collaboration with the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei also have the aim of offering a service to the schools. These are lectures meant for the teaching staff of schools of every order and grade (from primary to lower and upper secondary level) given by our lecturers on themes that we consider to be stimulating and highly worthy of dissemination, in fields such as Mathematics, Italian, Italian literature, Biology, the History of Art, Ancient History or Chemistry. Hence in 7 years we have organised over 40 courses for a total of around 5,000 teachers trained and almost 300 lectures, all available online on the YouTube channel of the Scuola Normale Superiore for anyone wishing to attend them. Albeit with such consistent numbers, the activity has so far been necessarily limited to Tuscany (until 2019 the teaching activities were carried out in person). We shall be working towards increasing the number of users involved, the themes handled (including, for example, those of the social sciences, with the contribution of the faculty of Florence) and the number of subjects of the lectures, extending the courses to blended mode and sharing this experience with the other Higher Education Institutes with a special status, so that as many teachers as possible can enrol in these refresher courses, which I remind you are totally free of charge and which constitute a great opportunity for professional enrichment.
The most recent initiative in favour of the schools is “La Normale a scuola”, created, I would say, almost by chance in April 2020, during the first strict lock-down, when our lecturers offered to give online lectures to the pupils of the upper secondary schools. The enormous number of requests for participation came as an immense surprise to us, revealing the extent of the high level of dissemination in the country. All this prompted us to repeat the experience the following year: between 2020 and 2021 we held as many as 449 lectures online, each of which was attended by around 200 students connected from all parts of Italy; furthermore, we had applications from schools in Athens, Madrid, Brussels, Istanbul and Moscow, thus reaching beyond Italian shores. An overall 110,000 students took part, albeit still a small fraction of the entire student body, but, I would say, already significant. This year alone, 47 lecturers, researchers and temporary research assistants have contributed to the lectures who do not form part of our academic confines, but who represent for thousands of school students the opportunity for a closer look at subjects they have already seen, but also for an approach towards themes not present in their study curriculum. This is in practice the same principle that is at the heart of our orientation, extended not only to those students with the highest school grades, but to a wider and more variegated audience of young people who it would otherwise be difficult to reach.
In 2022 we shall again be taking up this activity, which has established itself among those of the Third Mission, and for the first time we shall also be trying out lectures in blended mode, both online and in person, this time also involving PhD students. We would like these lectures to be carried out also in symbolic localities, such as places where there is the highest rate of school dropout, so as to send out a signal of support. This is the spirit which gave rise to “La Normale a scuola”, testifying to a firm public engagement on the part of our community.
Regarding school dropout, in 2017 we started up an experimental project of collaboration between the Scuola Normale Superiore and the Istituto Professionale “Pacinotti” of Pontedera (whose head teacher, Maria Giovanna Missaggia, a former student of our Faculty of Letters, is here with us today). The original intention was to establish a bridge between two worlds and two experiences apparently poles apart: on the one side students at high risk of dropping out of school and on the other side students at a high level of school and university career. We realised that a dialogue between these two worlds was possible, and that literature could be a powerful tool. For the carrying out of this experiment, Dante's Divine Comedy was chosen, and not by chance. We were inspired by the example of a great former student of ours, whom it is my pleasure to remember today in the presence of the Minister: Carla Melazzini, the originator and founder of the “Maestri di Strada”. Hence the creation, thanks to the commitment of some of our students and of the head teacher and the teachers of the “Pacinotti”, of «I cerchioni di Dante», a name that derives from the amusing mistake by which a student had defined the circles of Dante's Inferno.
The project revolved around the value, both symbolic and educational, of reading. In effect, many of the students of the “Pacinotti” had an exceedingly poor affinity with reading.
Reading aloud has thus become the testing ground and the remedy for the healing of a chronic mistrust: with patience, the Normalisti and the teachers of the “Pacinotti” have spurred the pupils to listen to their own voices and to those of others, to find the courage to read, to concentrate on the meaning of the words, to understand Dante through their imagination and to understand themselves through Dante. Many of these students have presented as their final project for the Maturità, the school leaving certificate, precisely «I cerchioni di Dante», opening, together with myself, the great collective reading of the Divine Comedy that we held in Piazza dei Miracoli two months ago. Some Italian institutes have now asked us to repeat this experiment of ours, and a group of psychologists have offered to study the cognitive impact of this extraordinary experience.
