Stella d’Italia is the name of the Italian order in which VUB professor Antonella Fioravanti has been knighted. "This honor is unlike anything else in my career, my PhD, my professorship. It’s a recognition of my scientific career in addition to my commitment to supporting women in science and science outreach. A recognition for all things I love and believe in."
Antonella Fioravanti comes from Tuscany, from a regular family with no academics or diplomats. Yet, she has built a considerable academic career and a solid international reputation for being a promoter and supporter of women in science. Antonella is a professor at the VUB and part of the VIB-VUB Centre for Structural Biology. She discovered a new way to fight anthrax and is currently leading the development of new tools and therapies to target the bacterial armor of harmful bacteria, such as Clostridioides difficile. C. difficile can lead to a life-threatening infection, which occurs most often in people who have taken antibiotics for other conditions.
Why were you made a knight of the Stella d'Italia on 6 June?
I didn't know until a week beforehand. Out of the blue, I received an official email from the Italian Embassy with a convocation, as I was awarded the Stella d’Italia honor. And just like that, I became a Knight of the Italian Republic in the Order of the 'Stella d'Italia'. This honour was bestowed on me by the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella. I was awarded for my contributions to science, my commitment to women in science, my dedication to science outreach and my activities to support and promote cooperation between Italy and Belgium.
What does the Stella d'Italia entail?
The order honours people who give Italy prestige abroad. These can be scientists, artists, journalists, top athletes and especially politicians. The aim is to forge international friendly relations and collaborations with Italy.
I am very happy about this. Not only because it recognizes my scientific work, but also my commitment to women in science and science outreach. As a scientist I primally want to unravel the biology of bacterial armors while fighting pathogenic bacteria. But my contribution to society doesn’t end there. According to UNESCO data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. I believe that this world doesn’t stand a chance to face all the challenge it needs to face, without women contributing to science. That is why I have been highly dedicated over the last 10 years to support women in science internationally and promote many activities concerning science outreach. Science needs to be accessible to everyone, including young minds.
How was the award ceremony at the Italian embassy in Brussels?
It meant a lot to me. I was received with full honors by the current Ambassador Federica Favi. I must also thank former Ambassador Francesco Genuardi for his belief in me and our long-standing collaboration. My young daughter went along to the ceremony and she loved it. When we arrived, she ran up to the security guard to ask for a sword. Her mother was still missing one, as a brand-new knight. This honor is for her and for all the little girls out there: you can make your life your own masterpiece.