“I believe in extraterrestrials. Numbers and the Eternal Father? I am devoted to both of them »- Corriere.it

from Elvira Serra

The scientist, called the «Lady of the comets»: «As a child I was hungry, I don’t forget. Me in politics? It is better that each do his job ». The secrets to succeed: “Believe it, and be good”


Do comets bring bad luck?

“No. Comets are a gift that the universe gives us: every now and then it sends us some to illuminate our skies. If anything, they bring luck, a great deal to me. “

What is the first star you learned the name of?

“Aldebaran, of the constellation of Taurus. As a child, the name made me wonder. On the other hand, the brightest star that I never tire of looking at is Sirius. It is very easy to identify: if you follow the Orion Belt, go further, to the left, the first great star you find is Sirius ».

Amalia Ercoli Finzi shines with its own light like the celestial bodies that she loves to look at since childhood, when she looked out from the balcony of the room she shared with her beloved sister Elvina in Gallarate, in a smaller room than that of her brother Angelo, privileged as a male, but big enough to sprout the curiosity, determination and talent that made her become the “Lady of the Comets”. On 20 April you turned 85 (happy birthday!). We meet in Milan near that Polytechnic that you still call “my home” and where you have achieved more than a record.

A reminder of “his” war.

«The bombings. They were terrifying. When a bomber was sighted, a siren was heard, but it was necessary to wait for the next one to confirm that there was an attack in progress. In that small interval we were all in silence with our hearts in our throats ».

In those years he learned to appreciate the Strega liqueur.

“It was very precious! He was used to distract the border guards when the door that allowed them to escape to Switzerland was opened. When we were displaced in Cantello, my father helped many to escape. They were very hard years ».

Then the war ended.

«On April 25, 1945 I was in second grade. The bell rang at 10 and the teachers sent us home with an unconsciousness that still makes me shiver today. I went home hand in hand with my brother, while the tanks entered Gallarate. Immediately afterwards the vendettas began: one day a truck with two murdered fascists passed under my windows … ».

What did the Liberation mean to you?

«To start living again, to eat. When I see someone who either diets or advances the food on the plate I don’t understand: I have to clean it all up, the plate, because hunger, especially for children, is really something against nature ».

What was your favorite fairy tale?

Cinderella I didn’t like it at all, I didn’t believe in the story of the fairies. Instead I liked him very much The cat with the boots. In those days shoes were a very precious commodity ».

Shoes remained his weakness.

“Yup. First of all, because I have very small feet, 34 scarce. I can also say with a little coquetry that I used high heels because I would get up a little and then because I have nice ankles: “like a gazelle”, said an admirer. He understands that with a 34 foot and a 12 heel, I walked on pointe ».

She is the first woman to graduate in aeronautical engineering in Italy. How did you manage to enroll, overcoming the resistance of the family?

“For two reasons. One, of character: I believed in it. The other, because I was good: in 1956 I had been the most beautiful high school diploma in Italy, complete with a letter from the Minister of Education Paolo Rossi. I enrolled at the Polytechnic that fall, my father made the mistake of letting me choose. I studied for passion. And I read a lot ».

Favourite book?

Brave captains
, I know by heart! There are adventure, the sea, many human aspects. It is a wonderful book: it taught me friendship, solidarity, justice, honesty, loyalty ».

How was your passion for mathematics born?

“I’ve had it since I was a child. Mathematics is wonderful because it is a universal language: 2 plus 2 equals 4 for us and for the Japanese. When you get a result in mathematics there is a moment that is like a delusion: you have reached the truth ».

And why aeronautical engineering?

«When I finished my two-year training period I had to choose what to do next and I understood what my path was: something at the forefront. At the time, the air force was the best. Even now when I take an airplane, at take off, which is the most difficult moment with all the fuel, I shut up and count, one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand and three, until it gets up. “

But sorry, why does it count a thousand?

“Each word equals one second. And since I know how long the runway is, I know how long it takes the plane to reach the end and pull up ».

She has built a bright career with five children. How did you do when they were little?