But a great many of our students are engaged in the dissemination of culture and science. Some of them have obtained the licence for TED (Technology Entertainment Design), an international programme of events dedicated to the themes of technological and social innovation, enabling them to organise the first TED event in Pisa, TEDxLungarno Mediceo, in collaboration with the Scuola Sant’Anna, the University of Pisa and numerous technological and non-technological companies of the area. This is but one example, with others to follow in the course of my introduction, of the multiplicity of collaborations that the Scuola Normale Superiore, albeit in its small numbers, is capable of developing at various levels: Pisan, Florentine, regional and national.
This academic year, we shall also be continuing to support the teachers and to ensure that pupils are able to become familiar with and to evaluate the widest possible range of study subjects in order to choose their future path exploiting to the full their possibilities and aspirations. I believe that all these initiatives render the idea of the investment that we are putting into the growth of the schools; that is where the spark of the passion for study and research can be ignited: a spark that should be ignited as soon as possible, a passion that characterises the university career of our students, without which it would be difficult, if not impossible – and I say this from my experience as a former student – to face the pressing academic commitments that they are required to fulfil. It would be a far-sighted act for the State to acknowledge in the curriculum of the Normalisti, among others, the possibility to abbreviate access to Public Administration but also to teaching, in order to offer quality teachers to the Italian school system and to recover in part the original function of the Scuola Normale Superiore as a “Scuola degli educatori” (“A school for educators”). In this direction, thanks to my own solicitations and those of Dean Nuti, whom I here greet, something has already been achieved, with the equivalence of our degree with a second level master's degree , although more could certainly be done in the way of a better enhancement of the investment of the State in the Higher Education Institutes with a special status.
It seems to me that it is increasingly important for our society to offer young people cultural and scientific stimuli, so that they have plans and ambitions, and it is always with pride that one observes that the Scuola Normale Superiore still represents a national and international reference point for hundreds upon hundreds of them. We see them every year during the admission competitions for the undergraduate course and the PhD course. Suffice it to say that all 20 regions of Italy are represented in our present student body, from the Valle D’Aosta to Sicily, and that there are PhD students from faraway countries such as Chile, Japan, Canada, Iran, China and the United States. I take this opportunity to offer my best wishes for the new academic year to all 295 students of the undergraduate course, and in particular to the 70 students selected this September, and to the 303 students of the PhD course and in particular to the 79 selected this year. For the difficult work that they have undertaken, I thank the examination commissions and the administration offices, who have worked in support of one of the most delicate tasks of our institution – which I always say is the most important moment in the life of our Scuola Normale Superiore - that is, the selection of the new generations of Normalisti. I would like to remind you that the Scuola Normale Superiore will guarantee dedicated services and supplementary courses for its students, who are also enrolled in the universities of Pisa and Florence, as well as free board and lodging, since “the capable and deserving, even if without means, have the right to achieve the highest levels of study”. It is also thanks to the support of the entire administrative machinery, which for the last few months has boasted a new General Secretary, Dr. Enrico Periti, that our Scuola Normale Superiore has been able to fulfil this constitutional mandate and I wish to thank right away all our technical and administrative personnel for their professionalism and sacrifice during these still difficult months of the pandemic. I would also like to thank the Fondazione Monasterio, with which we recently renewed an agreement, for its advice and constant support to us during the months of the pandemic.
The lecturing body will apply its customary attention to the new students, renewing the pact of mutual exchange that has always been the real added value of the Scuola Normale Superiore. Regarding this, during this calendar year we have proceeded to broaden the educational syllabus of the three academic faculties with further acquisitions and career promotions. We have four new full professors, and here I welcome Fosca Giannotti, with whom the Scuola Normale Superiore, partly in answer to the many requests from our students, opens up in the direction of Information Technology, Tommaso Pizzorusso, professor of Physiology, Alessandro Schiesaro, professor of Latin Language and Literature, and Hans-Jörg Trenz, professor of Sociology of cultural and communicative processes. The last of these positions is also active for the first time at the Scuola Normale Superiore, and I think that it will integrate well with the activities of a strongly interdisciplinary nature of the Istituto Ciampi in Florence, well coordinated by Mario Pianta. The new associate professors have taken up service during the year, or will do so on the first of January: Gianfranco Adornato, of Classical Archaeology, Federica Cengarle, of Medieval History, Federico Cremisi, of Physiology, Elisa Donzelli, of Contemporary Italian Literature, Michael Joseph Morello, of Experimental Physics, Fabrizio Oppedisano, of Roman History, Andrea Torre of Italian Literature, and Enrico Trincherini, of Theoretical Physics.
