Visiting IIT is an extraordinary experience, as visiting a Wonderland where every corner is a surprise and a marvel, with glances of the coming world and exciting opportunities. Guests are bombed by stimuli for the implications and the applications of the researches ongoing in Morego, and our interdisciplinary team established a wonderful interaction with the researchers.
There is so much to discover also in the overview of the IIT, which was founded in 2005 and based in a building previously used by the tax agency. The building is perfect for research becasue it is founded above a big mass of rocks. Thus delicate microscopes are immune from vibrations of urban traffic. The Institute hosts 1440 people, with average age of 34 and an almost fifty-fifty distribution of Italian and international researches. Worth to mentioning that 16% of italians are “returning brains” who moved to IIT from abroad.
There is a wide variety of researches ongoing at the IIT, from robotics, to neurosciences, to advanced chemistry, nanotechnology, smart materials and much more, all of them based on the same set of values: be inspired by nature and improve of human life. And the magic comes from putting so many tracks under the same roof, having the opportunity of cross-feritization among teams: you may discover what will solve your headache problem sipping a coffee with the researcher of the lab next door. The kind of interdisciplinary recipe we know so well at TalenTour.
The menu of the visit started at the Nikon Center, where research is targeting the performance of the electronic microscopy with optical techniques, namely the “super-resolved fluorescent microscopy”, object of 2014 Nobel prize for chemistry. This allows a much lower cost and the unvaluable advantage of observing living biological structures, and requires a huge mix of competencies from optics to digital imaging, modulation of laser beams, genetics, chemistry and I am for sure forgetting a lot.
Our mentor in the center was Giovanni Vicidomini who drove us from something that actually looks like a microscopy also to laypersons, to a bench where a network of coloured laser beams can play with light and time to dig into the nano world.
The possibility to look into molecules with optical instruments will open new possibilities in the diagnosys of diseases. In the TalenTour team we had the pleasure to host a Doctor of the G.Gaslini Hospital who is dealing daily with the challange of fighting pediatric oncological diseases, and she was able to sport the potential of this research more than most of us bit-head engineers!
The second stop in our journey in the future was the Smart Materials laboratory where we met Greta Radaelli, who showed us a carousel of different kind of plastics with a lot of different interesting properties. Some are transparent, some are soft and flexible, some are rigid and still robust, some you can stretch and bend or cast in many different forms. What is new then? That all this plastics is made of vegetal waste. The industry of transformation of vegetables, mainly food industry, produces millions of tons of waste today, which has to be disposed at a cost. On the other hand plastic industry produces millions of tons of commoditiy goods which quickly become non-biodegradable waste. What if we could convert the biological waste in plastic goods which end their lifecycle as biodegradable waste?
More than that, every vegetable provides special properties to the Bioplastics, from the good smell, to the anti-microbiotics. The idea is to bring bioplastics to production, from simple objects as packages to more ambitious targets as the fashion industry.
We ended this worderful afternoon meeting “next big thing” in the material egineering. All we know about carbon in its many forms, from coal, to graphite to diamond. But now it will enter in our lives in the new form of Graphene, a single-molecule thick sheet of “ordered carbon”. It is as thin as 1/3 of a billionth of a metre, it is the strongest existing material, and it is the best electrical and thermal conductor, better than copper by orders of magnitude, plus many more other features given by its nano-structure. Francesco Bonaccorso, senior researcher at the Graphene Lab gave us an overview of the chemistry of Graphene, and some of the main applications which are going to come in our lives very soon.
The interest in this material is witnessed by the efforts that all the research and industrial world is putting into the challange of mass production of graphene. The European community is funding a 1 Billion Euros, 10 year project the “Graphene Flagship”, with IIT in first line role. And USA and China are pushing even more in this graphene-rush, because reaching the goal will mean to be in a dominant position in so many strategic industries as energy – think of super efficient batteries!, or electronics – think of a computer where information runs 1000 times faster or a totally flexible touch screen to be embedded in some wearable computer.
So thank you again to Irene, Giuseppe, Greta and Francesco for patience and to all IIT for running great research and giving us the possibility of visiting and meeting the future!
This TalenTour visit is an event part of the UNESCO International Year of Light!