At WebValley research is in the hands of young people
WebValley, the Bruno Kessler Foundation’s international data science camp aimed at students who have just finished the fourth grade, kicked off on July 19. This year the theme is air quality. Twenty young people from all over the world are working in the classrooms of the Artigianelli Institute in Trento on the analysis of air quality data in Trentino.
by Marianna Malpaga
A team of young “aspiring researchers” is working these days at the Artigianelli in Trento for the 22nd edition of WebValley, a project of the Bruno Kessler Foundation that this year has air quality as its theme.
The residential camp, which began on July 19, will conclude at the end of this week with a give-back event that will take place in FBK’s Great Hall on Via Santa Croce on Friday, August 5 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
There are 20 fourth graders involved, including from outside Italy: there is an Israeli, a Brazilian, an Australian, a Norwegian and two from the United States.
“Every year at WebValley we propose an applied research project,” explains Claudia Dolci, director of the project along with Giuseppe Jurman. “The first week we start with theoretical and practical lessons in which we give the students the tools to tackle the research project, on which they start working from the second week.”
WebValley began in 2001 as a project of a Bruno Kessler Foundation group, on the intuition of Cesare Furlanello, then head of the Predictive Models for Biomedicine and the Environment Unit. “Initially the school was intended only for students from Trentino,” Dolci continues. “We have also opened to Italian students since 2009, while since 2011 it has become an international school thanks to the collaboration with ISEF, the largest international scientific competition for non-university students.”
The working team reassembles a research team. The watchword, then, is interdisciplinarity. “We select young people based on their interest in the subject matter,” explains WebValley’s director, “and based on their skills. Of course, we need boys and girls who are skilled in computer science, but people who are interested in science without necessarily being skilled programmers can also join the team. A very important skill is also one in communication.”
The topic of air quality is a line of research that the Bruno Kessler Foundation takes great care of. “For several years the foundation has been proposing annual projects on the DomoSens model, a School-Work educational model, where we try to foster collaboration between institutions of different addresses and the meeting of students with researchers and professionals from different disciplines. With these projects, we talked to students about sensor technology applied in different contexts, from the home environment, to mountain huts and finally the topic of air quality in the city.”
The 2022 edition of WebValley, carries on the baton in schools, focusing more on the topic of analyzing the data collected.
The young people were divided into 3 research groups that will answer 3 different questions. The first group has been given the task of analyzing historical data collected by the Provincial Environmental Protection Agency’s (APPA) monitoring stations, while the second and third groups work respectively on data collected by the new low-cost sensors made by FBK and on developing a dashboard for data visualization. “At the end of the three weeks, the boys and girls will present their results,” Dolci says; “it’s a nice ‘boost’ of energy for us because it gives acceleration to research that during the year is carried out by only a few people. Some of these guys then stay connected to the foundation, because maybe in two, or three years they will come to study in Povo. Two of the 10 mentors this year are alumni of the school.”
Among the 20 young people participating in WebValley, we collected the testimonies of Valeria Aquilano (Rome), Samuele Facenda (Trento), and Ligia Carvalho (Brazil).
“I need to understand what I want to do in the future,” explains Valeria, who is working on her third research project, to create a dashboard that makes it clear at first glance what the evolution of gases and pollutants in the atmosphere is. “I feel the need to get a taste of the working world because in school we don’t have these kinds of projects,” she adds. “In my future, I hope to be able to study environmental engineering, but I am also very interested in the representation of situations through algorithms and equations. In this camp, I found a perfect synthesis between these two interests.”
Samuele attends the Buonarroti Institute, studies computer science and, as he tells it, “I heard about the project at school, because every year there is someone who comes to WebValley.” he is working on the second “challenge,” which deals with FBK’s next-generation sensors for air quality monitoring.
Ligia is from São Paulo, Brazil, where she studies software development, and discovered WebValley through a fair, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. “This camp,” she says, “is perfect for what I study, and for me it’s a great opportunity: normally going to study abroad, for Brazilian people, is really expensive.
The boys and girls participating in WebValley also visited FBK’s clean room. “This is a very clean environment where microelectronics components are developed,” explains Andrea Gaiardo, researcher at FBK’s MNF (Micro Nano Facility) unit. “The sensors that the guys in the second group are working on are developed right in the Foundation’s clean rooms. They are innovative, miniaturized, low-cost devices that can be used to monitor air pollutants. Currently, environmental protection agencies use complex instruments, based on different chemical and physical principles, to provide certified data to administrations. However, these instruments have the disadvantage of being very expensive and very bulky. Therefore, the European Union has called for the development of new ones, which are cheaper and smaller, so that more monitoring points can be increased and more air quality data can be collected. These data turn out to be crucial both for administrations, to better understand the sources of emissions of these pollutants and thus make the necessary decisions to try to counter their development, and for researchers, who can then better understand how these pollutants move and travel through the atmosphere. As FBK, we tried to develop a technology that would meet this need, and now we are testing it to try to improve it with the help of these guys as well.”