Francesca Demichelis, first woman full professor and first Head of Institute at the Politecnico di Torino.

Francesca Demichelis was a leading figure in the field of Italian physics, becoming a pioneer in various areas of teaching and research in academia.

After graduating from the Università degli Studi di Torino with a degree in Physics, she distinguished herself as an assistant at the Politecnico di Torino for her research and teaching activities in the Physics Department.

The turning point in her career came in 1966, when she was promoted to the rank of associate professor, before being appointed full professor in Physics at the Faculty of Engineering in 1969.

Her research initially focused on radioactivity and nuclear physics and then moved on to solid-state physics, concentrating on the photovoltaic effect and furthering studies on solar energy, and she became a pioneer in this field.

In the 1980s, Demichelis created and led a research team focused on solar cells, exploring their optical behaviour and applications in optoelectronics and mechanics. This commitment was recognised with the awarding of the Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement by the Minister of Education.

She never married and devoted her life entirely to research. The decision not to enter into a stable relationship seems to have been shared by many women who devoted a great deal of effort to their careers in those days, probably because they lived in a system in which family life and a career were extremely difficult to combine for a woman.

For over fifty years, she was the only woman to reach the position of full professor in Physics at the Politecnico, breaking through the so-called “glass ceiling” that hinders women in the top positions of STEM careers.

Throughout her life, she believed in the need to financially support young people eager to devote themselves to research. For this reason, she bequeathed a substantial part of her estate to the creation of a foundation dedicated to supporting young physics graduates by offering them paid positions at the Politecnico.

Through this gesture, she has fostered the development of science education and research, helping to shape the future of emerging talent in the field of physics and leaving an indelible legacy to the academic community.