Science without borders

11 October 2010

Dr Stefania Romeo, one of the students from L'Aquila University.
Dr Stefania Romeo, one of the students from L'Aquila University.

In February 2009, an earthquake devastated the mediaeval Italian city of L'Aquila, which lies in the province of Abbruzzo, at the foot of the Appenine mountains.

The earthquake killed over 50 students at the nearby L'Aquila University and hundreds of people in the surrounding community. The university hospital was severely damaged, as well as many buildings.

Study was disrupted for many thousands of postgraduate and undergraduate students. Many sought places in universities throughout Italy and Europe in order to continue their studies.

This is where the University of Sydney became involved. Two L'Aquila postgraduate students received travel support from the School of Medical Sciences to come and continue their doctoral work.

Stefania Romeo and Fabiana di Marco, PhD students in the laboratory of Professor Silvia Bisti, Dean of the Faculty of Science at L'Aquila, each spent six months in the laboratory of Professor Jonathan Stone. Professor Stone and Professor Bisti have collaborated on research projects for many years.

Dr Romeo has just returned to the Sydney lab after six months in Italy completing her doctoral thesis.

"The terremoto was terrifying and tragic, killing so many and making thousands homeless," she said.

"Our lab began working again only recently. The University of Sydney's support was so valuable, enabling me to finish my thesis without too much delay.

"And I got to know what a special city Sydney is. It is good to be back, preparing our work on retinal degeneration for publication. It is a very positive outcome, after a tragic experience."

Writing from Italy, Professor Bisti said she had been in Sydney when the earthquake struck.

"I felt helpless to do anything for my students," she said.

"The support of Sydney's School of Medical Sciences set a generous example and help came for L'Aquila students from several other Australian institutions. The University's support for Stefania and Fabiana is a debt not easily repaid."

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