Newsletter No. 19 – Spotlights on research

Beatrice Cantoni in the laboratory
Beatrice Cantoni in the laboratory

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being”. Carl Gustav Jung’s quote may sound even a bit too peremptory, but it is undeniable that the metaphor linking science to light is particularly effective. The Swiss psychoanalyst defined thought as the tool with which man tries to understand the nature of the world and himself using logical processes; which sort of the essence of scientific research.

At Politecnico di Milano, light is not only a means of knowledge, but also an object of knowledge. In past issues, we have visited the physics laboratories, where they study the interaction between light and matter. This month, if you are intrigued by the topic, we suggest watching the new event “Impronte politecniche”, where professor emeritus Orazio Svelto talks with his student Giulio Cerullo. It is a journey through time, going back sixty years, to the origins of the laser; a story that unfolds between the CNR and Stanford University; a life that is interwoven with the other giants of physics such as Anthony Siegman, Richard Pantell and Arthur Schawlow. “I remember that period as particularly exciting, because everything we did was totally new,” Svelto says, with a vivid awareness in his eyes that he was part of something important.

And in the stories in this issue, we will meet people who try every day to shed light on still obscure aspects of the world. A young researcher investigates how everyday rubbish can be transformed into water pollutants; a group of architects explain the ten years of work behind the design the Italy Pavilion at the Venice Biennale; the creators of BUDD-e demonstrate the guide robot that gives blind people the freedom to carry out everyday activities such as running; we will remember a great architect who lit up the Politecnico ‘s school of architecture for forty years; one of our professors will tell us about the most talked-about chat of the moment.

Lights in the hall: let’s go!

BUDD-e test

BUDD-e, the guide robot for the blind who takes them running in the park

Many blind and visually-impaired people, who often depend on others for outdoor activities and the use of services and public spaces, suffered a loss of autonomy during the pandemic and the various lockdowns.

BUDD-e is the robot-guide replacement for the human carer that “frees” blind people from dependence on the caregiver to carry out daily activities. It is a project of veritable social innovation, albeit with a technological spirit, which has demonstrated a potentially very significant impact on everyday life, including on a psychological level.

Marcello Farina, project manager, told us how this idea came about almost by chance, thanks to an fortunate encounter at the Giuriati sports centre.

The engineering behind a tap

The production and use of everyday products such as clothes, bottles, frying pans, cosmetics, medicines, unfortunately play a part in water pollution, which of course can have a greater or lesser impact on human health, either directly or through food. How can we maintain high standards of water quality in the future?

We met Beatrice Cantoni, a young researcher who has already won several awards and individual funding to develop research on these topics. At the moment, she is focusing on what happens to contaminants that emerge along the water cycle. On the one hand, to develop a procedure for assessing the quantitative chemical risk of the impact of these pollutants on human health and the environment; on the other hand, to investigate different technologies to reduce these risks in both drinking water and wastewater.

Fosbury architecture, the collective that jumps over the hurdle

The Fosbury Group at Milan Arch Week
The Fosbury Group at Milan Arch Week

Giacomo Ardesio, Alessandro Bonizzoni, Nicola Campri, Veronica Caprino and Claudia Mainardi are Politecnico di Milano alumni who founded the Fosbury group in 2013. In 10 years of work, they have experimented in very different fields, including exhibition design and curatorship, installations, education, research and publishing projects. A wide variety of projects that, however, all feature the same spirit of unconventional experimentation, attentive to the limits and opportunities of the context.

The group was commissioned to design “Spaziale”, the Italy Pavilion for the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale, currently installed at the Tese delle Vergini in the Arsenale until 26 November. We interviewed the Fosbury group just before the inaugural lecture they gave a few days ago at Milan Arch Week on our Architecture Patio.

#ilPOLIMIrisponde: What is ChatGPT and what are the risks?

Chat GPT is a chatbot created using the latest Generative Artificial Intelligence technology. It is a system that generates answers to questions, as opposed to a search engine that looks for answers available on the web. It is based on an extremely powerful language model with hundreds of billions of parameters, which has been trained by reading all the high-quality content that can be found in books and on the web. It is then transformed into a chatbot, training it further on a large number of conversations with real people.

But what are the risks of this technology? Mark Carman, our professor of Artificial Intelligence for Security, explains.

Camillo Boito

Camillo Boito: modernity and history

For Politecnico di Milano, he is certainly one of our founding fathers, entrusted with representing the roots of the Milanese and Lombardy traditions, which today we carry with pride in exchanges with our international dimension. Camillo Boito established out School of Architecture, which he directed for a good forty years, carrying it into the early twentieth century.

We offer a portrait of a truly modern man, who marked history with the reasons for the renewal of architecture. An intellectual driven by the desire for contamination between academic art and technology, who successfully laid the foundations for the new professional figure of the modern architect.