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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.