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Lecce debuts Italy's biggest nanotech “clean room”

by Andrea Carli

Nanotech is taking root in southern Italy. As of yesterday, Feb. 3, two new “clean rooms” opened in Puglia at the Nanotechnology Center of the CNR (National Research Council) on the campus of the University of Salento.

Italy's President Sergio Mattarella attended the opening day, as did Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, president of the Region of Puglia, Michele Emiliano, mayor of Lecce, Paolo Perrone, and president of the CNR, Massimo Inguscio.

Seeing here, in Lecce, “areas of excellence like the CNR, the Atheneum, makes it clear how the cultural fabric that exists in the South constitutes an important element in the recovery of the area and the nation. And it's comforting to see that these are sites of real excellence, acknowledged around the world,” Mattarella said.

A “clean room” is just that - a clean room where sophisticated systems and advanced ventilation and filtering technologies reduce the level of pollution. It's where tiny structures and devices, measured in nanometers (one billionth of a meter - the size of the point of a needle in a soccer field) are created for applications in various sectors like energy, telecommunications, electronics, precision medicine.

The facilities in Lecce are the largest such public structure in Italy for nanotechnology: more than 1,000 square meters of laboratories with a controlled environment.

The project launched 4 years ago and total investment was more than €10 million including the structure, facilities and equipment. It was split among the CNR, the Region of Puglia, MIUR (Ministry of Education and Research) and European funds. It employs 40 researchers under 35 years old, technologists with PhDs, and more than ten technicians. Some 60% of them women and 20% are foreigners, trained in physics, chemistry, engineering and biology.

CNR's Nanotechnology Institute of Lecce, directed by Giuseppe Gigli, is on its way to becoming a point of reference for the segment of Italian industry active in innovation and high tech. The labs can be used by large and small companies alike (including startups and spinoffs) that wish to pursue nanotechnology research: from biomedical to UCT to photonics to high-speed electronics. As of today, about ten multi nations and innovative startups have signed on. The Institute has a cooperation agreement with ST Microeletronics.

“The Nanotechnology pole,” said Inguscio, “is an example of national success and collaboration among research entities and Italian and foreign universities, national institutions like MUIR, and local areas like Puglia.”

He added that “in line with the national research program, the group will continue to invest, including in the South, in order to support the revival of the national fabric, solid employment and attractive young and brilliant minds.”

In 2017 and 2018, plans include signing new cooperation agreements for joint labs with high-tech multinationals and public hospital agencies in the area of medicine and precision equipment.