Dr Antonio Tricoli is a Research Fellow in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at The Australian National University.
Nanotechnology is a multi-disciplinary field where the most heterogeneous combination of scientists meet, steadily providing new inputs for ground-breaking discoveries.
‘There is indeed plenty of room at the bottom (also for new ideas) and Nanotechnology is the key to access it‘, says Antonio
Nanostructures - broadly defined as materials in the range of 1 to 100 nanometres — can allow direct manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular level in a scalable and accessible way that is of practical relevance to everyday needs
Antonio received his Master in Mechanical and Process Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in 2004. He continued his studies at the Particle Technology Laboratory and was awarded the HILTI prize in 2009 for the most innovative PhD thesis in ETH Zurich. Antonio then became a research fellow and lecturer at the Mechanical and Process Engineering Department of ETH Zurich and in 2012 he joined ANU under the Future Engineering Research Leadership Fellowship program. He is currently investigating the self-assembly of tailored, smart nanostructures for application in biotechnology, water treatment, solid-state technology, energy production and storage.
‘The population of the world is growing and ageing, and our current use of natural and human resources is not sustainable. In the coming decades, preserving our quality of life will require drastic changes in key technologies that are in many ways comparable to the industrial revolution. As the steam engine became the driver for an incredible number of technological possibilities, today smart nanomachines may become a catalyst able to trigger a revolution in our approach to material synthesis, energy harvesting and overall interaction with our surroundings.’
Nanotechnology is already being used in many areas. Medical applications of nanotechnology are entering a commercial stage, ‘we are investigating non-invasive methods to detect and monitor illnesses that have the potential to drastically reduce the cost of medical diagnoses and make extremely early-stage diagnosis possible. For example, several gases present in the breath when you have a disease have been successfully identified, and we have recently demonstrated that low-cost nanosensors can analyse the breath with great accuracy. They can detect breath-acetone which can be used to diagnose diabetes. In a similar way, early-stage diagnosis of some cancer types may be possible and will greatly improve the chances of patient recovery.’
‘We are also looking at ways to improve diabetic monitoring. In a not too far future, instead of having to measure blood sugar levels by taking blood samples, someone with diabetes could wear a wristband with a nanotechnology chip in it that would measure the levels directly from their skin.’
‘As the world is facing some major changes, nanotechnology may not be just an ‘option’. However, to ensure a successful and risk-conscious approach to the synthesis and handling of such powerful machines, a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental forces controlling their interaction with the environment is a must — something which my research group strives to achieve.’
Antonio is looking forward to contributing to the development of nanotechnology research in Australia and around the world. ‘When I was in Zurich and choosing where to go to continue my career, Australia seemed to have the best balance of opportunities. Australia is recognising the need to invest in research both for the economy and for future technology needs’
Outside work, moving from Switzerland to ANU has also brought Antonio a bit closer to his second passion — ocean sailing. ‘In the weekends, I would drive six hours through the Alps to reach the Mediterranean coast and spend some time in the waves.’