I am convinced that the three academic faculties – the Faculty of Sciences, with its Dean Andrea Ferrara, in his second mandate, the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, with its new Dean, Stefano Carrai, and the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences with its new Dean, Guglielmo
Meardi – will gather a new force and impetus from these professors.
On this occasion I would also like to send out a warm farewell to the two outgoing Deans, Donatella Della Porta, now on a well earned sabbatical year, and Gianpiero Rosati, who has terminated, but only on a formal and not a substantial basis, his term of office at the Scuola Normale Superiore.
The task of leading the Scuola Normale Superiore is shared by many people and various authorities; I wish in particular to mention those who are here to help me to make choices that are not always easy: the Deputy Director, Mario Piazza, and the prorectors and delegates: Lorenzo Bartalesi, Chiara Cappelli, Ilaria Pavan, Augusto Sagnotti and Angelo Vistoli. I should also like to mention the representatives of all the components of the various governing authorities and, as well as the General Secretary, Dr. Daniele Altamore. It is thanks to all of them that we shall be able to face the many challenges that await us.
This year too we shall evaluate the state of health of our academic structures, not entrusting ourselves exclusively to the famous and much abused rankings, although it should be said that in the international sector rankings that adopt intensive as well as extensive parameters, thus taking into account the dimensions of the universities, the Scuola Normale Superiore always comes first in Italy and among the first worldwide in the scientific disciplines (Physical Science ranking – Times Higher Education), in the Humanities disciplines (Humanities ranking – Round University Ranking), and in the social sciences (Social Sciences ranking – Times Higher Education). But we evaluate quality above all in the careers of the Normalisti, in the contribution that the lecturers and researchers of our Scuola Normale Superiore make to the scientific community, and in the recognition that follows.
I shall quote some cases in 2021: for the Faculty of Sciences, the scientific experiment of the observation of the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang for which the Cosmology Group led by Andrea Ferrara was selected by NASA in view of the observation programme of the James Webb space telescope, the biggest ever constructed, which aims to reveal other secrets of the origin of the universe and which is due to be launched on the 18th of December; for the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, the COMAST Programme (museum collections and historical archives of Tuscany: analysis of materials, advanced digitalisation and multimedial dissemination), promoted and co-funded by the Region of Tuscany in the context of the POR-FSE call and co-ordinated by Francesco Caglioti, through which the Scuola Normale Superiore has obtained the co-funding for many research grants in interdisciplinary sectors among sciences and letters; the study on the Recovery Fund by Manuela Moschella of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, published by the European Parliament.
I would like these recognitions to be seen not merely as the self-celebration of a presumed “excellence”. I wish to stress this point also because it was touched upon in an interview with some students of the Faculty of Letters during the last degree awarding ceremony, in the context of a justified denouncing of the excesses to which this rhetoric may lead and of the degenerations deriving from the use of merely quantitative tools in the evaluation of research. These criticisms, however, must not lead us to reject certain values, but simply to weigh them up in a better way. I will here repeat what I said in July: “As happens on the sports field, I would like to urge everyone to recognise the proper value of selections based on merit, to look with pride upon the many recognitions obtained in the national and international field by our students, their great contribution to education and research as well as to our country’s image”.
Another issue touched upon in that letter which is certainly no matter for indifference, which must not be concealed and which I feel to be one of the most pressing issues of my mandate as Director, is that of a greater gender balance within the various segments of our community. I do not believe in a miracle cure and I consider any short cuts counter-productive, particularly regarding recruitment for the undergraduate course, although this consideration must not exempt us from further pursuing this problem in a context in which, in certain sectors, there is already a change of direction that will lead to the overcoming of the gender gap. Certainly, action must be taken as early as possible, incentivising women to apply for our competitions, at all levels, since it is at the pre-entry stage that we see an imbalance, which will be very difficult to re-equilibrate subsequently.
