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MEET Italy: Meet the Rocket Scientists

A conversation with Italian scientists working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory introduced and moderated by Cinzia Zuffada, Associate Chief Scientist at JPL. Speakers include Sara Susca, Michele Vallisneri and Marco Velli.

Event organized in collaboration with ISSNAF (The Italian Scientists and Scholars of North American Foundation).

The IIC warmly welcomes warmly, Jeff Capaccio, representing SVIEC (Silicon Valley Italian Executive Council) our Northern California Partner.

Posters and interactive presentations to follow.

By invitation only.



Dr. Sara Susca was born in the heel of the boot: Puglia. During the Laurea degree from Politecnico di Milano in Aerospace Engineering she participated to an exchange program with Bioserve on the U of Colorado-Boulder. She then moved to UCSB for her PhD in Electrical Engineering. She worked in the R&TD team of Honeywell Aerospace from 2008 to 2010 where she worked on vision-based navigation for robots. She has been at JPL since 2011 working on a variety of projects including Boston Dynamics Big Dog, the Phaeton Project STABLE, and the Europa Clipper mission.


Contribution to round table

From the Adriatic sea to the ocean of Europa. For the last four years Sara has covered the role of Instrument Engineer for the Europa Clipper mission for the two cameras (EIS) and, earlier on, one of the plasma instruments (PIMS). Her role is key to ensure the instruments will perform correctly once the Spacecraft reaches Europa. She has also contributed to the SPHEREx proposal that aims at understanding what happened ten zeptoseconds (ask her what that means!) after the Big Bang.


Dr. Michele Vallisneri was born in Emilia-Romagna and received a PhD in Theoretical Astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology. He joined JPL in 2005 to work on the LISA project to detect gravitational waves. His research and publications span the detection, analysis, and interpretation of gravitational-wave signals through ground-based, space-based, and pulsar-timing observations. He is a member of the LIGO Science Collaboration and of the NANOGrav pulsar-timing consortium; he is one of the leads in the new LISA Consortium, which is working with ESA and NASA to launch a space-based gravitational-wave detector in the early 2030s. Additionally, he is interested in the creative interface of science and art, as explored through music, visualization, and computer programs.

Contribution to round table

The new era of gravitational-wave astronomy. With the first observations of gravitational waves from black-hole and neutron-star binaries, reported by LIGO and Virgo since 2016, astronomy has gained a new sense: it can now listen to the symphony emanating from the dark side of the Universe. Michele will discuss the nascent field of gravitational-wave astronomy and its future in space, with the international gravitational-wave observatory LISA; he will focus on the Italian heritage of this field, and on Italian participation across all international projects.


Prof. Marco Velli was born in Los Angeles, but was educated in Italy where he obtained a PhD in Physics from the University of Pisa and the Scuola Normale Superiore. Prof. Velli has taught mechanics, electromagnetism, astrophysics, and plasma physics courses at the University of Florence and is currently Professor of Space Physics in the Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (Space Science Center), at UCLA. Professor Velli’s research has focused on space plasma physics and solar magnetic activity; he has been member of peer review committees for NASA research and payload proposals as well as for ESA, and is presently one of the five principal investigators for the Parker Solar Probe mission, due to launch on Aug. 4th 2018 to voyage into the solar corona. He holds a joint appointment at the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Contribution to round table

Looking at the Sun from both sides of the Atlantic: frontiers in heliophysics. Marco Velli will present the historic context of the development of the discipline of heliophysics, and how the community works across national boundaries and funding agencies to advocate for the program of needed space observatories.


Dr. Cinzia Zuffada grew up in Lombardy and received a doctoral degree of Electronic Engineering from the University of Pavia. After beginning an academic career within the Department of Electrical Communications of the Pavia School of Engineering, she moved to the US and eventually joined JPL in 1992. She is currently the JPL Associate Chief Scientist, overseeing JPL-internal R&D investments, academic partnerships and postdoctoral programs, and maintaining an active research in Earth remote sensing with the global navigation satellites’ signals reflected (GNSS-R) from the surface. She is a co-investigator on CYGNSS, a NASA mission to measure ocean surface winds in hurricane conditions with a constellations of 8 small satellites.

Contribution to round table

Cinzia Zuffada will moderate the discussion. She will provide a snapshot of the unique JPL environment, its many projects involving strong collaborations with the Italian Space Agency and Italian universities and industries, and introduce the community of Italians at JPL. The objective is to share our individual trajectories intertwined with the pursuit of success in the space program.


By invitation only.


Presented in partenership with

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In collaboration with

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  • Organized by: Italian Cultural Institute Los Angeles and MEET Italy
  • In collaboration with: NASA JPL, ISSNAF