2017 Legacy Lecture: Words of Wisdom from Professor Francesco Paesani



On May 25th, Professor Francesco Paesani delivered the second annual legacy lecture in Price Theater. The event, which is held by the Scholars Society, honors a faculty mentor who is elected by the UC San Diego student body. The faculty member then delivers a lecture to answer, “If this were your last lecture, what would you want to share with the world?”

Professor Paesani, this year’s recipient, admitted that he had often pondered what he would do during this occasion. “My wife and I would often wonder–if I were to retire or to leave UCSD–what would my last lecture be? Then I got the email… Wow, it’s actually happening,” he told his audience after receiving the award from second-year Gaelyn Walche, the event organizer.

Paesani teaches several courses in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, where his students say that his passion for learning is contagious, even for difficult and abstract concepts. One student said that Paesani encouraged him “to embrace the journey of learning…without worrying about the result or their performance in the class.” Another student praised his dedication to teaching and willingness to commit “way more time than required for a professor.”

These themes were prevalent in Paesani’s lecture, which reflected on a life of exploration, overcoming failure, and cultivating community and identity. Paesani grew up and attended school in Rome, Italy, where his parents encouraged him to commit to his education, since they themselves had been largely deprived of one during World War II. Drawing inspiration from famous oceanographers and athletes, Paesani considered futures in philosophy and physics before finding a home in theoretical physical chemistry in college. Meanwhile, he traveled Europe on an old motorbike, forging lifelong friendships, a sense of identity, and a desire for fighting injustice. By the time he left Italy with his wife to pursue a postdoc at UC Berkeley, Paesani had learned to adore science as “a full passion to discovery that never ends.” After an abysmal round of job applications, Paesani fell back to spend a few happy years at the University of Utah before finally becoming a professor at UC San Diego. Today, he specializes in creating computer simulations of theoretical models, which you might see him trying to explain to his parents when they visit campus.

His advice to students? Keep learning as the driving force in your life, and take advantage of opportunities (which, he points out, are in abundance at UC San Diego). Most importantly, be happy, and “never stop asking questions and looking for solutions. No matter what you decide to do in life, follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary.”

Fortunately for the student body, this was not Professor Paesani’s last lecture. He will teach and inspire in Chem 126 and 6BH in the coming year.