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Silicon Valley: Different Perspectives for a Common Vision

The 2018 Schmidt Science Fellows visited the Bay Area of Northern California for the opportunity to immerse themselves in the unique environment of Silicon Valley. Here, Dr Mattia Serra, writes on how his worldview has changed since becoming a Fellow, and his personal perspective on the 2019 Northern California Global Meeting.

Just over a year ago, in late April 2018 in New York, the first cohort of Schmidt Science Fellows was gathered in a room as we officially began our journey. I immediately felt an exceptional vibe in the air and thought that day would represent the start of something life-changing. Indeed, it did.

As an engineer and applied mathematician who spent the last few years trying to understand how to uncover coherence in chaotic systems, my intellectual curiosity was mainly driven by the beauty of math and the pleasure in seeing equations simplifying to their essence for a concise description of the underlying phenomenon. The phenomenon itself, however, was of secondary importance.

The Schmidt Science Fellows Global Meetings and the interactions I have had with other Fellows has completely changed my view. Zooming out from my great but narrow community, I became more aware of the relevance of the world’s most pressing needs. I learned how the academic world, public sectors, and private sectors are shaping societal advances, and this point of view has become now the first requirement of my research projects. I feel extremely lucky to have experienced such change and excited to develop mathematical tools for socially relevant problems.

In the Northern California Meeting, we had the opportunity to meet exceptional people including John Hennessy (former President of Stanford University and current Chairman of Alphabet Inc.), Steven Chu (Nobel laureate), and venture capitalists like John Doerr and Vinod Khosla. Listening to the inflection points of their careers was invaluable! I was especially impressed by Doerr and Khosla, for their perspectives and their systematic approaches to identifying the most critical factors behind complicated societal issues as climate change or healthcare.

John Doerr, Chairman of Kleiner Perkins
Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and found of Khosla Ventures, speaking to the Schmidt Science Fellows

Such a mixture of talented people with different viewpoints, but a shared vision, makes the Silicon Valley a unique place where academics, private sectors, and public sectors are fused together providing resources, motivation, and reciprocal contagious enthusiasm for breakthrough discoveries and products.

Overall, the Northern California meeting not only provided us an incredible network of exceptional people, but most importantly a broader view for assessing a project’s relevance for wider society, which overcomes the biases of specific scientific communities. I am convinced this asset will help us navigate strategic decision making in our careers, maximizing the impact of our scientific results for the common good.

As scientists, I believe this is the least we can return to our society given the privileged roles we hold.

Mattia’s hand drawn illustration of how in the Silicon Valley science, society, and business can work together to bring their unique perspectives to tackle major challenges.