I am BOLD because…
I do not let myself be intimidated by big challenges and competition. This allowed me to win the very competitive grant that financed my research on artificial skin.
Please provide a brief overview of your professional background and share a couple of significant milestones or projects you've been involved in?
I have been an Associate Professor at the Institute of Solid State Physics of the Graz University of Technology since January 2018, after having been Assistant Professor at the same institution since 2013. From 2010 to 2013, I was a Postdoctoral Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I received my Ph.D. degree in Chemical Science from the University of Bari, Italy in 2010. My research interests focus on material science and advanced methods for thin film growth, including thin film technologies, nanomaterials, and surface chemistry. My research has been funded by various programs, including the Marie Curie-Skłodowska Actions research fellowship. In 2016, I won the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to fund my research on “Smart Core-shell Sensor Arrays for Artificial Skins.” In 2023, I won the ERC Proof of Grant “Smart Skin” to test possible commercialization pathways of my work during the Starting Grant.
What has been the most valuable lesson life has taught you thus far?
Big objectives can be reached only by making reasonably smaller steps one after the other.
How does being a part of the BOLD community influence you and your work?
I started being part of the BOLD community only from last October onwards. So far, it has been a source of interesting ideas for future challenges.
What strategies do you implement to cultivate a culture of innovation within your organization?
I try to give my students freedom to choose their paths towards the research objectives I give them. This has often led to very interesting and unexpected outcomes. In addition, I try to make them collaborate a lot within the group and outside by organizing networking events, discussion meetings, and by recommending them to participate in conferences.
Is there a particular belief or philosophy that guides your approach to life and work?
My philosophy is that every big achievement can be reached step by step. So the important thing is that one does good steps every day.
What do you think people should learn from each other to foster innovation and collaboration?
That there are no absolute experts — each person can contribute with their own perspective and expertise.
What qualities do you believe will be crucial for success in the future of work?
Innovation is becoming more and more interdisciplinary. Therefore, future innovators will have to be collaborative, embrace diversity as an opportunity to widen the portfolio of perspectives, and learn from each other.
Can you share an instance where a failure or setback led to a positive outcome or growth?
The pandemic, for example, has been a difficult period for everybody and it has led to many setbacks. On the other hand, it has opened the boundaries of the world: in the sense that now much more easily one can participate in remote meetings, conferences, workshops, etc., and this has for sure expanded the probabilities to collaborate without having to be necessarily in the same room.
What is a BOLD decision you made in your career and why?
To leave my home country after my Ph.D. I would have had the possibility to stay since I had a job and I was close to family and friends. At the same time, I had an offer as a postdoc at MIT in Boston, which I knew would be challenging but, if successful, would lead to many benefits in my career. I consider that it was BOLD for me to leave everything behind and start this new adventure. Now I can say that it paid off.
Can you explain your innovation and why it matters?
We invented a new electronic skin that can sense at the same time temperature, humidity, and pressure in very small areas. The electronic skin is composed by a multitude of sensors deposited on a flexible substrate that can be conformed to cover limbs, fingers, etc. Ever wondered how humans can sense cold, warmth, touch? Because in the human skin there are several receptors that can feel the difference in temperature of touch and transmit the information to the brain through an electrical current. In the electronic skins, the changes in temperature, humidity, and pressure also produce an electric signal. This signal can be read by a computer, for example, and be used in robots to make them more aware of their surroundings.
How did you get involved in this?
I was working already for many years on stimuli-responsive materials. These are materials that change their shape depending on external stimuli, like temperature, humidity, pH, light. At a certain point, I started wondering if such changes in the shape of the stimuli-responsive materials could be used for sensing. Since the method to obtain these materials allows us to make them very tiny and flexible, I decided to write this idea into a project proposal. The project proposal was granted; nevertheless, it took us six years to develop the first working prototype.
How can others contribute to this effort?
I would like to explore the possibility of using such electronic skin in prosthetics and somehow use the electronic signals produced by the electronic skin to stimulate the brain and give back the feeling of sensation through the prosthesis. For this, the contribution of a biomedical team, hospitals, and companies involved in the production of prosthesis would certainly be required.