“An enthusiastic early career investigator” – this is how Mattia Pierpaoli, PhD, an Italian engineer, describes himself. His curiosity about nanocarbon structures and the environment brought him to universities in Italy, Poland, Russia, China and back to Poland.
He is currently conducting research as a visiting scientist at Gdańsk University of Technology on novel carbon-based nanomaterials for environmental applications under the Ulam NAWA Programme.
NAWA: This is your second time in Poland. You already studied and carried out research in Poland.
Mattia Pierpaoli: Yes, it isn't my first time in Poland. The first time was 7 years ago when I came to Gdańsk University of Technology as an Erasmus student. I'm in the same building again, in the same environment, but I can see how many things have changed since that time.
What exactly has changed?
Of course, the biggest difference is my perspective. Then, I was a student. Now, I am a researcher. I spend most of my time with my colleagues from Gdańsk University of Technology, the people with whom I share the same scientific interests. The second thing is the facilities at the university. I see how much they have been renovated. Now, they are much easier and much nicer to use. The third thing is attitudes. This is something that I haven’t encountered elsewhere. Before I received the NAWA fellowship under the Ulam NAWAProgramme, I had the possibility to conduct scientific research in other Countries, were people were much more focused on their work. When I came here, I found something else – my colleagues from the university are not only supportive and collaborative when it comes to scientific topics, but they are also friends. We have organised some activities such as kayaking together and so on. That is something that surprised me a great deal.
Why did you choose Gdańsk University of Technology again? Wouldn't it have been better for you to go to another institution?
Because Gdańsk University of Technology has one of the best departments in Poland specialising in my area of research, nanotechnology and the environment. It is about the people, the specialists with whom I can work. Also, here you can find equipment that is not so common in other scientific institutes. The most emblematic is a microwave plasma-enhanced chemical vapour deposition. This is a machine that makes diamond-thin films, but not only. It can also make other carbon nanostructures. It is the core of my research because with it we can create very tiny nanostructures and investigate these materials.
What is your research about?
My primary background is environmental engineering. My secondary area of focus is nanomaterials, in particular carbon nanostructures. In Gdańsk, I'm working to combine these two things. My aim is to investigate carbon nanomaterial and design and optimise them for better environmental application. What is so special about nanoscale is that we are able to obtain unique physical, chemical, and optical properties of the material that cannot be achieved using any other method. Moreover, you can tailor the material interface for specific applications. For example, you can design the material to remove a specific pollutant or to detect a specific molecule.
Where can those materials be used?
There are many possibilities for using carbon nanostructures to address environmental issues. One area involves sensors. My department at Gdańsk University of Technology has a lot of experience with this topic. Another one is remediation. It is something that I have a background in. So now, I am trying to merge those two topics. More specifically, I’m investigating water remediation. How the carbon nanostructure can be used to remove chemicals or other pollutants from water, or to detect drugs.
My work is still in an early phase and personally I don’t collaborate with industry. However, our research team at Gdańsk University of Technology already has other projects involving the removal of pollutants and through them scientists are connected to industry.
What are the biggest challenges in your project?
The first one is scale-up, so finding new methods to produce these nanomaterials faster, cheaper and without size limitation. The second thing is durability: how to ensure that the material characteristic remains unchanged over time.
Recently you finished the first stage of your project. From your perspective as a young researcher, was the Ulam NAWAProgramme an interesting opportunity?
The Ulam NAWAfellowship has been a great opportunity for my career. I am more than 100 percent satisfied. Most importantly, I was able to propose my own research topic, which is not so common for young scientists. I am able to conduct research and enjoy access to all the equipment I need.
If you are a young researcher, the Ulam NAWAProgramme provides you the tools to start your career.
Thank you for your time.
Mattia Pierpaoli’s main interests and competencies lie in the field of nanomaterials for environmental applications. In 2015, he completed two post-graduate traineeships at Gdańsk University of Technology (Poland), Lipetsk State Technical University (Russia) and, in 2016, was a visiting PhD student at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China). In 2019, he was awarded a PhD in Industrial Engineering – Material Science at Università Politecnica delle Marche (Italy). He is currently conducting research on three-dimensional carbon nanomaterials for sensing applications and environmental remediation at the Faculty of Electronics, Telecommunications and Informatics, of Gdańsk University of Technology, under the NAWA Ulam NAWAProgramme.