Conferring Stefano Sanvito "Cavaliere" in the Order "Stella d'Italia"

Provost's House

06 February 2017


Your Excellency, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It's my privilege to welcome you all to the Provost's House for this unique occasion: the conferring of the decoration of 'Cavaliere' to Professor Stefano Sanvito.

The Ambassador, His Excellency Giovanni Adorni Braccesi, speaking after me, will tell you about the significance of this extremely prestigious award.

I believe Stefano is the first Trinity scientist to be conferred with this Order. We're immensely proud of him.

Of course, we were proud of him already – he is one of the luminaries of the university – but we're thrilled to see him recognised in this way. I know how much it must mean to Stefano to be honoured by his home country – and I will let him speak about that. It also means a huge amount to Trinity.

In Trinity we have long cherished our relations with Italy and with Italian universities. So many of our schools and departments have student exchange and research collaborations with Italian universities. We have Erasmus partnerships with twenty Italian universities, making Italy among the top five destinations of choice for our students looking to study abroad.

As a post-doc, I myself was a beneficiary of academic cooperation. In the early 1990s I went to the University of Bologna, and the Rizzoli Institute to study orthopaedic biomechanics.

My time in Bologna turned me into an enthusiast for Italian culture and intellect – so on a personal level also, I'm delighted with this award to Stefano.

I'm fortunate that I have known Stefano for many years now. He first arrived in Trinity in 2002 as a contract lecturer. His brilliance was immediately obvious, and before long he was promoted to professor. I first got to know him during this period. When I was Dean of Graduate Studies, Stefano served in the Graduate Studies Committee, which I chaired, and was notable there for his Italian way of doing business, which could involve a lot of argument, but it was always in a good cause.

In 2013 he was appointed to the Chair of Condensed Matter Theory. And the following year he became Director of CRANN, one of Trinity's largest research centres and Ireland's leading nanoscience centre (1).

When I say Ireland's 'leading nanoscience centre' that is saying a lot because according to the Global Innovation Index, which surveys 141 countries, Ireland is ranked number one in nanoscience . Such pre-eminence has a huge amount to do with CRANN and with Stefano.

I understand that it's fairly unusual for the particular honour of Cavaliere dell' Ordine della Stella d'Italia to go to a scientist, and in this respect Stefano is a mould-breaker. But I don't think it's surprising, given such spectacular results in such a ground-breaking field as nanoscience, that the Italian government was moved to honour him and his work.

Since taking up directorship of CRANN, Stefano has brought over 60 million euro in research funding to Trinity; he has graduated more than twenty PhD students who are now becoming stars in their fields – and he has collaborations in five continents.

Stefano has built an exceptional career in Trinity, thanks to his brilliance, but also, I'm sure he'd be the first to say, thanks to the opportunities available to him here, which he has made so much of. The environment in which he works, CRANN, is particularly international, with staff and researchers hailing from all round the world, including Germany, Russia, UK, China, India, Bulgaria, Brazil and USA. Italy is particularly well-represented in CRANN, with I believe twenty researchers, and ten percent of CRANN staff. They are all, like Stefano, building brilliant careers here in Trinity, and I'm delighted to think that our relationship with Italy and with Italian universities is secured into the future.

As a Fellow of this College since 2006, Stefano has a central role in the governance of the university. Stefano is a proud Trinity Fellow and an exemplary Dubliner, who in his work and his life has certainly encouraged 'friendly relations and co-operation between Italy and Ireland', as the award stipulates. His children, who are here today, have dual citizenship, Italian and Irish - and, he tells me, they do not play soccer, but GAA! Which, I guess this is a remarkable concession from an Italian!

Dublin and Trinity and Ireland are most fortunate to be benefiting from Stefano's enormous talent, skill and dedication. Through this award, the message of his brilliance will be carried to a much wider audience.

On behalf of the university and his colleagues, I congratulate him. And may I also take the occasion to thank the Italian government. Because in honouring Stefano, our Professor and Fellow, you honour Trinity.

It's now my pleasure to invite to the floor, for the official conferring ceremony, His Excellency, the Ambassador of Italy to Ireland, Giovanni Adorni Braccesi.

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