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Progressive meets Society – Interview with Frank S. Marzano

If “Data science is the sexiest job in the 21st century” as often mentioned, then we may say that “Earth Observation is certainly the funniest”

FRANK S. MARZANO

The demand for professional figures able to manage and interpret the growing availability and complexity of data has been increasing rapidly with the advent of new technologies. Sapienza University of Rome was the first Italian University and one among the first in Europe to address this labour market need with the establishment of the Laurea Magistrale in Data Science back in 2015. The Master degree holds a direct link with the space domain, having enriched its offer with the Earth Observation Data Analysis Lab organized in collaboration with the ESA Research and Service Support service.

We have asked Prof. Frank S. Marzano, professor from the Department of Engineering at Sapienza University of Rome, how the Master Degree was able to attract a growing participation of students year after year and in which way the link with the Earth Observation domain contributed to such a success.

The Sapienza University of Rome was the first Italian university and one of the first in Europe to launch a Master’s Degree in Data Science back in 2015, can you tell us more about the work you do in this regard?

The Laurea Magistrale in Data Science at Sapienza University of Rome was one of the first in Europe, but the first in Italy. I was contributing to enlarge the offer to include Earth Observation (EO) into Data Science courses and students background.

Why was a Master’s Degree in Data Science needed back then?

The need of MSc in Data Science was due to the remarkable increase in the volume and complexity of available data and new technologies that have been developed. Processing them requires a combined multi-disciplinary approach to design an overall strategy aimed at transforming data into useful information. Key ingredients to develop a successful strategy are data manipulation and visualization, large scale computing, statistical modelling, learning techniques and algorithmic thinking.

How did the educational program evolve over time to keep pace with the technological advances in the field of data science?

The Laurea Magistrale in Data Science is a Master degree taught in English. It is a joint initiative within the i3S Faculty combining the expertise of four Departments:

  • Department of Computer Science (DI)
  • Department of Computer, Control and Management Engineering (DIAG)
  • Information Engineering, Electronics and Telecommunications (DIET)
  • Statistics (DSS)

This Master program provides a solid and modern preparation to understand and manage the multi-facet aspects of carrying out a complete data analysis, including acquisition, management, and statistical analysis. Its educational program benefits from this inter-department and inter-disciplinary approach to keep pace with the scientific and technological innovation.

The Master’s Degree is currently in its fifth edition and it has been receiving a very positive response with the number of students doubling year after year. In your opinion, which is the reason behind such a success?

The success is probably due to the innovative approach of this Master’s program in Data Science aimed at mixing all the necessary ingredients for a successful learning: a solid multi-disciplinary theoretical background combined with a frequent use of laboratory activity and special emphasis on developing a final data-science thesis project. The program is taught in English to attract the motivated students from everywhere and help them develop the necessary ability to interact in an international multidisciplinary environment. It is a 2-year, 120 ECTS program ending with the development and discussion of a final thesis project.

What kind of role partnerships with Earth Observation experts played in providing a real hands-on experience with the space domain of applications to students?

The role of the Earth Observation experts has been and is essential as they can provide a real hands-on experience to students showing the most updated tools, such as the Sentinel Application Platform (SNAP) platform, as well as using Sentinel data for a variety of applications. In my Earth Observation (EO) Data Analysis course the partnership with the ESA Research and Service Support (RSS) group in ESRIN was greatly appreciated by all students and is probably one of the reasons for the increase of the number of EO students from 5 to 30 in only 3 years.

With a look to the future, what jobs will be the most in-demand in the field of Earth Observation according to you?

Most appealing and requested EO jobs will be probably related to EO big-data analysis both in the midstream and downstream domain. This means that professionals should be able to develop new retrieval algorithms and to understand the physical modelling behind as well as to be capable to apply new machine learning techniques and set up robust data pipelines for data processing.

More generally, where do you see the society taking the most benefit from Earth Observation in 5/10 years from now?

Earth system monitoring applications as well as security, civil protection, urban planning and agricultural production will be the most explored domains. EO data support to governmental policy makers will be probably more and more requested.

For a close, is there anything else you would like to add?

In conclusion, if “Data science is the sexiest job in the 21st century” as often mentioned, then we may say that “EO is certainly the funniest”.

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To learn more about Frank S. Marzano

Prof. Frank S. Marzano received the Laurea degree (cum laude) in Electrical Engineering (1988) and the Ph.D. degree (1993) in Applied Electromagnetics both from the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. During 1993 he collaborated with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, National Council of Research (CNR), Rome, Italy. After being a lecturer at the University of Perugia, Italy, in 1997 he joined the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of L’Aquila, Italy teaching courses on electromagnetic fields as Assistant Professor. In 2002 he got the qualification to Associate Professorship and co-founded Center of Excellence on Remote Sensing and Hydro-Meteorological Modeling (CETEMPS), L’Aquila. In 2005 he finally joined the Dept. of Information engineering, Electronics and Telecommunications (DIET), Sapienza Univ. of Rome, Italy where he presently is a full professor and teaches courses on antennas, propagation and remote sensing. Since 2013 he is the director of Centre of Excellence CETEMPS of the University of L’Aquila, Italy. His current research concerns passive and active remote sensing of the atmosphere from ground-based, airborne, and space-borne platforms and electromagnetic propagation studies. Prof. Marzano has published more than 150 papers on refereed International Journals, more than 30 contributions to international Book chapters and more than 300 extended abstract on international and national congress proceedings. Since 2014 he is Associate Editor of IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing (TGRS) as well as the journal EGU Atmospheric Measurements Techniques. Dr. Marzano is Fellow of RMetS (Royal Meteorological Society) since 2012 and Fellow of IEEE since 2015.

