Category Archives: Pictures

Tips jar

In lieu of a laboratory meeting, we typically chat over coffee at the Smart Museum of Art every morning. Recently, they introduced a “vote with your tips” mechanism in which you can choose between two alternative tip jars. On Jacopo’s birthday, these were the options:


The Little Black Book

In Italy in the 1970s, youth belonging to counterculture movements would march in the streets, parading a copy of the Little Red Book  containing quotations from the writings of Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

Yesterday I turned 40, and to celebrate this very round anniversary, Gyuri, Jacopo, Liz and Matt presented me with a Little Black Book containing many of the things I often repeat, or particularly memorable utterances.


This was a truly moving gift, which made me laugh out loud — my labmates know me too well! (It also made me think that I am slowly becoming a grumpy old professor, always repeating the same Mantras)

I will keep the notebook in the lab, so that whenever someone feels the urge to record memorable quotations, they can be saved for posterity.

Richard Levins 1930-2016

Sad news for theoretical ecology: on Jan 19th, Richard Levins died in Cambridge, MA. He was 85 years old.

His work has always been my main source of inspiration. I got to read some of his articles in college, when Antonio Bodini—who was then to become my PhD avisor—introduced Loop Analysis in a class on Environmental Impact Assessment. I immediately loved the simplicity, elegance, and power of this method, and I worked on it for my honors thesis (with Alessandro Zaccagnini and Antonio Bodini).

During my PhD years, I’ve read more of his work, including the wonderful (yet almost impossible to find) book with Charles Puccia, and the celebrated articles “The strategy of model building in population biology” and “Evolution in communities near equilibrium”.

All my work on stability, random matrices, and population dynamics has been inspired by Loop Analysis, and even today when I see a matrix, I actually see a composition of loops and paths.

Even the fact I am now in Chicago is somewhat influenced by Levins: he and Lewontin were professors here in the 1970s, and that’s why when I saw the ad for the position in Ecology & Evolution, I immediately felt I had to apply—this is my kind of Department!

There’s a nice picture of Levins in the Lillie Room downstairs: you can see him in his prime, explaining Loop Analysis on the board. That’s the way I want to remember him.


Beautiful places

Traveling is quite disruptive, especially when you have a family at home, and a lab to run. However, having to travel to incredibly beautiful destinations to meet old friends makes the whole ordeal much more pleasant.

I have just returned to Chicago after a week in Monterey, CA, where I taught a short course on computing at the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University. The class was great, and the organizer was my friend Giulio De Leo. I got to spend some time with Giulio and Fiorenza, as well as to interact with an incredibly motivated group of students. I also gave a talk at Hopkins and one at the main campus in Palo Alto. This is what I would see when I went for a run:

Monterey at 6:30AM
Monterey at 6:30AM

Just before heading to Stanford, I have been in Venezia, Italy, for a school on complex systems, organized by Antonio Trovato, Samir Suweis and our very own Jacopo Grilli. Again, the school was great, and the location—in San Servolo island—unbeatable:

Sunset in Venezia seen from San Servolo
Sunset in Venezia seen from San Servolo

These trips energized me a lot, but I am really happy to be home for a good stretch of time!