Award for the best PhD thesis

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Every Year SISSA awards 3 prizes of the amount of € 1.000,00 each for the best Ph.D. thesis defended at SISSA in each scientific field:

  • Mathematics (in memoriam of Mr. Franco Lutzman)
  • Physic
  • Neuroscience


The 2015 Edition of the Award has been announced in date June, 12th.

The people who defended their thesis between March, 1st 2014 and February, 28th 2015 are eligible.

The deadline for submitting the application and all the relevant documentation, as prescribed in the call, is September, 8th at noon.

Read the call (Download the call)

Download the application form

Previous Winners



Luca Rizzi

Title: The curvature of optimal control problems with applications to sub-Riemannian geometry

Supervisor: A. A. Agrachev

The candidate has obtained fundamental results on the construction and study of the curvature for structures with non holonomic constraints. The first chapter of the thesis has already been accepted for publication in the AMS Memoir.


Sina Tafazoli

Title: Behavioral and Neural Substrate of Invariant Object Recognition in Rats

Supervisor: D. Zoccolan

The candidate performed a remarkable experimental work in the areas of behavioral neuroscience and neurophysiology related to the mechanisms of shape perception in the rat with impressive results that led to a rigorous and creative paper.


David Marzocca

Title: Higgs and beyond the LHC era

Supervisors: A. Romanino and M. Serone

The candidate analyzed different ideas on, and aspects of, BSM phenomenology, derived novel, significant results of exceptional originality with great impact on the corresponding field of research and wide international recognition.



Alex Massarenti

Title: Biregular and Birational Geometry of Algebraic Varieties

Supervisors: M. Mella and B. Fantechi

The thesis is animpressive piece of scholarly work, which, while building on solid classical foundations, enriches them with a wealth of new original results and insights. Dr. Massarenti's remarkable work succeeded in bridging the most recent developments and techniques in algebraic geometry with the classical theory of the moduli spaces of algebraic curves.


Swathi Hullugundi

Title: A study of mechanisms underlying the function of trigeminal sensory neurons in a mouse model of genetic migraine

Supervisor: A. Nistri

The thesis by Dr. Swathi Hullugundi, reports an impressive and deep characterization of the trigemino-vascular pathways which trigger central sensitization resulting in chronic pain. It includes the discovery of the CASK kinase as a novel key player modulating the efficiency of the purinergic P2X3R receptor on sensory neurons. The results of this work were published in 5 papers, of two of which Swathi is first author.


Aurora Meroni

Title: The Nature of Massive Neutrinos and Unified Theories of Flavour

Supervisor: S. Petcov

During her PhD Aurora Meroni worked on the physics of massive neutrinos and neutrino mixing, unified theories of flavour and radiative resonant leptogenesis.
In particular, she investigated for the first time the role of interference between different CP-non-conserving processes that may lead to neutrino-less double-beta decay. Her novel and original results represent a real breakthrough of major importance for all experimental attempts aiming at resolving the long-standing issue about the nature – Dirac or Majorana – of neutrinos through the double-beta decay.



Flavia Poma

Title: Gromov-Witten theory of tame Deligne-Mumford stacks in mixed characteristic

Supervisors: A. Vistoli and B. Fantechi

Theoretical physics has long used geometric methods; in fact already general relativity views gravity as a curvature of spacetime, a four-dimensional manifold with a Minkowski metric. A fruitful interaction with algebraic geometry, the branch of geometry studying zero loci of polynomial equations, was born at the beginning of the 1990s: at its core was the idea of using integrals over moduli spaces of algebraic curves as analogs of counting Feynman diagrams. This led to progress in pure mathematics, in particular the proof by Kontsevich of Witten's formulas and a rigorous definition of the so-called Gromov - Witten (GW) invariants, plus the proof that their partition function satisfied the Korteweg - de Vries equation along with Virasoro relations. GW and other invariants defined by similar techniques (Donaldson-Thomas, Pandharipande-Thomas) have been an active area of research in the last three decades. The invariants, initially defined for smooth projective varieties (or, with minor variation, in the symplectic context) have been extended to many singular spaces, orbifolds, and to the relative/logarithmic setting: however, no one had ever removed the assumption of having a base field of characteristic zero. Poma's thesis extends Gromov - Witten invariants to smooth projective schemes over a field of arbitrary characteristic; in fact, it allows the most fruitful approach in algebraic geometry, namely to consider a variety defined over a ring of mixed characteristic and compare the invariants for different choices of base field. The thesis only addresses the projective case, but its breakthrough methods should extend to the more general settings. The methods used involve an extension to the mixed characteristic case of both Fulton's classical intersection theory, and of its subtle generalization by Kresch to algebraic stacks in the sense of Artin. They are difficult even for an experienced researcher, yet Poma used them flawlessly to provide a clear, well-written and complete result. Dr. Poma currently works as financial analyst for Citigroup.


Maddalena Delma Caiati

Title: Activity-dependent regulation of GABA release at immature mossy fibers-CA3 synapses: role of the Prion protein

Supervisor: E. Cherubini

Maddalena Delma Caiati's thesis, " Activity-dependent regulation of GABA release at immature mossy fibers-CA3 synapses: role of the Prion protein", deals with plasticity and modulation of GABA release in the developing hippocampus. It is an outstanding and high quality work, through which the uncommon maturity and intellectual independence of the Author fully shows. Two are the main findings reported: (1) the mechanism of action of presynaptic kainate receptors in GABA release regulation and LTP; (2) the role of the Prnp protein in modulation of GABAergic plasticity at MF-CA3 synapses. These results are the subject of 7 papers, 6 of which have Maddalena as first author. 4 of these papers were published on the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience: one of them was hightligthed by Nature at the News column.


