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Alessandro Sannino

Reference model

"You need the courage, at every crossroad,
to turn on the motor and initiate the climb."

Not only is he young. Not only was he born and educated in the South. Not only has he become a major name in the field of materials research because he invented hydrogel, a completely biodegradable and biocompatible substance that is finding surprising applications in numerous fields (just a gram is needed to absorb a liter of liquid!) Not only did he decide to stay in Italy after achieving scientific notoriety. But, he has also thrown his full weight behind a new, efficient and direct, reference model that entices the new generations to study, research and embark on ventures.


Alessandro Sannino was born in Bari in 1972. In 1996 he earned his degree in chemical engineering from the University of Naples and in 2000 he was awarded his PhD in materials engineering from universities in Naples and Seattle. Following this he worked for Bain, Cuneo e Associati, a multinational firm providing strategic consulting. He is currently a researcher in the Engineering and Innovation Department at the University of Lecce, where he teaches a course on polymer and non-metallic materials, and at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, where he coordinates neuropathology research. He is a Visiting Scientist at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (USA). He is a founding member of Accademica Lifescience, a spin off from the Federico II University of Naples, the University of Lecce and the National Research Council, born thanks to venture capital from Quantica and State Street Global Investments. His main field of research is polymers, biomaterials and biodegradable plastics, areas in which he coordinates and participates in some major research projects and for which he has received a total of €25 million in public and private funding. His name is tied to a new generation of hydrogels, super absorbent materials that can absorb up to a thousand times their weight. Hydrogels are used in numerous arenas, from purification technologies to the fight against obesity. Indeed, Sannino was behind the idea of using hydrogel as a pill to fight hunger. He is living proof that in materials technology, Italy has both tradition and first-class skills. Moreover, he is often cited as an example of a talented Italian who was able to make it in his own country, without having to head abroad as so many of his colleagues have done. Nonetheless, Sannino writes critically, comparing the opportunities for youths in Italy and in the USA: "The heroes of those children and that society do not simply include sports champions, cinema stars and TV personalities. There are also the founders of Google, of Genzyme and many other stories of success and, of course, of wealth and wellbeing that began with investing in research and innovation." Sannino has penned over 40 articles in international scientific journals and holds 6 international and 8 Italian patents. He has been awarded 2 international and 6 Italian prizes.

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