With the aim of developing new applications in the fields of energy and smart materials, the Center for Nano Science and Technology of IIT@PoliMi has been set up by the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) with the collaboration of Politecnico di Milano.
With a staff of 53 researchers of various nationalities, in a building of around 1,000 square metres, the Center for Nano Science and Technology is focused on technological innovation starting with basic research. In particular, the specific fields of application are photovoltaic conversion, biomimetic systems and plastic electronics.
The CNST contributes to the “Energy” platform of IIT’s 2009-2010 scientific plan, concentrating on the study of photophysical phenomena, on the building of prototypes and on the production of innovations within the field of polymer and organic-inorganic hybrid solar cells . The CNST is working, for example, on new photovoltaic cells, made from organic polymer materials synthesized in the laboratory which can replace silicon cells in terms of costs and energy efficiency. The photovoltaic cells made in the laboratory consist of plastic materials much more ductile than silicon so that, in future, they could be easily installed on building facades or inside windows. With the collaboration of private companies, the CNST expects to engineer an exclusive technology able to permit producing polymer-based cells simply and in large quantities.
Within the “Smart Materials” platform, the CNST is instead developing new functional materials for biomimetic photodetectors, for electric transport and other bio-inspired systems. Among the center’s most ambitious and stimulating goals is the creation of an artificial retina.
The latter is a highly multi-disciplinary project developed together with the Department of Neuroscience and Brain Technologies at IIT headquarters in Genoa, which intends using photovoltaic organic polymers as retinal photoreceptors and studying the communication mechanisms between the artificial system and the neuronal cells. Various experiments have already enabled the IIT to show that the neurons taken from rats, connected to a layer of photosensitive material, are activated when the latter is illuminated; these results were published in a recent article in the prestigious journal, Nature Communications. For this application the use is important of organic and biocompatible polymers which provide much better adaptability and natural interaction with the tissues of the human body than those provided by silicon.
The Center also has its basic strong point in the integration of skills and in cultural exchange, so typical of a well-amalgamated scientific community. In this perspective, Politecnico di Milano – scientific-technological university with a total of 1400 professors and researchers engaged in advanced research activities at national and international level – has been pinpointed by the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia as a partner to implement the Center for Nano Science and Technology of IIT@PoliMi.
Using the same criteria, 53 researchers were selected with an average age of just over thirty. About ten of these are foreigners of various nationalities: China, Pakistan, UK, Spain, Greece, Cuba and Iran. The Center has also established itself as point of attraction for Italian brain drain exponents abroad. Members of the CNST team in fact include five Italian researchers who, after working abroad, have decided to return to Italy, leaving their previous jobs in prestigious universities such as Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Chicago and Groningen, to assist the Center’s coordinator, Guglielmo Lanzani.
"IIT multidisciplinarity and the highly-ranked expertise of the Politecnico di Milano will find in CNST a concrete opportunity to merge fundamental and applied research, carrying on striking science in the fields of smart materials and energy", says Guglielmo Lanzani, Coordinator of CNST. "With this opening, the IIT adds another crucial piece to the development of its network and to building a multidisciplinary organisation which has enabled the Institute to achieve excellent results and extend its exposure and scientific reputation at national and international level. An increasingly more widely recognised model of excellence which is helping bring back to our country Italian “brain drain” scientists, while at the same time making it possible to attract a number of foreign researchers. To date, these two components are already very significant and altogether represent 48% of the total of around 600 scientists in the IIT at December 2010", says Roberto Cingolani, Scientific Director of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
"The creation of an IIT Center in the Politecnico di Milano is part of the strategic partnership development strategy involving universities and research centers adopted by the University at national and international level. Only through the creation of a network of Italian innovation centers which are more competitive at international level will it be possible for the country to maintain and strengthen its role in the world. The cooperation between IIT and Politecnico di Milano wishes to represent a step in this direction»" stated Giovanni Azzone, Rector of Politecnico di Milano.
Helping the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia and the Politecnico di Milano in their top-level research work are industrial partners such as Omet, Pirelli, Saes Getters, Konarka, Industria e Innovazione and Tertium Technology. Thanks to them, the CNST di IIT@Polimi projects are absorbed into the production system, creating interaction between public and private, research and enterprise.
For further details, the Center’s website is: http://cnst.iit.it/