Luca Tubiana

Title: Equilibrium and kinetic properties of knotted ring polymers: a computational approach

Supervisor: C. Micheletti

Luca (Tubiana) ...made a breakthrough contribution by developing a transparent, robust and computationally very efficient algorithm to identify the knotted portion of a chain. This contribution allowed to unravel a conundrum that had puzzled the virology community for a number of years, namely why viral DNA, despite being badly knotted inside viralcapsids, is capable of exiting from the narrow capsid pore without being jammed by the knot . The knot localization algorithm developed by Luca has rapidly become well-known beyond the context of the specific study and has attracted the attention of the knot theorists who invited him to give a talk at an international mathematical workshop in 2011 at the Scuola Normale di Pisa. For the same reason he was also granted a very competitive grant to attend and deliver the results at the 2011 Biophysical Society Meeting in the United States. In addition, Luca’s algorithmic implementation of the knot localization strategy is much sought after by the community of phycists working with systems of entangled soft matter, for example se ethe recent Phys. Rev. Lett.article of Coluzza et Vienna, which in the body of the article refers twice to “Tubiana’s method for knot localization”. … and the recent Macromolecules paper on the spontaneous knotting and unknotting of fluctuating polymers. This contribution was deemed so significant by the journal editors, that it was chosen as the cover article for the June. Dr. Tubiana is an outstanding researcher, and the results of his thesis already had a profound impact on the field of computational knot theory. His dissertation is exceptional, and I strongly support his nomination for SISSA’s best PhD thesis award.



Davide Barilari now Post-Doc @ Ecole Polytechnique, Paris (France)

Title: Invariants, volumes and heat kernels in sub-Riemannian geometry

Supervisors: A. Agrachev and U. Boscain

The thesis of Dr. Barilari is devoted to important problems of geometry, measure theory and analysis in sub-Riemannian spaces. Two of results obtained by Barilari answer classical open questions: the first concerns regularity properties of the Hausdorff's measure and the second concerns the relation between the small time asymptotic of the sub-Riemannian heat kernel on the diagonal and geometric curvature-type invariants. This is indeed an extremely good mature work.


Claudia Civai now Post-Doc @ Minnesota University - Dept. of Economics, USA

Title: More Equal than Others: The neural basis of unfairness and inequality perception in the Ultimatum Game

Supervisor: R. Rumiati

The thesis contains four studies (3 of which already published in high ranked journals) in a new field of neuroscience investigating the neural bases of economical decision making. The external examiners (Prof. Alan Sanfey, University of Arizona & Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Nijmegen, and Prof. Stefano Cappa, Università San Raffaele, Milan) were very impressed by her experimental and theoretical work. Immediately after her PhD defense, Dr. Civai started a three year postdoctoral contract to work at the University at Minnesota in collaboration with Prof Aldo Rustichini, a world leading figure in neuroeconomics.


Michele Burrello now Post-Doc @ Universiteit Leiden - Institut Lorentz, Germany

Title: Topological quantum computation, anyons and non-abelian gauge potentials

Supervisors: G. Mussardo and A. Trombettoni

For his outstanding work on non-abelian anyon physics, in particular for implementing a very efficient search algorithm of a single q-bit quantum gate based on braiding properties of the so-called Fibonacci anyons.



Francesco Solombrino now Post-Doc @ Center for Mathematics, Technische Universität München, Germany

Title: Rescaled viscosity solutions of a quasistatic evolution problem in non-associative plasticity

Supervisor: G. Dal Maso

Francesco Solombrino's thesis contains very interesting and very difficult mathematical results on a specific model for elasto-plastic materials used in soil mechanics. More in general, the ideas and the techniques developed in the thesis provide an important contribution to the study of quasistatic evolution problems, a field that has attracted the activity of several international research groups.


Liuba Papeo now Post-Doc @ Cognitive Neuropsychology Laboratory, Harvard University, USA

Title: The Tie between Action and Language Is in Our Imagination

Supervisor: R. Rumiati

The thesis entitled contains five distinct experimental studies. Three of them have been published, one has been sent to a Journal and one will be submitted shortly. Furthermore, a review article has been completed. All those works have already received many citations. Besides having used different methodologies (fMRI, TMS and neuropsychology,) in her thesis, Dr. Papeo has also carried out very good theoretical work. Professor Caramazza (Harvard and University of Trento) and Professor Peter Hagoort (director of the Donders Institute in Neijmegen, Netherlands), were the external examiners, and highly appreciated her work.


Raffaello Potestio now Post-Doc @ Theory Group, Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung Mainz, Germany

Title: Coarse-grained modelling of protein structure and internal dynamics: comparative methods and applications

Supervisor: C. Micheletti

For outstanding results in the numerical characterization of structure and dynamical properties of proteins, as testified by the independent selection of one of his papers by the F1000 committee: In this intriguing paper, the authors compared the sequences of homologous proteins. In particular, they chose proteins in which some homologs contain knots while others did not, enabling Potestio et al. to tease out features that may be required for knotting.