2020 Ada Lovelace Honoree Paola Galli “Need for Speed” in the field of Silicon Photonics
In a small Italian town in northeastern Italy, the young Paola Galli grew up with an older sister and parents who supported and encouraged her passion for the quite disparate interests of roller figure skating and Formula 1 racing. As she grew older, the wheels came off the skates to evolve into a hobby for skiing while the passion for cars and speed would evolve into a highly successful career path in the field of optical transmission, silicon photonics and graphene technologies.
“While my older sister tended to be interested in more traditional girl interests, I was into cars and motorbikes,” comments Paola. “When I turned 16, I went and got my license and was so excited to hop on my own motorbike and take off.” And take off she did with a degree in Telecommunications Engineering which would lead her into the competitive field of optical transmission. Here the race for gigabytes/second versus kilometers/hour would be the focus for most of her prestigious career.
Like many other areas of science and engineering at that time, Paola was one of a small group of 6-7 women out of a freshman class of over 750 male students. “We (women) defiantly stood out, but I personally felt or experienced little discrimination. At the end of the day, an ‘engineer is an engineer’ and it was mostly about what you knew and what you could do versus limitations based on gender stereotypes or perceived limitations of women in the field.”
Paola would complete her undergraduate studies and would choose to further advance her studies by embarking on a PhD focused on Optical Transmission. However, sometime later a phone call offering a unique opportunity to join a small 2-person start up would be one of the first risky decisions Paola would make that would have a positive impact on her future direction.
“I was asked to set up a complete optical lab for this start-up and really didn’t have a ton of knowledge yet, and it was a huge risk to step away from my PhD studies. But looking back, I believe it was a critical step which pointed me into the leading-edge areas of Silicon Photonics which I would later pursue at Pirelli, Alcatel-Lucent and today Nokia.”
Paola’s success at each stage of her career opened the door for the next step. “I didn’t go knocking on doors for the next job, rather I believe my publications and research within this relatively small technological area, brought the opportunities to me.” Those opportunities would eventually lead her to a position at Bell Labs where Paola would commute from her home in Italy to work closely with her global colleagues at the Murray Hill headquarters.
“Working at Bell Labs provided the ability to work with esteemed colleagues from every corner of the world. What was also unique about my time there was the way of working that was afforded researchers like myself. There you were able to pursue your passions for pure science, focus on longer term projects somehow less constrained by customers, markets or deadlines. I quickly found that the research freedom sparked a love that quick grew.”
Today Paola has returned to work in the Nokia business unit supporting our Optical Networks technologies.
“I find myself now working in a somewhat balanced approach of exploring the possibilities of new technologies of graphene materials for optical transmission while also supporting applications of silicon photonics in chip designs that are directly impacting Nokia’s optical network product performance.
That early childhood passion for speed lives on in her personal life where sailing and skiing time with her husband, along with test track drives of Ferrari 355 race cars provide some wind in her hair. But the race also continues in her work in leading-edge optical transport research where the still unknown potential speed and capacity limits of a single atom-layer graphene material may eventually break all known and existing optical world records.
We are proud to have Paola as a member of our Nokia team, working alongside thousands of other women who like Ada Lovelace, followed their passion for science, mathematics and technology.