Marina Gioia: a sign of the time

19 November 2020

Curious by nature, always persevering, focused on objectives

In the latest article in our series focused on the excellence of women working in STEM at Leonardo, including looking at what motivates them and how they are individually and collectively driving inclusion and diversity across the company, we meet Marina Gioia, the Integrated Project Team Leader of Leonardo’s atomic clocks production line.

Time is at the core of Marina’s IPT, a field of scientific research which is fundamental for human culture but also for technological applications. In Leonardo laboratories today, the atomic clocks that fly onboard the Galileo satellites are built by Marina Gioia and her team. “Four clocks are installed on each of the 26 satellites that orbit the Earth: two of rubidium and two of maser produced by Leonardo. Thanks to the maser clock, the Galileo system is the best performing navigation system in the world,” she explains, confidently.

Let's get to know her better.

Marina, what are your most distinctive characteristics?
Perseverance, resistance, I never give up! I like to understand other people’s perspective and bring out the best. I am optimistic and I prefer to enhance the qualities, rather than dwell on the defects.

Speaking of flaws, what is your main flaw?
Optimism sometimes leads me to be a bit impulsive. When there is a goal to reach, I am headstrong, forgetting every now and then that not everyone is like me.

Who are your heroes?
I don’t have heroes, but real examples in life. One is my mother who made herself: at the end of the war, with strength of character, she studied, and then, in the 50s, she successfully entered a vanguard literary and cultural movement in Turin. She taught me to never give up, to be independent and to appreciate smart people.

Another example is Rita Levi Montalcini, a great scientist, very human and with great humility. After graduating in physics, I wrote to her asking her advice about studying abroad. She immediately responded, even though she was already very famous.

What is your favourite pastime?
Doing things with my family in the midst of nature: skiing, trekking, diving, cycling and trips to countries very different from ours, cinema and reading. I have a husband, a 21 year old daughter who studies medicine and a 23 year old son who studied video production and film. After spending a year in the United States at the age of 17, today I volunteer with Intercultura because I strongly believe in this experience and in constantly confronting new and challenging situations.

What upsets you the most?
Arrogance, superficiality, opportunism.

What motto or phrase inspires you?
I have two: Carpe Diem – life is the most precious thing we have and you must have felt the fear of losing it to understand that it must be enjoyed day by day. Remember the past with satisfaction, enjoy the present and hope for the future. The second: every problem has a solution. We just have to look for it.

Let’s talk about your scientific soul. Why did you chose STEM studies and why would you recommend them?
You have to look inside yourself and understand what interests and stimulates you. When preparing the eighth grade exam, my father, a mechanical engineer, taught me the basics of electricity. Together we built a bell and an electric motor. I realised that it fascinated me greatly to understand “the why of things” that surround was a very strong feeling and after high school, I did physics. The study of scientific subjects gives you an analytical ability and a predisposition for in-depth examination that allows you to analyse, learn and become skilled in any profession, even in topics that you never studied.

Tell us about your professional challenges in Leonardo and the projects you feel most proud of.
I can then tell you the story of Leonardo's first atomic clock. Back in 2000, the European Space Agency awarded our company a contract for the development of a hydrogen atomic clock, the Passiv and Hydrogen Maser (PHM) for the new European satellite navigation system Galileo. It was a totally new product for Leonardo, never previously used for space navigation. The PHM was based on a terrestrial technology, which needed an extremely thermally controlled environment, free from mechanical and electromagnetic disturbances.

Together with my Leonardo team and with Swiss experts from the Neuchatel observatory (who knows watches better than the Swiss?), who provided us with the physical section of the watch, we manufactured and qualified the first PHM for European satellite navigation with which we won Leonardo’s first Innovation Prize in 2005. Since then, we have manufactured and launched 52 such clocks, and the Galileo system is the most accurate navigation system. Leonardo's Atomic Clocks production line, in addition to providing PHM for the Galileo constellation, also has several ongoing developments. Besides a miniaturised version of PHM and a new release for the second generation of Galileo, Leonardo is developing a new watch that is based on an innovative technology, the Rubidium Pulsed Optically Pumped (POP) Atomic Clock. In this area we have also learned to manufacture the physical section, which means we can assemble an all-Italian, all-Leonardo atomic clock. 

Diversity as a business value, gender as an opportunity. Let’s tell your story. During your career, what challenges or opportunities have you faced as a woman?
I have never felt different from my fellow engineers. However, I believe that female sensitivity helps in my job as a Programme Manager, in terms of conflict management. Women have a different point of view and diversity helps to find other solutions. It is important to bring out the best in people, amplify their qualities and smooth out their flaws.

As a talented Leonardo engineer, how have you balanced your professional life and your private life?
I strongly believe that there must be a balance between the professional and private spheres to ensure personal balance. If one is missing, they both suffer. I fight every day to defend the personal sphere and although I don't always succeed, my husband is very good at remembering it.


In your opinion, in which area (culture, welfare, economic) is there still room for improvement?
I think that in our society in general we should go back to giving more importance to work itself, the famous “know-how”, as well as to form and politics. Technical careers should be more enhanced because know-how is a very important corporate asset.

In conclusion, what message would you like to share from your personal or professional life to young people in particular, as well as to Leonardo’s global workforce?
The message I would give to young people is learn humbly from those who know best, always challenge yourself – especially at the beginning of your professional career, when you are more free from family constraints and responsibilities – and experience working abroad, because today we are citizens of the world; we can’t stop in our garden, even if it’s beautiful.