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Balancing research and sporting careers

Arriving at Queen’s through the Principal’s Development Fund for Visiting Scholars, engineering researcher Rossana Pasquino is also a member of the Italian national wheelchair fencing team.

Rossana Pasquino took up wheelchair fencing five years ago as a way to stay fit and as a distraction from the rigours of her academic work. She was introduced to the sport in 2015 by childhood friend, and top-ranked Italian epee fencer, Francesca Boscarelli.

[Rossana Pasquino is a world-class athlete in wheelchair fencing]
Rossana Pasquino, associate professor, researcher, and a member of the Italian national wheelchair fencing team, is spending part of the summer at Queen’s as a visiting scholar in the Department of Chemical Engineering. (University Communications)

“Francesca was training at a fencing club in Napoli at the time,” Dr. Pasquino says. “They had a wheelchair platform but no athletes. It ended up being a lot of fun because there were many athletes there who were not disabled but who would sit and fence with me. I started to just like it for recreation. Then, as my skills improved, I started to try different weapons and to compete.” 

Dr. Pasquino joined the Italian National Wheelchair Fencing Team after earning a bronze medal in the team sabre category at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Federation World Cup in Warsaw in 2017. She and her team went on to win silver in the IWAS World Championships in Rome later that year, and silver in epee and sabre in the Italian Championships earlier this year. She’s planning to compete in the European championships later in 2018 and is positioning herself now to qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

“It’s a lot of work to balance the sport with my career,” says Dr. Pasquino. “I only started to be very good at fencing in the last two years and it’s not possible to be competitive at such a high level as you get older, so I have about 10 years to go. It’s not easy to do everything and do everything well, but I’m going to do the best I can.”

And it’s an impressive career to balance.

Dr. Pasquino recently earned a spot as associate professor in chemical engineering at the Universita degli Studi de Napoli Federico II in Naples. She’ll be starting at that post in September. She met Queen’s engineering professor Jeffrey Giacomin in 2011 while he was teaching a short course on polymer processing in Crete, Greece. They had a meeting of academic minds, so Dr. Giacomin successfully nominated Dr. Pasquino to visit Queen’s this summer through the Principal's Development Fund for Visiting Scholars. She’s working with Queen’s researchers to better understand ways to characterize polymers.  

“The plan was to understand how polymers scatter laser light,” says Dr. Pasquino. “We can get insight into a materials’ molecular structure – if, for example, molecules are branched, form linear chains, rings, or other structures.”

It’s work that could help industry to better determine the physical properties of the polymers they use in manufacturing for the purposes of quality control or for selecting the best materials for any given job.

“We are also studying polymer degradation in parallel-disk geometry and we will probably end up with a scientific paper at the end of my visit,” she says.

To those who may find inspiration in Dr. Pasquino’s athletic and academic work, she has some advice:

“So much of life is about fear,” she says. “‘I don’t want to travel because something bad could happen,’ or ‘I don’t want to start engineering because maybe I’m not good enough,’ or ‘I don’t want to fence, or try a sport because I’m not competitive.’ You just have to try. There are barriers you have to overcome, otherwise you don’t do anything. That’s how it is in any life.”

Dr. Pasquino is scheduled to practice at the Kingston Fencing Club, 83 Terry Fox Dr. Unit 4, Kingston, Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8 pm through August.