Meet the Fellow: STEFANO PICCOLO

This week, we hear from Stefano, who is an Italian chemist doing his PhD in Bordeaux, France. Along with a liking for good wine, a project around mass spec was what pulled Stefano towards his PhD in Valerie Gabelica’s lab.

What is your background in science (and otherwise)?
Since high school, I felt close to chemistry and technology so I spent my university studies (5 years) in chemistry, the last two years of them on the fence between bio-inorganic and pure organic synthesis. In the end, I found a good compromise by completing my Master’s degree in chemistry on organic synthesis methodology and characterizations of peptide-inspired supramolecules, inside the Bio-Organic Chemistry Lab in University of Padova (Italy).

Then, I got a permanent position as laboratory technician in Pharmaceutical Dep of the same university, in charge for Mass Spectrometry facility and Organic chemistry teaching lab.

What does your lab do? What is a brief description of the project you work on?
My host lab, Valérie Gabelica’s BiophyMS Team, works on biophysical characterization of nucleic acids structures, both DNA and RNA, and non-covalent complexes in general with mass spectrometry.

My PhD project aims to develop a method to characterize the biophysical properties of RNA-metabolite complexes, using mass spectrometry and some advances in this flexible technique.


What led you to decide to do a PhD?
Because doing science is a kind of challenge with new problems each day…and because Mass Spec is cool (:

Why are you motivated to work on this topic?
It may seems curious that an organic chemist might be interest in such non-synthetic topic. But I have seen how pharmacists and biotechnologists need to deal with chemistry in their daily work: You can synthesize, isolate or express many (bio) molecules but their intimate comprehension may be tricky. Reason why I have decided to join this ITN: biotechnology is asking to join forces.

What do you hope to accomplish during your PhD?
To learn more about biophysics, how to deeply characterize a given system, to look for new tools that aim to unravel intimate chemistry of nucleic acids that could answer questions like “how it really works?” and more. In general, to become more free-standing in research: a PhD student is a young researcher.

An ITN is about international collaboration – what has your experience been so far in living in a country that is, perhaps, quite different from your own? What are some tips you would give to new PhD students (or students in general) who are moving to a different country?
When considering a position in another country you have to feel a kind of affinity to both position and country too. Ideally you should have the time to serenely evaluate the project/positions that comes up to you or you find: is it for me? May I feel at ease with it?

It may become awkward to spend (at least) three years of your life into a project that you don’t feel yours.


What are your short-term and long-term career goals (aka, what do you want to be “when you grow up” 😉 )?
First of all, I’ve to quickly review my master’s biology/biochemistry courses…or I will struggle in following some presentations of my colleagues.

Regarding long-term, I hope to apply the entire triennium work on my own projects, resting on stronger bases about supramolecular chemistry, NAs in particular and Mass Spec

What do you like to do for fun (outside of science, of course)?
Travelling, latin dances, violin

What is your favourite food?
Wine (and since october…oysters)



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