Technology and knowledge connecting university and business
Issue 18 | Year 8 | MARCH 2018

Aquafil's head office, Arco. Photo from the Photograph Collection of Aquafil



A PhD project on synthetic fibres leads to a collaboration between the University and Aquafil

Versione stampabile
Simona Sorrentino
works in the Scientific Research and Technology Transfer Division of the University of Trento.
Maddalena Bertolla, doctoral student in the Department of Physics, talks about her experience at Aquafil: think of a solution and immediately test it on the production line.

Simona Sorrentino interviews Maddalena Bertolla

Aquafil, a multinational in Trentino that has recently listed on the stock exchange, is one of the biggest producers of synthetic fibres both in Italy and globally. The company has worked with the University of Trento on research projects for several years, for example financing PhD reasearch projects. Currently Aquafil is funding a grant for Maddalena Bertolla, a doctoral student in theĀ Department of Physics.

Maddalena, how did the collaboration with Aquafil begin?
In 2014 Aquafil participated in the first edition of IPSP (Industrial Problem Solving with Physics). IPSP is an event in which young physicists (students, PhD students and researchers) work on resolving industrial problems. This helped Aquafil to see how a physicist can contribute to innovation in the manufacturing process by bringing a perspective that is different to the usual company approach and that is focused on gaining an in-depth understanding of a phenomenon.

What is the topic of the research undertaken with the company, and what are its aims?
One of the steps in the production of fibres for woven textiles is the interlacing step, in which points of cohesion are created in the yarn by applying a jet of compressed air to it. Even though this mechanism is widely used in the textile industry, its dynamics are not yet understood. Aquafil is interested in understanding the interlacing process, with the dual aims of finding a technique that allows them to count the points of cohesion in real time as they are introduced into the yarn, and of reducing the consumption of compressed air.

What are the benefits, and the problems, of having academic PhD studies funded by a company?
It has given me an understanding of how my skills can be moulded to the needs of the development of the company. An industrial doctorate is not only about education to develop your understanding of the physics of a phenomenon, but also about making this knowledge usable. So you have to keep in mind the constraints imposed by the industrial application.
As this is a new project for the Department of Physics, I encountered some initial difficulties in understanding the topic, in order to then be able to determine the best approach to develop. Establishing a good working relationship between the university, the company and me was essential to be able to have scientifically constructive discussion.

Has this experience given you an idea of what you would like to do in your career?
I have enjoyed being able to think of a solution and immediately test it on the production line. So I would like to continue to do applied research aimed at industrial and technological innovation.