In pursuit of knowledge

Institutional Communication Service

"We want, this fire so burns our brain tissue, to drown in the abyss—heaven or hell, who cares? Through the unknown, we'll find the new." With these verses by Charles Baudelaire (Le Voyage), we resume our journey through USI's knowledge lab on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the University, hosting a contribution on the subject of scientific research - at USI and more generally - signed by our Pro-Rector for Research, Prof. Patrick Gagliardini.

The 25th anniversary of USI Università della Svizzera italiana is a precious chance to ponder over knowledge - the fundamental "substance" around which revolves everything that is done within a university. Knowledge is the discovery and sharing of wisdom. We want to explore this matter from the perspective of research, which allows us to move forward the line representing what is known, with positive implications for teaching and the transfer of knowledge to the community. 

Research conducted at USI adds to knowledge in multiple areas. In our 2021-24 planning, we proposed a "bird's eye" view of the scientific research performed at USI. We attempted to summarise it in abstract terms by resorting to three macro-areas: Human Being, Culture and Society, Machine Development and its Impact. Our academic research concerns the human being's primary needs: preserving health and care, settling and living in a sustainable environment, having the means to ensure one's well-being, caring for the intellect. Our research touches the issues of society and culture by studying the relationships between individual needs within a community of people who live according to rules and who communicate with each other, and by opening up to a historical and humanistic perspective. Moreover, the disciplines in which we conduct research at USI deal with the machine as a system capable of performing operations instructed by human beings and as a critical investigation of the relationship between man and machine - especially in the field of artificial intelligence. The richness of this landscape is surprising, considering USI'size.

We often consider USI as a "research-intensive" university. What lies behind this statement? Beyond the various indicators that can more or less confirm this statement, the fact is that USI has been able to achieve quality research results that are way beyond what would be expected from a 25-year-old university shy of just 3500 students. USI researchers have been awarded some of the most prestigious scientific awards internationally - including 22 ERC projects. A number of USI institutes are recognised internationally among the most prominent in their field. In a recent study, 21 USI researchers were ranked in the top 2% worldwide. It must be our common goal to maintain this "research intensity", which implies a significant financial effort made possible by the strong ability to attract competitive funding (the peak in the history of USI was reached in 2020 with about 26 million CHF). Still, it also implies an effort in allocating adequate internal resources and employing them effectively. Bolstering the structuring through the creation of Institutes is also key to reach this goal.

All of this is driven by the simplest and most natural "spark": the yearning for knowledge. In the end, scientific research is nothing more than this, as we said at the beginning: "producing" knowledge and sharing it, experimenting with new ideas, exploring new horizons with a critical spirit, travelling along unexplored paths and launching into the unknown, fortified by our doubts and uncertainties, like Dante at the gates of Inferno (and Paradiso).


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