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Ongoing Research Projects

ERC Proof of Concept (2017-2019) as the Principal Investigator of a project entitled: “Luminescent silicon nanocrystals as bioimaging systems” (SiNBioSys)

Abstract: Optical imaging is a powerful tool for light-guided surgery and for the study of biological functions via dynamic visualization of processes in tissues and cells. Most of optical imaging techniques utilise fluorescent probes that can suffer from low contrast, due to scattering of the excitation light, and low tissue penetration. Silicon nanocrystals (SiNCs), developed within the ERC PhotoSi project, are a very promising alternative for this purpose: silicon is essentially non-toxic, easily available, and it can be covalently linked with dyes. The result is a highly-robust and biocompatible hybrid material, which exhibits colour tunability across the visible and near-infrared region. On top of that, the extraordinary brightness of the material coupled to a long-lived luminescence (lifetime of the hundreds of microseconds) enables time-gated detection. Therefore, SiNBioSys technology greatly improves the contrast of the obtained images with a low-cost equipment and with a material based on abundant and biocompatible elements (Si, C, O, H): it will enable innovative imaging tools for early diagnosis of diseases, particularly in the field of cancer and neuroscience.

ENI research collaboration on “Luminescent solar concentrators based on silicon nanocrystals” (2018).

Abstract: Luminescent solar concentrators, based on silicon nanocrystals (SiNCs) and constituted by a transparent waveguide that brings the light emitted by embedded SiNCs to a PV cell coupled to its edge, offer many advantages: (i) lack of toxicity compared to more conventional quantum dots, (ii) the abundance of the main component, (iii) high emission quantum yield, and (iv) the large energy difference between absorption and emission which enables the construction of transparent waveguides which absorb mainly in the UV and emit in the red or near-infrared spectral region, according to the SiNCs dimensions.

ERC Starting Grant (2012-2017) as the Principal Investigator of a project entitled: “Silicon nanocrystals coated by photoactive molecules: a new class of organic-inorganic hybrid materials for solar energy conversion” (PhotoSi)

Abstract: Silicon nanocrystals have gained much attention in the last few years because of their remarkable optical and electronic properties, compared to bulk silicon. These unique properties are due to quantum confinement effects and are thus strongly dependent on the nanocrystal size, shape, surface functionalization and presence of defects. The aim of the present project is the coupling of Silicon nanocrystals with photo- and electroactive molecules or multicomponent systems, like dendrons, to build up a new class of hybrid materials to be employed in the field of light-to-electrical energy conversion (solar cells).

Vinci Programme (2015-2018) co-supervisor of a PhD student together with Prof. Marc Gingras (University of Marseille, France) on a project entitled: “Smart and highly phosphorescent asterisks for (bio)sensors, antennae and molecular imaging”.

Abstract:  the research is focused on new classes of smart luminescent compounds, whose phosphorescence is strongly enhanced in a rigid matrix, like nanoaggregates and crystals. They are potentially interesting in the fields of organic materials for optics (OLED), chemical biology (imaging), chemical sensors and nanoscience (organic nanodots). With this approach no toxic or rare element, like lanthanides, is used. The working principle of the present project is that phosphorescence can be switched on by conformational restriction due to media rigidification. Dendrtic light-harvesting antenna will be coupled to this new class of organic phosphorescent materials to enhance the brightness of the system.

Innovative Training Network (ITN) (2016-2020) as vice-coordinator (European Coordinator: Prof. Giacomo Bergamini) of a project entitled: “Entrepreneuring Dynamic Self-Organized Interfaces in Photocatalysis: A Multidisciplinary Training Network Converting Light into Products” (PHOTOTRAIN)


Abstract: The main focus of this 48 month project is the conversion of solar energy starting from the fundamental bases (photophysics), and including the design of photoactive molecules (organic chemistry) and the materials (colloidal chemistry), the study of the photoinduced processes (photochemistry and microscopy), performing and studying the reactions (physical chemistry), building a microfluidic photoreactor (physics and engineering), and planning an industrial-scalable chemical process (private sector). PHOTOTRAIN Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) will have mobility between network partners supported by research visits and secondments, allowing them to be integrated in the network with the aim to help them interact with their fellows and within different research, development and innovation environments.

Bilateral Project Italy-Japan (2017-2019) as coordinator of the Bologna research unit; title of the project: “A supramolecular approach to artificial photosynthesis” (national coordinator: Prof. Sebastiano Campagna)

Abstract: World demand for energy is projected to more than double by 2050 and to more than triple by the end of the century. Despite a spectacular growth, solar power production is still a minor player on a world scale. Artificial photosynthesis attracts much attention as one of the promising technologies for solving the global energy demand and environmental problems and for alleviating economic differences between countries. This project aims to exploit solar light for the production of solar fuels such as molecular hydrogen and valuable organic products from raw materials like water and carbon dioxide. Artificial photosynthesis provides solution to the problems connected with intermittency and low density power of solar energy, and represents the future of solar fuel production.