Let me give you some data. This summer, for example, the overall percentage for the three faculties of students applying for the undergraduate competition was 30%, which went down to 24% for candidates for the Faculty of Sciences. The gender distribution of the student population of the undergraduate course, with 23% of women and 77% of men, thus substantially reflects the situation of the incoming students. However, regarding the PhD course the situation improves, with women candidates representing 36% of the total. In other contexts, such as the orientation courses, or the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, we witness a perfect gender balance.
It will thus be a priority to address the prime causes of this imbalance, and it will be important to listen to today's speeches by Chiara Saraceno and Francesca Biagini, but also to the spontaneous collaboration of our women students. We are therefore planning various actions, such as a series of videos by former women students, in primis those of the Faculty of Sciences, to be promoted on public occasions and on our social channels. The ISPIRA project (Inclusivity in the sciences, a Possibility for Identification and Representation) aims to tackle this theme by exploiting the powerful tool of scientific dissemination in an innovative way. Using this means, we intend to organise a cycle of seminars in the lower secondary schools, involving our women students as conference speakers. It will also be important to heed the indications that will come out of the work group on the Gender Equality Plan, co-ordinated by Silvio Pons. Pursuing gender balance in all contexts in which actions are possible, such as the composition of the speakers at conferences, examination commissions and the lecturers of the orientation lectures of the “Normale a scuola”, can certainly contribute to facilitating greater empathy, and from this point of view we are already doing much, even if the effects may not be immediately visible.
To this end, at an advanced stage of implementation is the portal portale alumni.sns.it, which already includes all the curricular information in the possession of the Scuola Normale Superiore, and, starting from this, enables the social profiles of those wishing to register to be uploaded in a simple way. Our history now involves 8114 people among undergraduate and PhD students, starting from the foundation to the AY that we are opening today. From the surveys that we periodically carry out regarding the occupational outcomes of the Normalisti, we know that side by side with the traditional openings in the academic world there are ever increasing possibilities for careers in institutions and companies; Italy and Europe are the most frequent collocations, although around 10% of our former students are placed in non-European locations. The portal project aims to go beyond the specific focuses of the surveys; the idea is to create a community starting from the founding values of our own community: to construct a virtual place where a dialogue can take place between present students and those scattered over Italy and the rest of the world. Conceived as a window onto the universe of the Normalista, hopefully, with the collaboration of the Associazione Allievi, it can become a tool for more immediate knowledge of the Scuola Normale Superiore and of the opportunities that it offers to women and men alike.
In fact, it is not such a simple matter to convey the specific nature of the Scuola Normale Superiore, and in general of the Higher Education Institutes with a special status. Often regarded merely as universities of smaller dimensions, they find themselves having to make do with a procrustean bed of regulations not always designed for them, in terms of personnel, the attribution of resources or planning objectives. Paragraph 3 of Article 2 of the Gelmini law, which recognised our specific nature, has never been fully stated or applied. Hence, with the rectors of the other Scuole - the Scuola Sant’Anna of Pisa, the Scuola IMT of Lucca, the GSSI of L'Aquila, the IUSS of Pavia and the SISSA of Trieste – we are sharing the procedure for the constitution of the network of the 6 Italian university institutions with a special status. Given the particular nature of these academic realities (such as the selection of the students solely on the basis of merit, the residential status of the students, the exceedingly precocious interweaving of teaching and research, the numerically privileged ratio of lecturing staff to students, or the fact of not having the need for the teaching cover specified in the regulations of the normal degree courses), the Scuole Superiori (Higher Education Institutes) can easily promote themselves as trailblazers for the developing of specific activities on chosen themes, trying out new educational, organisational, management and functional models, presenting themselves in this guise to institutions, enterprises, the university system and the public. We have proposed jointly to the Ministry of Universities and Research this new subject, the network of the 6 Scuole, which goes beyond the experience – which has admittedly taught us much - of the Federation of the three Scuole Normale, Sant’Anna and IUSS, and that can be a national and international point of reference both for research activities included in the traditional disciplines and for themes at the forefront of international research linked to the current great global challenges.
