#AmericanSTEAM - Profile of an American Scientist: Lorenzo Uccellini

by March for Science

This is the second in a series of photographs by Parker Feierbach. Parker Feierbach's work, profiling scientists, strives to humanize the scientific enterprise through the personal stories that drive it.


Lorenzo Uccellini, a postdoc at Columbia University.

Lorenzo Uccellini by Parker Feierbach

Lorenzo Uccellini by Parker Feierbach

Lorenzo Uccellini received his doctorate in Infectious Diseases from the University of Milan. He performed most of his PhD dissertation work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States. Now he works under Ian Lipkin at Columbia University. This is what he has to say:

“I saw an announcement, there was this guy that was Italian that was working at NIH in New York. I was already in science. I wanted to do science at the top level, which is what the NIH does. So I wrote him, and I worked for him for five years. It's basically the training period—you work for five years, now you should go back to your country. That’s the idea‑you come here, you train, then you go back to your country and do science like you do here.

But after NIH, I was sequencing DNA in cancer, and it was like “Oh! I like viruses.” And I saw this guy and he was called the Virus Hunter. So he basically discovers viruses in general—like in animals that are sick or in people that are sick. And sometimes you don’t know what’s going on and you say okay, let’s find out. And we sequence it and we find out people are dying because it's this virus, so we identify it. That’s what was really attractive to me. Now I focus on tuberculosis.

Being against science, being against diversity and immigrants, that’s a really big issue for the United States. If they don’t feel like they are welcome here, and they don’t make enough money here, everybody’s going to leave and go back to their county where they’re going to have less technology. The United States is a pillar of science. If you go into a lab at NIH, [many] of them are immigrants. The H-1B visa is so important‑because for the U.S. it’s just gain. You get immigrants here to study and apply their science and pay them half of what a PhD is paid, and everybody is happy. Obviously now everyone is worried, because NIH supplies funding everywhere. A 20% cut is unsustainable. NIH is going to disappear that way.”

About the Author and #AmericanSTEAM

Wanting to invigorate and support US STEAM work, photographer Parker Feierbach (@ideaform) recently undertook creating a series of scientific portraits. The goal of this series is to expose the backbone of diversity in STEAM and erase the stereotyped facade of STEAM jobs. Feierbach hopes to show everyone just how normal and approachable the people in technical disciplines really are.

Diversity and Inclusion #AmericanSTEAM, science profiles, meet a scientist, STEAM