Two new ERC-funded innovation projects

Editorial Staff

Ferruccio Pisanello at the IIT Center in Lecce and Annamaria Petrozza at the IIT Center in Milan will receive € 150,000

Two new innovation projects funded by the European Research Council (ERC) are born from frontier research on new materials and optical technologies with the aim of introducing new technologies in the field of health and in industrial and infrastructure monitoring: a nanometric sensor capable of supporting surgeons in delicate brain operations and a flexible and large-surface X-ray detector, to replace traditional photographic plates. The two projects, proposed respectively by Ferruccio Pisanello in collaboration with Massimo De Vittorio, both at the Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnologies in Lecce, and by Annamaria Petrozza of the Center for Nano Sciences and Technologies in Milan of the IIT-Italian Institute of Technology, will receive from the ERC 150,000 euros for their realization.

The funding was awarded as part of ERC’s Proof-of-Concept (POC) projects, which are grants that the prestigious European body recognizes to researchers already holding ERC funding to further explore the commercial or social potential of their cutting-edge research. Across Europe there are 55 new POC projects funded by ERC, including 8 in Italy, of which 2 at the IIT.

The announcement was made today, and it represents the last cycle of ERC investments for 2020. In particular, as regards POC grants and considering the entire year, Italy is the third country of the Union by total number of grants received (17) like the Netherlands, behind Germany (with 23) and the United Kingdom (with 30), and ahead of France (15) and Spain (12), demonstrating that the investment in specific frontier research can lead, even in our country, to innovations that have the potential to be transferred to the market or to have a positive impact on society.

Ferruccio Pisanello, a telecommunications engineer with a doctorate in physics, originally from Lecce, is the coordinator of research activities on new technologies for neuroscience within the IIT’s Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnologies (CBN) in Lecce’s IIT center. In 2016 he won an ERC Starting grant for the MODEM project, which involved the use of optical fiber to stimulate neurons and to read their response to light stimuli, in order to investigate in detail the connections between cells and their functioning. With the new project, IN DEPTH, the technology developed by Pisanello and Massimo De Vittorio (coordinator of the IIT’s CBN)  will be perfected in order to become a tool to support brain surgery, such as the removal of tumors, so as to be able to monitor the electrical activity of the brain during operation and precisely identify the area of intervention. The device will be in the shape of a small needle and it will significantly reduce the damages to brain tissue compared to currently available technologies.

Annamaria Petrozza, electronic engineer with a doctorate in physics, originally from Matera, she worked as a researcher abroad between France and England and has returned to Italy in 2010 at the IIT Nano Science and Technology Center in Milan, where she coordinates the team of Advanced Materials for Optoelectronics. In 2017 she won an ERC Consolidator grant for the SOPHY project, focused on the study and development of a new class of materials for optoelectronics. The new ERC grant will allow Petrozza to develop a prototype of a flexible X-ray detector, called FLE-X, which can be used for large-scale radiographs in the medical field and in industrial non-destructive testing (NDT) – such as for example the monitoring of infrastructures, or also for airport scanning systems, innovating a sector that still relies on the use of traditional photographic plates and instruments that are heavy, expensive and bulky. The FLE-X technology will be easier to use, being flexible and adaptable to different shapes and sizes.

IIT’s portfolio of ERC projects – obtained since 2009 – thus reaches a total of 50, obtained from 38 researchers, of which 15 women. In particular, 11 POC-type projects were obtained by 10 IIT researchers and the projects in which they are engaged concern the development of technologies for the early diagnosis of autism, nanoparticles for the controlled release of anticancer drugs, devices for assessing cardiac toxicity of drugs, and the study of manipulative robots in the industrial field.