I got a BSc in Engineering Physics and a MSc in Materials Eng. and Nanotechnology in Politecnico of Milan, and I am currently working towards a PhD in Nanophotonics in Cork Institute of Technology
BSc, MSc, PhD student
I worked as a guide in a museum and in a local radio part-time to pay for my studies
I am a PhD student in CIT and also work as Teaching Assistant in CIT
Favourite thing to do in science: Going deep into a phenomenon and discovering new small aspects that need a new explanation
I am just a hugely curious guy, that needed this curiosity be let free so decided to become a scientist
I normally describe me as just a someone that really really really likes lasers. But this is for when I apply for jobs.
In reality I am a fairly bulky and cheerful lad from a small town on the Italian Alps, whose passions span from music (I have been playing and studying drums since I was 7, even if that is considered glorified noise in the field) to sports (hiking, climbing and basketball among my favorite ones) and photography (I have a DSLR camera that never leaves me).
Especially Astro-photography, photographing the Universe by night, that I learned to love right here in Ireland, where I took my first picture of the Milky Way in Simon’s Cove (Co. Cork). This may seem complex but I assure you it is rather simple: you just need a tripod, a manual camera and a lot of coffee to keep you awake all night.
Of course I have many other interests like travelling around the world and mixing with the different cultures, hanging out with friends (having passionate and somewhat loud discussions with), reading books about a wide range of uncorrelated topics and yes: I still watch cartoons (read manga too).
Ah, and of course SCIENCE!
Since I was a kid I kept bothering my parents with questions about how things worked, the Cosmos, weather event like lightning bolts (to a point I was dreaming to become one of the Tornado Hunters in that absurd movie Twister, that maybe just people growing up in the 90s like me still remember).
Coming from a working-class family and an internet-free childhood (the World Wide Web has been invented in 1989, and the first house connections came in the late 90s) made my town’s public library my second home. I spent there most of my time during primary and secondary school, borrowing books about blackholes and galaxies, electricity, weird insects and animals…
The more I read the more I wondered and wanted to know more.
Feeding this feeling in the years led me to enroll in a science-oriented high school course, starting my path towards university and the PhD I am in currently.
Naturally while studying I started to like some subjects more than others (quantum physics, light and super small electronic structures among all), that influenced my academic choices.
All of this long description might just be condensed in the fact that I am just a guy characterized by an ever lasting curiosity, like many others are, that decided to live feeding it in every aspect despite the obstacles and difficulties that all of us encounters along the way.
I design and build very small structures that trap or reflect light, to work as small lasers
My work consists in designing and then building very small structures (at the nanoscale) on small silicon chips that can trap light in very tiny places and release it at set times.
These structures are basically very small holes or pillars that periodically repeat on the silicon chip, called photonic crystals, that interact with the light shone on them by trapping some specific colors of it. They work as very very small mirrors that reflect just some selected colors.
By inserting these small mirrors made of holes or pillars in an electronic circuit to change the distance between them it is possible to change the colors of light they can trap and release.
In this way a very small laser that can be turned on and off very rapidly is obtained, that could be used to transfer data around a processor chip of a computer.
Nowadays computer chips use copper wires to connect the many processors on it and transfer data of the operations of the transistors around by letting an electric current flow through these copper wires that connects them. However this method is very energy inefficient: it consumes more power than the one the processors needs to do the actual operations and the copper wires tend to heat up a lot, hindering the entire computer chip.
Because of that, my colleagues and I are trying to remove this copper wires and use our very small photonic crystal lasers as a way for the processors to exchange data between them, with light beams instead of the electricity flowing in those wires.
My Typical Day
I usually go to a highly environment controlled room and dig my tiny structures on the chips with a beam of electrons
I normally have a satiating breakfast while I read and reply to emails from colleagues and collaborators regarding the project. Once this is set I typically have my work divided in four parts:
- Researching the literature: this consists in reading published scientific papers of other research groups all over the world that are doing things similar to my project. This helps keeping track of what is already there in terms of technology and concepts and how it is done. This helps acquiring knowledge and insights on new techniques and stimulates the birth of new ideas by applying this knowledge to my specific project.
- Design and Simulation of the structures: the new ideas and concepts gathered and developed normally results in new structures, geometries or systems based on the photonic crystals I wrote about earlier. So in this phase these ideas are converted into very accurate 3D technical drawings in a 1:1 scale of the structures in a specific software.
This software uses equations and algorithms from physics to simulate the behavior of the tiny structures with light and gives data on many physical aspect like the Electric Field distribution, the Energy, Reflection and Absorption of different colors of light and many others. This is a simulation of the physical behavior of the new structure.
- Fabrication of the structures: if the simulation phase gives the results expected, the new structures are ready to be built. However, because they are so tiny they are very difficult to be made and they need specific instrumentation in order to do so. They are so tiny that a spec of dust is like mount Everest compared to them and can ruin them, so these structures are fabricated in rooms in which dust particles are reduced to minimum and the environment is highly controlled. This rooms are called Clean-Rooms and people in them have to wear specific suits to avoid contamination on their materials.
What I'd do with the money
I'd use the money to buy or develop a new science demo prototype to be used in schools all over the country
I would be using the money to buy materials and develop a new Science Demo Kit with interactive parts and new interesting but fun experiments to be brought to schools all over the country for interactive demonstrations with the aim to involve students more in STEM.
This new prototype would be presented at CIT’s Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis open event on Scientific Images Exhibition in Cork Institute of Technology exhibition area in Cork city centre. The prototype will be having the chance to be tested by actual students and kids during the event and further improved for the deployment in schools.
Money that would be left over from the prototype would be used to improve the organization of the exhibition, with more freebies for audience (tea/coffee, etc…)
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Obsessively curious, fairly patient and maybe too much lively
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I have two actually: Porcupine Tree and Tool
What's your favourite food?
Aubergine Parmigiana (which is a traditional italian dish)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
This is tricky now... There are many, I'd say probably being part of a theater troupe and performing in comedies
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be a researcher actually. It is the best way to feed your curiosity and getting a living out of it
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Many times. I have been bullied a lot during primary and secondary school. High school was another story: I was getting good marks but my behavior was not among the best ones, always too lively sometimes wild I'd say. But I calmed down with age (and proper punishment :D)
What was your favourite subject at school?
That's easy: Physics. I liked many others like Chemistry, Maths, English and Latin, but physics has always been my favorite.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
There are a lot of crazy good things you can accomplish being a scientist and a lot can be done everyday, from discovering things to helping people discover the beauty of our world through knowledge. If I have to pick one related to pure science I would say I contributed (even if in a small part) in explaining a new quantum phenomenon in molecular crystals during my master thesis
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
Not a particular person really. Since I was a kid I have always been fascinated with physical phenomena and dreamed and people that were explaining it in the media and books. I guess that in high school I got inspired by Tesla, Fermi, Einstein and Marie Slodowska (Curie)
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Probably I would be trying to pursue a career in music, as a musician
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) Unlimited time, in order to have always some spare to cultivate more and more interests, 2) Don't have to worry about earning a living so I could just be a wandering around the world and discover a bit of it every day, 3) A part from many interesting superpowers I wished I had, I would say to make a difference. No matter how but being somehow actively involved in improving something globally.
Tell us a joke.
Man, absolute zero is cool!