Meet the Scientist

Francesca Headsho.jpg

Researcher and Outreach Officer at Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences

What scientific field do you work in?


I am a mathematician working in noncommutative geometry. This is an interdisciplinary field within mathematics that uses connects different areas like algebra analysis and geometry, and which is inspired by the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics.

"I'm a big fan of pumpkin in all possible forms!"

Holiday Pumpkin

Could you briefly explain what your job involves?


I am currently a part-time science communication officer and part-time researcher at the MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig. My science communication job involves talking to other researchers at the institute and trying to make their achievements more accessible to the public. It is fun and I get to learn something new every day!

Do you have any secret talents?


I have acted since the age of 10 and I think I was pretty good at it. I even considered going to some professional acting school, but I ended up choosing mathematics instead. I now try to use this background when giving talks and in my science communication job. It is nice to be able to combine my passions like this.

When did you decide you wanted to work as a scientist?


I am not sure. I have always liked maths and science (especially physics and chemistry) in school, but I also liked other subjects, like languages and philosophy... I had very good teachers and when I finished high school I realised that what I would miss the most was the feeling of certainty and beauty that maths gave me. So I ended up studying that at University, but I am not sure I was consciously trying to become a scientist. I was just very curious and wanted to learn more.

If you could be anyone in the world for 24 hours, who would you be and why?


I find Jane Goodall extremely inspiring. Her unconventional career path and her activism are inspirational. I think I would be able to learn a lot by spending one day in her shoes!

Have you taken part in any research? If yes, what was your most exciting project?


The beauty of mathematical research is that it can be done everywhere, one only needs time and space to think about a problem, and maybe a pen and paper (a napkin will do!). I have been involved in many exciting projects since the start of my PhD, and it’s hard to rank them… I am super excited about having been awarded a grant from the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to pursue my own research agenda, and it is very exciting to have all this freedom.


On a side-note, I also try to regularly take part in cognitive neuroscience experiments as a test subject, and once I took part in some non-invasive medical experiment where they collected some of my blood to compared it to that of sick women. Every time it was an interesting experience, and it was great to be able to help fellow scientists.


What's your favourite food?


I am a big fan of pumpkin in all possible forms!

What educational pathway did you take to get to where you are now?


After a science-oriented high school degree, I went on to study mathematics at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in my hometown, Brescia. During my Master’s I had the opportunity of spending three semesters in Germany, at the University of Göttingen, first with an Erasmus fellowship and then with a thesis fellowship. It was in Göttingen that I started getting interested in mathematical physics and non-commutative geometry. I wrote my master thesis and defended it back home in 2011. Then I moved to the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), a graduate school in Trieste, Italy, where I got my PhD in mathematical physics in 2015. During my PhD, I travelled to conferences and got to spend 2 months in Bonn in 2014 at a focus program and two months in Paris in 2015 visiting Paris VII University.

" is a great opportunity to see places and meet people..."


What's your favourite movie quote?


It's from 21 Grams, though it’s actually a quote from a poem within the movie:


"The earth turned to bring us closer. It turned on itself and in us until it finally brought us together in this dream.”

What was the best thing about your job?


The collaborative nature of mathematical research. Talking to scientists with different backgrounds and perspective is stimulating and at the same time it is a great way of advancing science.

What was the worst thing about your job?


The insecurity that comes with temporary contracts, and the constant travelling. It may sound exciting at the beginning, and it is a great opportunity to see places and meet people, but it is also energy consuming.

"It's nice to be able to combine my passions..."


If you could take one thing with you to an island, what would it be and why?


I must admit that I read other interviews on this website to get some inspiration for this question, and I ended up agreeing with fellow red-head Helen Bear: I would definitely take sunscreen!

Do you have any advice for young people who are interested in your career path?


There is no unique way of doing mathematics, and no unique path to becoming a mathematician. Just make sure you have fun doing it!

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