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Technology and Science

ICTP launches Science, Technology and Innovation Unit

Attendees of an ICTP Workshop on Internet of Things, Benin
Attendees of an ICTP Workshop on Internet of Things, Benin


ICTP has always been a leader in bridging the knowledge divide between advantaged and disadvantaged countries. While its flagship activities revolve around theoretical physics  and mathematics, the Center has, over the years, nurtured an applied physics community with training and research in such areas as the Internet of Things, advanced scientific instrumentation and space weather.

These applied physics activities will now be consolidated under a unit dedicated to Science, Technology and Innovation. The new unit addresses critical needs of the ICTP scientific community, such as fast and reliable connectivity and support in the development of advanced instrumentation. These areas are at the boundary between the core research fields of ICTP and more applied fields of research. They encompass activities for which the demand in developing countries is enormous and growing.

"The innovation aspect of this new ICTP unit is useful because we have to find new solutions to problems," says Marco Zennaro, ICTP researcher and STI coordinator. "The problems that many developing countries are facing cannot be solved by existing solutions; we have to find special solutions that work in their specific environment."

Zennaro points out the important role that open and affordable technological solutions play in helping scientists carry out their research, including using the internet to communicate with their peers.

"Technology has the potential to amplify human knowledge and thinking. Over the years I have seen many cases where students who have gained access to technology come up with really brilliant ideas. I think they should get the same opportunity as we get in the developed world," he says.

ICTP's new STI unit consolidates activities and areas of research that had been under the umbrella of ICTP's Applied Physics section. This includes wireless ICT, Internet of Things, advanced scientific instrumentation, ionospheric modelling, space weather, additive manufacturing, science dissemination, cultural heritage, and optics.

The STI unit will focus on three core components: research activities using relevant technological solutions, a training programme in and for developing countries, and the creation of networks of scientists working on STI in developing countries. The three components will have 'Open Science' as the underlying theme, as this new paradigm has the potential to overcome the isolation that still impacts many scientists, including the lack of opportunities and interactions in a digital world.

STI's research and training programmes will include the visits of post-docs, scientists in ICTP's Associates scheme, Training and Research in Italian Labs (TRIL) fellows, and joint PhD and Sandwich Training and Education Programme (STEP) students who will be invited to spend time in STI laboratories, including the Marconi Wireless Lab, the Multidisciplinary Lab, and the Scientific FabLab.

Zennaro stresses that ICTP should not be seen as a technology provider; rather, the Centre should keep the focus on exploring the science behind the technology and then sharing that knowledge with others.

"ICTP doesn't sell technology as a solution, it carries out research and teaches how it works, so people can make decisions about the technology they want to use in their home countries," Zennaro explains, adding, "It is in line with what Abdus Salam said about technology, that it shouldn't be just used in developing countries without the knowledge; people need to have the knowledge to understand what is behind the technology that they are using."