Of knowledge, light bulbs and levers
Institutional Communication Service
In his introduction to an exhibition by Max Ernst, the poet André Breton speaks of that "marvellous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition." For good or ill, the university world is often called upon to debunk the myth of the 'ivory tower' in which academics are thought to reside and is increasingly asked to "introduce themselves" to the economic and social fabric. We propose a reflection on this issue by our Pro-Rector for Innovation and Corporate Relations, Prof. Luca Maria Gambardella, thus continuing our journey through USI's workshop of knowledge on the 25th anniversary of the University.
Google image searches related to the word "innovation" reveal that one of the most frequent results is the light bulb. Whether it is a representation that best expresses the concept of innovation or not, we usually associate this image with the ideas that "light up" inside us, perhaps forgetting that a light bulb is first and foremost a tool used to illuminate what surrounds us. Moreover, when we talk about innovation, like knowledge, this aspect is crucial.
The fascinating challenge as Pro-Rector for Innovation and Corporate Relations is fostering the transfer of the results generated by scientific research, also obtained thanks to 20 million CHF of competitive funds per year, outside the academic world, towards the economic and social fabric. Through new products, services and solutions, the community can benefit from the "light" that we try to turn on by developing knowledge.
Innovation and relationships: the transfer in question involves promoting dialogue and building bridges. First of all, within the University itself by organising and giving a systematic approach to the various initiatives and individual results in the field of the "application" of research, and increasing the sensitivity of the academic community towards innovation, the creation of start-ups, the generation of patents, and the practical effects of scientific activity. Nevertheless, even more so, it is a question of weaving a network of opportunities in the name of openness towards the industry. From experience, I have observed that the industry's needs and concrete problems are often a good starting point for scientific investigation and trigger a reciprocal fruitful interaction between the industry and research.
However, this exchange cannot and must not be limited to the financial world. The juxtaposition that generates the spark, to recall Breton's words, has a greater impact on creativity and innovation when it facilitates the encounter and intersection of a multiplicity of perspectives, increasingly bringing science into contact with art, culture and civil society, thus pursuing the plurality that by nature characterises knowledge itself.
It is a question of creating ecosystems of knowledge and innovation. As we have done with the USI Startup Centre, our incubator for start-ups located on the Lugano East Campus, together with the Faculty of Informatics and the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences of USI, the Department of Innovative Technologies of SUPSI and the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence Studies (IDSIA), a joint USI-SUPSI institute, to encourage exchange between young entrepreneurs, professors and researchers. The same will be achieved with the Atelier dei venti - in collaboration with Lugano Living Lab, Ated-ICT Ticino and Impact Hub Ticino -, an intergenerational and multidisciplinary space designed to stimulate ideas for growth and development for the city through the "vortex" created by the "winds" of science, art, culture and digital awareness.
That is what we mean by "facciamo conoscenza" (let's get to know each other), one of the main threads of USI's 25th anniversary. "Let's get to know each other", as in the desire to establish connections between the University and the region under reciprocal and fruitful osmosis. "Facciamo conoscenza" in Italian can also mean "to produce knowledge", contributing to its progress, mainly through scientific research. Finally, to produce knowledge includes what to do through knowledge, that is, contributing to the economic, social and cultural growth of the community through the sharing and transfer of expertise. Archimedes, an iconic character of knowledge and its production, is known to have said, "give me a lever, and I shall move the world": we produce knowledge not only for the satisfaction of knowing how things work but also - if not above all - to move them.
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