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Engineering Partnership Thrives Between ODU and Italy’s University of Padova

A prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for Old Dominion University biofuels researcher Sandeep Kumar has helped power a five-year partnership with one of Italy's top research universities.

Kumar earned an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award in recognition of his groundbreaking work in algae-based biofuels. That grant allowed Kumar to pursue research collaborations through the European Research Council grants with researchers doing comparable work across the Atlantic.

The result has been a robust partnership between Old Dominion University's Batten College of Engineering and Technology and Italy's University of Padova, which was established in 1222. Galileo Galilei held the chair of mathematics at the university between 1592 and 1610

"The NSF supplement award under this program in 2014 helped me establish the strong transatlantic cooperation in the field of algae and biomass to biofuels and bioproducts research," said Kumar, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

"As a result, we have several peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations and mutual exchange visits of students and faculty members over the last five years."

Kumar first visited the University of Padova in the fall of 2015, beginning collaboration on research projects. That led to the signing of a university-wide memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Old Dominion University and the University of Padova.

Kumar returned to Italy in 2017, accompanied by his chair Ben Stuart, now interim dean of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology. They discussed adding to the MOU to provide mutual student and faculty exchanges between Norfolk and Padova - a city of 215,000 near Venice in northeast Italy. That expanded MOU was signed in early 2018.

"The Batten College of Engineering and Technology is excited to produce globally aware and engaged engineers and technologists," Stuart said. "From programs such as our recent study-abroad trip to Germany, to research partnerships with institutions such as one with the University of Padova, Italy, our students get to network in international settings as our partners are getting to know ODU."

Alberto Bertucco, a faculty member at the University of Padova, visited ODU's campus in 2015 and 2018. Then-Ph.D. student Elena Barbera spent six months at Old Dominion University in 2016. The visits have continued. Engineering graduate student Martino Bertosin is at ODU until September to work on his master's thesis. Another rising faculty member, Eleonora Sforza, has just concluded a 10-day visit.

At ODU's Biomass Research Laboratory, Kumar, his colleagues and student researchers pursue breakthroughs in development, refinement and efficiency of fuel produced from biological material, known as biomass. He is also a founding member of ODU's Energy Cluster, a research group in the Batten College which brings together faculty expertise across engineering disciplines to conduct research, build undergraduate and graduate-level curriculum and promote its work and facilities to the broader community.

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