The Earth Observation Data Analysis Lab continues to train the next generations of data scientists

32 brilliant students concluded with success the 4th edition of the EODA Lab last June, the course run by Progressive Systems in the frame of the ESA Research and Service Support

Large attendance was recorded to the 2020 edition of the Earth Observation Data Analysis – EODA Laboratory. The EODA course, taught by prof. Frank S. Marzano, is completely dedicated to Satellite Remote Sensing and EO applications and is held within the Master Degree in Data Science of Sapienza University of Rome. Training skilled professionals who can “mine and interpret the growing availability of complex data”: this is the objective of the Master Degree, which through the EODA Lab was able to open a window on Earth science analysis, offering its students knowledge and tools to effectively manage and interpret satellite data for several environmental and geoinformation applications.

Over three modules, Progressive Systems experts provided an overview on the sensors, characteristics, and main applications of the Copernicus Sentinel 1-2-3 missions, the EU’s fleet of satellites dedicated to the operational needs of the Copernicus Programme. Particular attention was devoted to the hands-on sessions on satellite data analysis and applications with the use of several open-source tools, among which Anaconda, Jupyter, and SNAP (Sentinel Application Platform, the ESA tool for Earth Observation processing and analysis). Students learnt the most important techniques to process data and derive products for information retrieval on atmosphere, land and water which can be transformed into useful knowledge for assessing natural hazards, managing natural resources, setting up early warning mechanisms for crisis management and much more. In full compliance with COVID-19 restriction measures, the lab was completely delivered online and material, including video-tutorials for the hands-on sessions, was prepared and provided to participants to allow for the highest qualitative training experience.

The lab, now in its fourth edition, has managed to attract a growing participation of students year after year, a clear sign that the data scientist is increasingly becoming a key figure for companies, public sector institutions, research and international organizations which work with Big Data.

Training young people interested in starting a career in the Earth Observation domain has always been considered strategic for Progressive Systems. Through the Earth Observation Data Analysis Lab and the long-lasting collaboration with the Department of Information Engineering, Electronics and Telecommunications (DIET) of Sapienza University of Rome enabled by Prof. Frank S. Marzano, Progressive Systems has been investing in this strand of activities to foster young people’s skills development, increase their job-readiness and help bridging the gap between University and Industry.

In pursuing this mission, Progressive Systems gives appointment to all aspiring data scientists at the next edition of the EODA Lab.

New Copernicus Sentinel App release takes users into deeper discovery journey through Sentinel missions

The Solenix-led Consortium rolled out an update bringing a new set of features to the App



Funded by the EU and ESA

Available from the 1st of April, the new version of the Copernicus Sentinel App comes with a brand-new set of features offering an upgraded experience to those who want to have an overview on the Copernicus Sentinels, the EU’s constellation of satellites specifically dedicated to the operational needs of the Copernicus Programme, the Earth Observation programme headed by the European Commission (EC) in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).

The new release introduces products for S-5P, a precursor satellite mission performing atmospheric monitoring. Just like for other satellites, users can:

  • track the sentinel satellite in real time, move the sentinel along its orbit, display future acquisitions and visualize when the satellite downloads the data to the Ground Station;
  • search for and browse products in a specific point over the 3D globe, visualize the latest product acquired from the satellite and get a notification when a new product is available;
  • visualize case studies on what the mission has achieved so far for the benefit of society;
  • interact with the sentinel 3D model and its main components;
  • read latest news, watch videos and visualize statistical info about the products.
Acquisition of products feature over a specific area of the 3D globe.

In addition to this, with the more user-friendly ‘Map Layers’ menu option users can now also easily manage the visualization of the layers over the 3D globe and optionally display the atmosphere and day/night effect, the elevation model, the name of places and the constellations.

Map Layers Menu with the display constellations option selected.

Launched back in 2014, the app managed to raise the interest both of the scientific community and the general public. Such a success is the result of the fruitful collaboration of a Consortium led by Solenix and composed by Progressive Systems, Qualteh JR, Terrasigna and GISAT, started under the ESA-EU financed contract for “Social Media and Mobile Applications Development for Earth Observation Ground Segment and Mission Operations” and currently ongoing under the “Maintenance and Evolution of the Copernicus Apps for Mobile Devices” contract, financed by the EU.

The new release of the Copernicus Sentinel App is now available worldwide and free of charge for iOS on the App Store and for Android on Google Play. Other updates are currently under development to ensure an ever-improving user experience.



The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency or the European Union.

Copernicus Trade Marks in this communication are owned by the EU.

The Province of Viterbo is looking for environmental monitoring solutions

On the 28th of November, in the frame of the ESA Research and Service – RSS support, Progressive Systems welcomed a delegation of officials from different municipalities in the Province of Viterbo at ESRIN premises for a workshop dedicated to the potential applications of Earth Observation for environmental monitoring. The delegation led by Fabio Valentini, Municipal Councillor at Montalto di Castro, was interested in deepening their knowledge about how satellite data can support competent authorities in tackling different challenges of their territory.

The initiative addressed specific needs to the Viterbo area such as detection of fires, monitoring of water level and quality both in inland and coastal areas, flood management and coastal erosion, air quality monitoring as well as vegetation health. Concrete examples of how those issues can be tackled through the use of satellite data were highlighted by the Progressive Systems team while additional challenges also emerged during the intense discussion and exchange of perspectives among the officials.

Satellite data has proven to be an effective tool to manage properly Earth’s resources and impact positively the economy and society. The officials appreciated the initiative as it opened up a range of opportunities for the resolution of major problems in the area whose concrete feasibility will be explored with Progressive Systems in the near future.