Fabris, Laura

Assistant Professor
Areas of Interest: 
Synthesis and characterization of hybrid nanomaterials for new applications in the field of plasmonics and electronics. Preparation of bioconjugated nanomaterials for cell targeting, imaging and drug delivery, and for biodetection.
My Story: 
My introduction to the field of Nanotechnology was somewhat serendipitous. I started my PhD project with a completely different focus. I was synthesizing molecules that were supposed to be applied to the study of the mechanisms underlying electron transfer. After spending almost a year in the lab to finally find out that these molecules were not behaving as we had anticipated, I was feeling very discouraged about the outcome of my doctoral studies. But as it happens, my life had a new twist when my professor received a big grant in Nanotechnology. I was a first year graduate student when I started working on this project entailing the synthesis of gold nanoparticles. I was the first one in my group to work on this project, so I couldn't ask anyone for help. At the end I felt like it was my baby because I had produced all the data my group had in hand about nanoparticles when I received my Doctorate degree. When I went to University of California at Santa Barbara for my Post-Doc, I was asked to develop biosensors using nanoparticles. Before then I never thought of using Biology and Nanotechnology together. It was interesting and challenging, which is why I am still working in this field today.

If I think back to when I was a child, I remember that I always loved to play with my uncle's microscope. He was a few years older than me and I would sneak into his room, pull out some strands of my hair, and look at them under the microscope. Even then it seems I liked to see big what was usually very small.

I was born and raised in Italy. One difference that I see is that the approach to science and university is different. In Italy we pick our major the first year and commit to it for five years. I chose Chemistry and that has a provided me with a solid background from which I can explore different fields. I think my Chemistry background made entering into the Materials and Engineering field easier. Another difference between Italy and the US is that in Italy we lack access to many fundamental resources. I didn't have a transmission electron microscope in Italy so every few months I had to collect all of my samples, wake up before dawn, go to another city, image everything for twelve hours and go back to my campus to work on the data. I was amazed when I came to the US to find almost every college campus has a transmission electron microscope and even more amazed that I could use it whenever I wanted. 

There have been many influential people in my life. It is rare for one member of an Italian family to move away forever. It's difficult for me to have time to go back and visit my family even though I miss them. My parents are very understanding and happy that I have a good job here. Without the support of my parents, everything would be much harder. Similarly, I have had mentors who encouraged me. One of the professors on my Doctorate thesis committee was a great help to me and I deeply admire his approach to science. My Post-Doc advisor taught me how to become a more complete scientist by networking and writing proposals. It is good to keep in contact with people who matter to you and helped you become who you are.

I don't think there have been many negative influences on me that might have pushed me away from my scientific goals, but this may have happened to other women. Once I was at an outreach luncheon for women students in Engineering, the students asked me what it was like from my point of view to be a young female Professor in Engineering. After, I asked them how it felt to be a female undergraduate student in Engineering. They assured me that it was fine and that they encountered no trouble. I was sure that was not the case; finally I told them that some of my male friends said I wasn't good enough to be a Professor, and if I had accomplished anything it was because I was a woman who was simply getting special favors. The students admitted that they had encountered the same types of negative statements from peers. I told them not to listen to those negative comments and to keep persevering toward their goals. I can see that some women can be put down by this negative view their peers have of them. They can be very Engineering-oriented but are not psychologically ready to endure the insults. 

When I came to Rutgers I felt a sense of comfort, like I was where I was supposed to be. I like the mentality and work ethic of everyone here; there are no lazy people that I have seen. It feels good to be on the East Coast because I find it is in some ways similar to Europe. When choosing where to work you have to consider how the rest of your life will be affected, not just your work situation. Apparently when I was six, I was telling everyone that when I grew up I was going to live in New York City. I'm doing that now and it is funny to see how it has all worked out. I am proud to have achieved all that I have, based on my own merits.

Transcribed from an interview and edited by Lauren Miller