Developing a research career

Developing a research career 06/03/2009
Simone Rossi

Simone Rossi benefits from European Social Fund grant for research on solar energy and lands permanent job.

For as long as he can remember, all things mechanical have fascinated Simone Rossi. “As a child I was always interested in cars, planes and technical things,” says the 30-year-old from Montecastello di Vibio, a medieval town perched on one of the rolling hills of the Umbria region of Italy.

“I wanted to find out more about how machines really work,” he continues. After finishing high school, Simone chose to study mechanical engineering at the nearby University of Perugia, and his interest grew even deeper. “I didn’t just study to pass the exams. I really wanted to know how things worked in depth,” he says. “I began to see how maths, physics and chemistry were the basis of everything and wanted to learn more about them.”

Planning for a career you like

When he graduated in 2005, he knew that he wanted to make a career in a related field. However, he found it difficult to find a suitable job. He was unemployed for a period; then did some work for an insurance company and took some other administrative positions in business.

“I knew I didn’t want to do those jobs in the long term. But it’s difficult to find engineering jobs, especially in this region,” he says. “Engineers are in demand, but not to do engineering.”

Help came through a research grant scheme co-funded by his local region and the European Union’s Social Fund. The programme gives unemployed researchers grants to work on projects in businesses or research centres, gaining experience and improving their job prospects. The companies or other organisations involved benefit from research that they may not be able to justify commercially, and are given incentives to hire researchers at the end of the grant period.

For Simone, the scheme was crucial to his gaining a permanent job, as it enabled him to do an 18-month placement at the company where he now works full-time – the technology and innovation manufacturer Angelantoni, which is based in the region.

“The scheme was really important for me because it helped me to continue researching, patent the product, experience life on the job and increase my employment possibilities,” he says.

Research grant

“I found out about the grant by accident,” he says. “I saw an advert looking for researchers but at first I thought it wasn’t for me. I thought the grants were for people already working at universities or research centres,” he adds. “But I had nothing to lose, so I applied.”

Simone was chosen out of many applicants and awarded the grant. It enabled him to have the research placement at the company, looking into the potential for a new type of small-scale “concentrated photovoltaic” system to harness the power from the sun to generate energy.

“When I started the research I didn’t know much about photovoltaics,“ he says, “but it’s a very exciting field, especially at the moment with the growing interest in renewable energies.”

The development of photovoltaic systems started in the 1980s in the United States. “But here in Italy, no one knew very much about them,” says Simone. “We were pretty much starting from scratch.”

Working with other Italian research institutes and universities, he successfully developed an application with lower costs and increased efficiency compared to traditional solar photovoltaic processes.

The system concentrates energy from the sun using a lens and then splits the rays into different frequency ranges. “The main advantage is that it has a much lower temperature than similar solutions. The cells don’t overheat and that makes it much more efficient,” he explains.

The company has patented the invention and in autumn 2008 Simone was offered a permanent position to continue his work.

“When I first started it was a bit like I game. I was finding out about a new field and investigating things,” he says. “When the application was patented what I had achieved hit home. I was very proud.”

He warns that it is still “very early days” and that it may take several years before a finished product reaches the market. “However, I really want to see it through to completion now. It’s great being at the forefront of something like this.”