As I have already said, to these levels of collaboration there can and must be added others. Our presence on EELISA, a network of 9 European universities that in Italy includes the Scuola Normale Superiore and the Scuola Sant’Anna, from this point of view is perhaps the most innovative experience, which consolidates a picture already very rich in exchange agreements and international collaborations allowing us privileged access also to European Community funds. For instance, in 2021 we were able to obtain funding from the European Institute of Technology (EIT) to promote the education to innovation and entrepreneurship of our students of all the faculties, thanks to a sort of spin-off from the EELISA programme, the EELISA UNFOLDS project.
Another example: thanks to the agreement of the Scuola Normale Superiore with the Collège des Ingénieurs Italia, a PhD student of ours in Nanosciences, Mario Bernardi, together with a team of other undergraduates and PhD students from various universities, won the 2021 edition of Innovation 4 Change, a competition that rewards innovative solutions to the problems of contemporary society, with a project, Farmelody, designed to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal rearing, utilise food in the best way possible and reduce the impact on the climate.
Still on the subject of the promotion of our research, I would like to mention our membership of the European Open Science Cloud Association, the objective of which is to federate and co-ordinate the most advanced experiences in the management and sharing not only of scientific articles but also of their data, so as to construct a virtual environment ‒ the “DataWeb” ‒ accessible worldwide. The Scuola Normale Superiore is thus determined to increase the open access of its own scientific publications, also with the intent of sharing data, software, protocols and methodologies. In addition – and the stimulus of the students has proved to be a decisive factor in this further development - the authors present on the IRIS platform populated by the products of the research of the Scuola Normale Superiore will be recorded in the Wikidata universe so as to increase visibility on the network and the interconnection with the main bibliographical databases.
Regarding networking actions, I would also like to remind you of the inclusion of the Scuola Normale Superiore in the international network Scholars at Risk, and in particular to its Italian branch SAR - Italia. The aim of SAR is to spread awareness of academic freedom and human rights throughout civil society, to promote research studies on connected themes, but also to protect and host qualified scholars who, in their respective countries, are in conditions of effective personal risk. The Scuola Normale Superiore plays an active part in the definition of the programmes of activities and initiatives of SAR – Italia, also through the active participation of Lorenzo Bosi, our lecturer in Sociology of Political Phenomena, and of officials of the Scuola Normale Superiore. Of the ongoing initiatives – in addition to the recruiting of scholars at risk, generously supported from the financial point of view by the Associazione degli Amici della Scuola Normale Superiore presided over by Giuliano Amato – I would like to mention two. This summer, the universities of Tuscany, all members of SAR - Italia, prepared and presented to the Tuscany Region a pilot project for the recruiting of foreign scholars “at risk”. The project, which I hope will gain the approval of the Region, and here I welcome Councillor Alessandra Nardini, has the essential purpose of creating a permanent regional workshop on the themes of academic freedom capable of developing projects, attracting funding and positively influencing national and EU policies on the theme of cultural migration and of the reception of cultural migrants by universities. Among other things, the project envisages the assignation to the Scuola Normale Superiore, and in particular to the Ciampi Institute, of a specific role of co-ordination of the activities of the universities of Tuscany. Also ongoing is a direct dialogue with the heads of the Ministry of Universities and Research in order to secure a commitment to co-fund universities intending to host foreign scholars at risk, together with a specific law citing a dispensation in the recruiting of researchers, doctorate students and post-graduate students for humanitarian reasons.
The international interest is in the DNA of our institution, although the Scuola Normale Superiore is also increasingly engaged in favour of the territory in which it is inserted – not only with its scientific and cultural programmes, including the concert season, which this season finally returns entirely in person at Pisa's Teatro Verdi, but also with interventions designed for the functioning of cultural institutions, or the reutilisation of historical sites in a state of abandon. In Florence, for example, with the University we intend to valorise a building, Palazzo Vegni, in which we shall be placing study and research activities of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences. I am very pleased to report that, with the help of a specific contribution from the Associazione Amici della Scuola Normale, the long renovation process is proceeding, with good results, of the Domus Galilaeana, the managing authority of its Foundation having been substantially in receivership since 2012. I here remind you that the site of the Domus in Palazzo della Specola in Via Santa Maria houses documents that are unique in the world – for instance, the Ettore Majorana archive – and that are now difficult for scholars to access because of the advanced state of degradation of the building. Thanks to our interest in the last few years, in particular regarding the most recent work of the special commissioner Massimo Asaro, an agreement has been signed involving all three of the city's universities, as well as the Municipality of Pisa, to initiate a process of fusion by incorporation of the Fondazione Domus Galilaeana into the Fondazione universitaria Galileo Galilei of Pisa, presided over by Carlo Petronio, Substitute Prorector of the University of Pisa, whom I here greet. This is a project of rationalisation of the cultural organisations dedicated to Galilei, validated by the Prefecture of Pisa, for which the collaboration of everyone will be of fundamental importance. The aim is to restore to the city and to the scientific community full accessibility to the materials (tools, books and manuscripts) now present at the Domus, transferring them to the cittadella Galilaeana dei Vecchi macelli. I also greet Patrizia Alma Pacini, the president of the Unione Industriale Pisana, with which the Scuola Normale Superiore already has various ongoing collaborations of education and dissemination.
