“Since I graduated I have been mixing different subjects. I don’t see what other key we can use to face the future, starting with the various types of environmental catastrophes that are affecting us.” Robert Samuel Langer Jr., born in 1948, has put together at least two disciplines and then continued on this path. When we met him in Rome some time ago, he told us that in the 1960s his fellow engineers were aiming to work in the oil industry. Instead, he was among the first to look at medicine. Chemical engineer, specializing in biotechnology, he is one of the eminences of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His studies have been cited 273,000 times by his colleagues. A record.
It seems that in Italy many like him have begun to think so, especially in terms of the climate crisis. Between degree courses, doctorates and research grants, the universities that put the environment at the center by combining different disciplines are multiplying. The ministry of the University headed by Cristina Messa he counted, only courses, as well one hundred and sixty scattered throughout the country.
Economics of the Environment and Development, Engineering of Renewable Sources, Urban Regeneration, Geological Sciences Applied to Environmental Sustainability, Sustainable Tourism, just to name a few. Not all of them are new, but they are nonetheless a sign of the transversal nature of climate-related issues.
Take the new Politecnico di Milano course called Ambassador in green technologies. It is a master’s degree which, starting from the fields of design, architecture and engineering, has added extra exams in the various subjects to allow for a broader view. “The first diplomas should be delivered in July,” he says Isabella Nova, who teaches Industrial and Technological Chemistry at the Department of Energy. “It is a path that has two purposes: to focus on green technologies and to provide interdisciplinary tools. Ductility is fundamental in the world of work and it is also essential to be able to face the emergency that is changing the balance of our planet”. Elsewhere too, from the degree in Geosciences for Sustainable Development activated in Pavia last year or the one in Food System: sustainability, management and technologies in Parma which was launched in 2016, we start from different areas looking at the best methods to optimize processes and make them more sustainable, protect and rebuild natural habitats, look at new forms of tourism that have a lower impact and really help the territory.
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“It fits my person perfectly,” he explains Letizia Lanza, 23, originally from Voghera, who will be one of the first ambassadors of the Politecnico di Milano. “I have always had a passion for the environmental issue, also thanks to my father’s teachings. When I saw this masterpiece I didn’t think twice”. You are involved in chemical engineering and are hoping to work in the field of plant engineering. Her story is similar to that of other students and above all female students, since the vast majority of the people we spoke to are women, on both sides of the chair. Giulia Zudettich21 years old from Remondò (Vigevano), in the third year of Science and technology for Nature of the University of Pavia, began with a passion for physics, chemistry and mathematics. “I started to get interested in the natural sciences because she gathers them all,” she explains. “Now I’m looking around for the master’s degree. There is in Pavia Conservation of biodiversity which seems fundamental to me. Or I could go to Copenhagen where they have a climate change course. Other masters are more related to sustainability, so perhaps economics or urban planning. In Copenhagen, on the other hand, they focus on the physics of climatology and biology. So on the consequences on living species that interest me very much “.
But there are also those who dedicate themselves to tourism and agri-food like Silvia Favaro25 years old from Treviso who studied in Trento, e Marella Porcari21 years old from Bari, who instead attends courses in Parma in Food System: sustainability, management and technologies. The first she after graduating in economics, she specialized in tourism sustainability management and now works in a consulting company. The second grew up in a family where there has always been attention to the quality, tradition and origin of the dishes. She would like to be a manager in a linked company that has yet to transform to be more sustainable. “Open my horizons and open those of others”, to use her words.
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Then there are the scholarships for research doctorates which, thanks to the new regulation of the ministry of universities at the end of December, have been strengthened and their variety has been increased. Seven thousand five hundred for 2022 of which 100 dedicated to the digital and environmental transition. There are not many, they should be more, but it is already a first step and we must also keep in mind the European calls.
An example is the project of Roberta Trani, 32 years old, from Grottaglie, researcher at the University of Bari at the Taranto branch. You started with the Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Sciences, the master’s degree in environmental biology and the doctorate also in environmental sciences. From this year she is a researcher. You work in the field of marine zoology and bio sanitation. She loves the sea, she is also underwater of course, and now she has done a job of it. “We are involved in a European project called Remedia life,” she says. “Taranto has a beautiful but polluted sea. Yet, despite everything, it has an incredible resilience factor. There is a lot to study starting from seahorses to cetaceans”. Across the country, in Turin, a colleague of hers tackles the issue from a different point of view. Elena Filipescu, born 27 years ago, is a researcher at the Polytechnic in the iXem university laboratories and applies telecommunications, or rather the Internet of things, to the vineyards of Piedmont. Agriculture 4.0 to which agronomists and engineers expert in sensors and data transmission work side by side to allow winegrowers to produce better quality using as little chemistry as possible.
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“To prepare for the future, one must necessarily have a different outlook from that of the past, combining knowledge, fields and technologies”. Concludes Claudia Lupi, geologist, professor at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Pavia. “Science, law, economics are constantly intertwined, especially if we want to reduce the anthropic impact on the environment. It is a new alphabet, a sector where many professionals are being born. The climate crisis has forced us to see life. in a different way”.
But after all, the pandemic did too, during which we are aware that healthier and more sustainable lifestyles are possible. “What would I do if I were a student?engineering at the meteorology“, Langer had told during that meeting in Rome.” Many of the things that await us do not yet have a name and this is also true for technologies and discoveries. “The only key would therefore be in that interdisciplinarity of which he spoke to the beginning: the recipe for facing the future with less fear.
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