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Message from the Head of the Department

At the end of my first year as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, I take with me the framed picture of a united, dynamic community steadily growing. Accordingly, it is about time for an initial assessment of our progress and plans for 2024.

Concerning the numerous projects linked to the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), our activities have tangibly and efficiently progressed with investments exceeding 3 million Euros in new infrastructure and lab equipment, enabling us to maintain a robust and cutting-edge role in research in the coming years. Self-financing has grown since 2022, notably through a significant portion of research funded under the Horizon Europe programme (4M€) and from other institutional funders (2M€). Commissioned research (6M€) remains pivotal, underlining the appreciation of our industrial stakeholders for our research activities and fostering strong ties with the industrial sector, which is vital for our industrially-focused Department.

Our Faculty witnessed significant growth throughout the year, with Assistant Professors increasing from 16 to 33. This influx of new talent and energy contributes to advancing our research, aligning with our commitment to support and enhance our faculty members' professional and personal development in a rapidly evolving research environment. In that direction, we will continue taking action by funding outgoing mobility for researchers (6 researchers joined this programme in 2023, and we hope for the same in 2024) and the Departmental Talent Development programme, closely linked to the University initiative to build high-profile CVs.

In 2024, we are set to launch a training project for start-up ventures with input from the Advisory Board of the Department. Recognizing that our research can lead to entrepreneurial initiatives, we feel it is our duty to support this transition from research to entrepreneurship at both levels (Department and University).

In the spirit of regeneration and community growth, I would like to highlight the significant decision taken by our Rector last year to allocate part of the available resources for teaching staff growth and to recruit new Tenure Track Researchers (RTT). This foresighted and necessary choice, strongly supported by our Department, aims to attract and retain young, educated, and motivated teaching staff.

Our PhD programme brings us closer to the strategic goal of 2.5 PhD students per faculty member, with an increase from 249 at the end of 2022 to 283 at the end of 2023, thanks to several corporate funding. Within this community, we count 83 international profiles, pointing out the inclusive and multicultural nature of the programme. This growth trend now requires a tangible change in approach by supervisors, who must be able to train more PhD students in widened and culturally diverse research groups – a richness to seize and manage to increase our attractiveness and engage the younger part of our community.

Space remains a significant challenge, especially given the growth in personnel and investments in infrastructure. In 2024, we will complete the expansion of our main building, B23, adding an extra floor. Simultaneously, we plan to re-organise some internal spaces to better respond to the needs of a larger, more flexible, yet demanding community. Next year will mark the starting point for turning the stretch of Via La Masa between the two department buildings into a car-free area. Through this project, simultaneously with the working environment renovation, we hope to stress our complete commitment to reduce architectural barriers and ensure the concrete and full accessibility of the Departmental areas.

In conclusion, but certainly not less important, after careful analysis, despite being a particularly significant challenge, I am happy to share that our structure reached and passed the yearly energy-saving objectives. This Department will continue to invest, along with the University, to further improve on this front: the pumping station of the hydraulic system in our CLASD laboratories will be completely renovated, leading to additional energy savings, in addition to the advantages that the ongoing installation of photovoltaic systems on the roofs of our buildings will bring.

In these last few lines, let me to share a more personal evaluation of the first 12 months as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. It has been an exciting - sometimes overwhelming - challenge, especially in the first semester of the year, where my colleagues’ support and advice have been precious as well as essential to help me find 'my' way as the leader of this Department. I am confident that we will continue with optimism and energy as I renew my solid commitment to continue running this mandate.