Why I Joined Q Bio: Alessandro Francavilla, Computational Science Engineer

Alessandro Francavilla — with COVID beard!

I am not into tech! I don’t own fancy and modern technological gadgets. I am not dreaming about buying the next futuristic car. I am not interested in space missions, nor do I feel excitement about the possibility of going to another planet. As a matter of fact, I am too scared to ride a rollercoaster — how can I possibly dream of jumping into a spaceship and going to Mars? So what brings me to the Silicon Valley, the center of the high-tech world?

Despite my high school curriculum being mostly in classical subjects such as philosophy, ancient Latin, and Greek literature, my career has been very focused on science. In hindsight, the honest reason I took this path is because I did well in math and physics with minimum effort. Like many kids, I decided that I liked doing the things I was best at. Fast forward a few years, I found myself with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, specifically in numerical modeling which is the field of crafting computer codes in order to find approximate solutions of very complicated (and often otherwise unsolvable) physical problems. I was especially interested in computational electromagnetics, the discipline that aims to find numerical approximations of Maxwell’s equations. As you can already guess, I was not interested in the solution of these equations to help the world create better antennas for modern smartphones; I simply enjoy modeling equations, and feel extremely satisfied when filling over 200GB or RAM memory and waiting for one whole day of computations to solve a single equation!

For many years, I considered academia to be superior to industry. There were two main reasons for this: it’s where I have met some of the most brilliant minds, and because I believed that academia could chase a more pure form of science free from the laws of profit. But at some point, the first cracks in my beliefs started to show and I realized that academia is not always the idyllic scenario I forged inside my mind. I decided to give industry a try and ended up joining the largest manufacturer of photolithography machines. There, I realized industry also has two of the features I look for: talented people, and interesting and challenging problems to solve. But there was still one missing piece in my personal puzzle…

I ran into Q Bio by accident. Towards the end of 2018, I was trying to contact Athanasios Polimeridis for very unrelated reasons. We had known one another from the field of computational electromagnetics and, years ago, had chatted at conferences around the world. I had some questions for him about one of his contributions to the field. That’s when I learned about his position at Q Bio. Of course, curiosity made me take a look at what Q Bio was all about and I had my first encounter with the term “precision medicine.” I have always considered medicine more a sorcery than a science, but I had my epiphany: healthcare can be addressed in a completely different way, a way that in my eyes makes so much more sense! And the idea is so intuitive and effective that I felt stupid to have never thought about it myself. By tracking snapshots of the health of each individual over time, it is possible to detect and identify changes in our body before symptoms start to appear. It is the first time I’ve been extremely happy to have been wrong all my life! 

What’s more, building these comprehensive snapshots involves addressing some of the challenges I love! The Q exam can include, among other things, a full-body MRI scan. Some of the problems we have to solve to enable a comprehensive and quantitative approach to MRI require a lot of physics, mathematics, and high performance computing. My puzzle is finally complete: talented people, interesting mathematical problems to solve, and the noble goal of doing our best to improve healthcare. Q Bio is not just an MRI company, but if you join the modeling team you are definitely going to be exposed to a fair amount of MRI physics. And if you are like me, you are going to have a lot of fun while doing it!

We’re hiring. Check out job listings here: https://q.bio/careers/