23. June 2021

Graphene and chicken poop started off an adventure and new scientific career for Mario Urso and Martina Ussia. They read this famous article by Martin Pumera and decided to apply for positions at CEITEC BUT. Luckily they both got into Martin Pumera’s research group, moved to the Czech Republic during lockdown and on the way here managed to get married. Over the year they have participated in many successful projects and they consider applying to CEITEC to be a good decision they haven’t regretted. 

Martina Ussia is a chemist and chemical engineer, Mario Urso is a physicist. And they both managed to secure a place in Martin Pumera’s group “Future Energy and Innovation”. “We work on micro and nanorobots. They are tiny machines able to autonomously move in liquid media under specific stimuli. We apply these nano and microrobots in different areas ranging from biomedical applications to environmental ones,” describes Martina Ussia. 

She mostly focuses on preparation and modification of these materials to induce motion under light irradiation and also to optimize their properties depending on type of application, such as bacterial biofilm eradication from surfaces. On the other hand Mario Urso designs these robots so that their motion is controlled by light and magnetic fields, and perform specific tasks such as the degradation of plastic waste in water. “Although we come from different backgrounds, we have a complimentary knowledge and we mix our competencies to achieve better results. We even worked together on the two most recent projects,” says Mario Urso. 

When asked what brought this Italian couple to CEITEC BUT, they laugh because it is not a very traditional story. “Last year in February I read this famous paper by professor Pumera about graphene and chicken poop. After I read it I thought to myself that I would like to join his exciting group. I reached out and Martin Pumera introduced me to CEITEC. I realized there are many expert garants, great machines and development possibilities. Based on that I decided to apply and was hired,” describes his journey to CEITEC Mario Urso.

Martina Ussia admits that seeing what Future Energy and Innovation lab and CEITEC Nano offer she got a bit jealous. “I told Mario that I also want to work with Martin Pumera and have this fantastic equipment and facilities. So, I started thinking about applying myself and finally decided to apply too. I got accepted and in less than one month we were moving to the Czech Republic,” says Martina Ussia.

However, their journey turned out to be an adventurous one as they arrived in Brno in June last year with all different coronavirus restrictions going on and all flights cancelled. “We travelled by car and it was a very long ride going through the different countries,” recollects the couple. Since they were allowed to travel and be accommodated only with a family member, the couple decided to get married and arrived here already as newlyweds. “We were planning to get married at the end of 2020 anyway and to make the travel and administration easier we decided to do a civil ceremony and celebrate in the church with our families later when the situation allows us to do so,” agree both. 

They now celebrate one year being at CEITEC and both agreed that they don’t regret making that decision. They also plan to stay for longer which is possible thanks to Mario receiving the Marie Curie grant. “It means that I can stay at least two more years which I am really happy about,” claims Mario Urso. As his wife Martina has a contract at least for another two years, they can both carry on with their work here. 

What they like about Martin Pumera’s group at CEITEC and why they would like to continue in projects here, besides the equipment, is also its tight cooperation with universities and companies. “Here it works faster compared to Italy. To translate an idea into something more complex and to complete it takes less time. Also, we just had a collaboration with Mendel University and we are now starting a collaboration with Masaryk University,” explains Mario Urso and Martina Ussia adds that they also enjoy the openness of CEITEC facilities. “What we miss in Italy are facilities where everyone meets and collaborates together from PhD students and senior researchers to external users,” agree the scientists who also enjoy the international group they work in and already look forward to all the ambitious projects and collaborations planned for this year.

Author: Zuzana Hübnerová

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