That was so cool ! Thank you all... students, teachers and colleagues!!
Science A Level (1997-2002) ; University of Rome, Mechanical Engineering (2002-2008) ; University of Rome, Physics (2008-2011) , University of Lyon, Physics (2009-2011)
BSc and MSc in Mechcanical Engineering, PhD in Physics and in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics
Since 2011, I have been working as a research associate at the Department of Chemisty of Imperial College London.
Research associate at the Department of Chemistry of Imperial College London
Imperial College London
Favourite thing to do in my job: Learning something new every day.
I use lasers to trap, move and deform objects – this is not scify, this is light science!!
I have studied in Italy and France and I am now a researcher at Imperial College London, where I work in collaboration with Durham University and the Central Laser Facility in Harwell, Oxford.
In my research, I use lasers to trap, move and deform very small objects, such as glass/plastic beads or liquid drops.
Objects trapped by light
Laser is an amazing tool for scientists as it allows us to do many things. For instance, if we point a laser against a tiny little particle, we can trap that particle and move it around as we like. For that to happen, the particle has to be very small, something like 20 times smaller than a human hair. Such a laser technique is called “optical tweezers”. To see “Optical Tweezers” in action, check this video where glass beads are handled within a water environment to reproduce a living version of the famous Tetris game.
Objects deformed by light
In my current research project, I work with optical tweezers to study the behaviour of oil droplets in water. Oil drops are like rigid spheres, which keep their spherical shape even when trapped by laser. By adding some chemicals, oil drops can turn very soft so that we can use a laser to deform them and change their shape.
This picture shows how laser traps can be used to deform a spherical oil drop into an ellipse, a triangular and a square-shaped drop . If we add some other chemicals into the drop and we expose it to another light source (called UV light), we can turn the soft liquid drop into a solid rigid particle. Such a technique allows us to produce very small solid particles with very complex shapes. Those complex shape particles are very precious in science and industry. Indeed, even though they are very difficult to make, they have several applications in biotechnology, nanotechnology, electronics, material science, cosmetic industry and many more!
Droplet network created by light
Optical traps can also be used to deform soft drops to the point they break up into two drops. However, the resulting two drops are not completely separated but they are still connected via tiny “invisible” threads. We can therefore use optical traps to split one drops in many more and thus create a network of drops and threads. Laser can also be used to pump liquid from one drop to the other.
This figure shows how three small drops are generated by pinching off the end of one single drop (Step 1 and 2) and how the liquid from the central drop is pumped into the lateral drops (Step 3 and 4). The threads connecting the central drop to the lateral ones are so small that cannot be seen. An exciting application for those drop networks is to use them as miniaturized chemical laboratories. For instance, we can pump liquid A from one drop and liquid B from another drop and let a chemical reaction A+B happen within a third drop.
Remember, all those operations are done without actually touching any drops at all but just using light, isn’t it amazing?
My Typical Day
Such a thing like a “typical day” simply does not exist – that’s why I love my job!
The only typical thing during my working days is a cup of coffee – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Apart from that, every day is usually different from the previous one and the one next.
Sometimes I can spend the whole day in the lab, either performing experiments or building/improving the tools I need to run my experiments. Some other days, I am in my office in front of my computer, analysing experimental data, carrying out computer simulations, writing reports/presentations/papers or reading scientific literature to keep myself up-to-date about the latest in my research field. I have also meetings with my colleagues to discuss the development of our research and I attend lectures and training courses to extend my knowledge and develop new skills.
What I'd do with the prize money
I will donate Light BLOX kits to your schools in order to promote the education on light science and inspire the new generations of scientists.
2015 is the International Year of Light and the Optical Society Foundation is celebrating it by organising the Light BLOX challenge. Light BLOX is an education kit containing a range of activities and materials to introduce students to the basic principles of light. Each kit includes:
A set of 3 high tech LED light sources – Red, Green and Blue
A set of 3 frosted lenses
A diffraction grating
2 acrylic mirrors
an activity guide with engaging light experimets
If I get the money, I will buy those kits and deliver them to your schools.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
curious, enthusiastic, optimistic
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
There is not just one thing in particular. Any time I manage to make an experiment work (especially those experiments I have been working for months), I feel in that moment that is the best thing I have ever done as a scientist. Eureka!!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
To be honest with you, it was an American TV series transmitted in the 90s’, called “The Flash”. The main character was a policeman working in the forensic services. The idea to use science to solve crimes was so fascinating, that I wanted to be a scientist too.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Let’s put this way. During primary and secondary schools, I did not like to study very much and my school performances were not great. During high school, I changed my mind. I understood that doing well at school is not for genius people only, but even someone like me, who never excelled before, could achieve outstanding results through hard work and self-confidence.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Very likely a mechanical engineer but I wish I could have been a rock star.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Led Zeppelin. I know, a bit old, but everlasting…
What's your favourite food?
Pizza. Come on, I am Italian ;)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Travel around Europe with my mates after my A level exam.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) Keep always doing this job. I love to be a scientist. 2) Make my next experiment work. 3) Make young students like you be interested and excited about science
Tell us a joke.
If an experiment works straight away, something has definitely gone seriously wrong.