“I held them in my arms and luckily they slept at night. They are almost the same age. Sometimes I would put them on the table with my feet dangling and feed them by spooning them from one to the other. I have grated thousands of apples and ate so many peels that he has no idea. ‘

Where was it on October 4, 1957?

“At the university, in the second year, in class. Someone came saying that the Russians had launched a satellite into space. I heard the bi-beep on the radio very well. With Sputnik the Russians had beaten the Americans before the International Geophysical Year ended ».

What about 12 November 2014?

“In Darmstadt, Germany, at ESOC, the European Center for Space Operations. The Philae lander had finally landed on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. We toasted. But after half an hour the idea that something had gone wrong was spreading. Instead, after another hour and a half the speaker informed us that the lander, after bouncing, had come down for the second time ».

He was overseen by ESA’s Rosetta mission. And he designed the drill that dug the comet 510 million kilometers from Earth.

“Before Philae landed, I sat in a corner and began to pray: Lord, we’ve done everything we can, now it’s your turn.”

How do you reconcile faith with science?

“Very well! Because they are two different worlds: science is the world of logic and experimentation, faith is the world of the transcendent. In my case, faith is a form of humility: don’t think that we know everything, but say that a good God protects us. What will there be when I die? I don’t know, there are no telescopes to look beyond. But when I get there, and given my age, I have many questions to ask ».

Do you believe in extraterrestrials?

“Of course! I’m not saying UFOs with antennas, but statistically there are other forms of life. Take into account the billions of galaxies in the universe, the billions of stars, the billions of planets … Do you want there to be no other kind of life? The problem is another: with the knowledge we have, especially in physics, which puts us under the constraint of the speed of light, we will never be able to contact one of these intelligent civilizations, because they are too far away ».

She was director of the Aerospace Engineering Department of the Politecnico di Milano.

«A very hard period. The department council was made up only of men and I had them all against them for my “famous innovative ideas” that “could only come to a woman” … ».

An example?

“I bought a small two-seater, however, with the residues of research funds and with the discount. I remember the laughter when I proposed it for the first time: “An idea like this could only come to Amalia!”. But for the Space I had the students build a satellite on which many degree theses were made. We had nothing in the air force, while I wanted the boys to understand why when you pull the yoke the aero rears up ».

How did it turn out?

“I asked a friend of mine to bring it back after a couple of departmental tips. And, coincidentally, they said to him: “What a nice idea!” ».

Of the many national and international awards you have received, which one are you most fond of?

“Maybe at Milano Donna, because I feel like a citizen of the world, but Lombard and Milanese. A woman of doing built on thought ».

Have they ever asked you to go into politics?

«Once, in Trezzano sul Naviglio. And Dandini put me on the list of women for the Quirinale. I thank you, but I am denied. Politics requires preparation and competence: it is better for everyone to do their job ».

Were you happy to hear Prime Minister Draghi encouraging women in science?

«Draghi said it, those who respect their wife or partner say it. It takes the experience of the ability of the woman who is close to you to convince males that women have value ».

She has a “golden” husband.

“The qualities that enchanted me in my Finzi are intelligence, kindness, loyalty, as well as the fact that he was a handsome young man. On August 8 we have 60 years of marriage. And does he know what the litmus test is to know if the man is the right one? ‘

Tell me now!

«It must be like air, that when it is there you do not even notice that it exists, but when it is not there you die. And then you understand that it is the right one if you are willing that your children have their defects ».

He has four sons and a daughter, Elvina. We want to spend a few words for the only female, her undisputed darling?

“Ah, when I wished I had her. So much so that starting from the second I always prepared a pink layette. I remember the absolute bliss when the midwife pulled her out by the feet and said she was female. Elvina has a bad character, as bad as mine, but there is that red thread that binds us women, mothers and not, which has to do with care, generosity … ».

Do you consider yourself a happy woman?

“Yup. I have no remorse or regrets: I did what I wanted and if I did not always succeed well, I always put my good will. My sense of transcendence contributes to my happiness: I speak every day with the Eternal Father, we don’t always get along, but in the end He decides ».

April 24, 2022 (change April 24, 2022 | 07:15)

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