Faculty Feature: Massimiliano Pierobon

Massimiliano Pierobon
Massimiliano Pierobon

Each week we're featuring a Q&A with a member of our faculty in the School of Computing. Get to know some of our professors! This week we're featuring Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor Massimiliano Pierobon.

What are your research areas or areas of specialty/interest?
My primary training is in communication engineering, which is a branch of computing and electrical engineering. Since my doctorate, I have been applying my knowledge to study how information propagates and is processed in chemical and biochemical environment, pioneering the field of molecular communication. Since then, I have moved more and more to the study of information in biological systems, both natural and engineered through synthetic biology. Today, my research spans multiple domains, ranging from the pure theory and math of biological information processing and communications, to more application-oriented contexts, such as wearable/implantable device communications, and interfaces between electrical and biological systems.

What courses are you teaching this year?
I immensely enjoy teaching to students, and I consider it being a key part of my activities as a university professor and researcher. Whenever I struggle to understand a concept, I just try and teach it. Hands down, that’s the best way to learn! I usually teach CSCE 458/858: Molecular and Nanoscale Communication, CSCE 459/859: Genetically Engineered Systems, CSCE 462/862: Communication Networks, CSCE 429/829: Information Theory, and CSCE 155N: Computer Science I: Engineering & Science. I am currently in a Faculty Development Fellowship, commonly known as sabbatical, so I am not teaching this semester, but I will resume teaching in Fall 2024 with CSCE 310: Data Structures and Algorithms.

How did you first become interested in computing or your specific area of computing?
I have been always interested in communication systems, since the time when my father installed a citizen band radio antenna on the roof of our home in the suburbs of Milan, Italy, when I wasn’t even a teenager. At that time we had no internet, and no cellphone service yet. Under the "radio name" of Delfino (Italian for dolphin), we had conversations with people from all over the world, reaching as far as San Paulo, Brazil (from Italy!) through only the radio waves emitted from our roof (no repeaters in the middle!!!). Then we upgraded the system to packet radio using a custom-made board attached to our Commodore 64 gaming system, and I got to experience wireless computer communication, again much earlier than even texting on a cellphone was a reality (not even talking about email...). That is why I went on to study communication engineering in Milan, all the way up to earning my M.S. degree. When I moved to Georgia Tech for my Ph.D., I fully embraced another new frontier for communications: the chemical and biological! The rest is history (the history I told you before).

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of computing? What do you enjoy most about those?
I love music of all types, engines, but most of all I love spending time with my kids. My paternal grandmother was an opera singer in Italy, and she initiated me to opera since a young age. Thanks to her, I built a great interest in music, and I studied piano with a private teacher for many years. Years ago I also composed my own music, which is now mainly recorded in CDs that I left in Italy. Today, I am trying to pass on this passion to my kids, although they are still too young to fully understand the potential behind the boring piano exercises they get to do every week. I also love engines, especially cars, and was a motorcycle rider when younger. I also have a nautical license, and used to rent and operate sailing boats with my friends when I was still living in Italy, unfortunately a hobby I did not take with me when I moved to U.S.!

What is your favorite weekend activity?
Driving around and discover new places. We recently got a subscription to Nebraska State Parks, and I am trying to visit as many parks as possible with my family, weather permitting.

Where is your favorite place you've traveled?
Although I visited many other beautiful and noteworthy places, my heart is in Venice, where my family roots are. We still have a house there that was built by my great grandparents, which I share with my cousins. Please, go and visit Venice before we lose it to the high tide and climate change!!! (Not a joke!)

What is your favorite food?
Definitely pasta, and I would say my favorite is a recipe from my grandmother that blends smoked salmon, cream, and fresh cherry tomatoes with chicken broth. If you use fettuccine with it, definitely one of the best flavors I ever experienced. I love cooking and I should definitely do it more often (my wife would agree!).

What is a fun fact or something other members of the school may not know about you?
When I was a teenager I was fortunate enough to be part of my high school theater group, which was directed by a real (then famous in the Milan theater stage) professional actor. Despite attending public school, this actor was friends with one of our teachers, and happy to help out. One of the alumni of this same group continued on the path and became a professional actor himself. I see him often in commercials on Italian TV, or in TV series.

What is your favorite thing about being a part of the School of Computing?
Since the moment when I interviewed here, more than 10 years ago, I loved the atmosphere and, most of all, the people. I can count many friends here within the faculty and the student bodies, and it is a true blessing. I even got married to one of them!