An example of the fruitful interaction between research institutes and the local area consists of our laboratories and research centres: the National Enterprise for nanoScience and nanoTechnology (NEST) Laboratory, run by Fabio Beltram, in which other academic and research organisations present in Pisa, such as the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche and the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, operate in synergy, and which from this year has an exhibition space in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello; the Biology Laboratory, directed by Antonino Cattaneo, which is linking its mission to the study of the brain, its functions and the neuronal mechanisms linked to development and ageing; the De Giorgi inter-university Research Centre, a promoter of important international Mathematics conferences, in collaboration with the University of Pisa and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, directed by Andrea Malchiodi; the SAET Laboratory of archaeology directed by Anna Magnetto, thanks to which the Scuola Normale Superiore is active in various archaeological sites in Sicily; the DocStar Laboratory of historical-artistic documentation, run by Flavio Fergonzi; the SMART Laboratory, the activity of which is devoted to computational chemistry, directed by Vincenzo Barone.
The Library is a vital centre for the life of the Scuola Normale Superiore; furthermore, it is visited by a multitude of students and scholars, and not only of the Scuola Normale Superiore. The number of of visits in the Library for on-site consultation has remained constant over time, with an annual average of over 62,000 visits. The same can be said for the number of lending operations, with an average of around 20,300 per annum. These figures do not take into account the considerable number of online accesses, which are increasing all the time, revealing the dimensions of the activity of this vital centre, above all for research in the Humanities, which even in the months of the pandemic did not shirk from offering its services. The Library has grown over the years, rendering it necessary to use other historical buildings, such as the Canonica, here in Piazza dei Cavalieri, which was donated by the Region of Tuscany. We are also very grateful to the Region for the concession of the building in Via Roma, which is of vital importance in view of our need for space and which we hope will be put to practical use as soon as possible after the stasis caused by the pandemic.
The Centro Edizioni initiated the Incipit project, which is designed to favour the collaboration of important Italian cultural and research institutions through seminars of an interdisciplinary nature on key themes of scientific debate. For the first time the editorial policy of a University Press has been entrusted to the students, who discuss possible themes for publication during these seminars “extended” to the students of all the institutions involved. Prominent among the publications of this year are the two fundamental volumes in honour of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, published partly with the contribution of the Fondazione Livorno, presented with success on 15th October at the Accademia dei Lincei in the presence of the Head of State ; they are a collection of the minutes of the five conferences organised on the occasion of the centenary of Ciampi's birth. In addition to the memory of an eminent student, the two volumes shed light, in a critical spirit and with the many testimonies of the direct protagonists, on pivotal moments of the history of our Republic.
I trust that in the carrying out of the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience, for which we are actively preparing, the Scuola Normale Superiore will be able to grasp further possibilities for development: possibilities and developments that are not mere technology. The Scuola Normale Superiore, fortunately, changes and renews itself, as we have seen, while at the same time attempting to maintain a firm hold on its fundamental characteristics. I would hope that all its components, and myself also, will be able during this academic year to reaffirm the values that have always been at its heart: intellectual curiosity, a critical spirit, the willingness to contribute to the growth of society in every sector. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi himself, and Luigi Blasucci, another renowned Normalista, who died a few days ago, and who I would like to remember on this occasion, testify to the fact that our country has need also of these values.
I now declare the academic year 2021-2022 open. Thank you.
Director, Scuola Normale Superiore