Research

One of the principal goals of the Suzhou Office is to facilitate joint research that brings together the knowledge and skills of faculty from both Ca’ Foscari University and Soochow University. Working in collaboration, professors and researchers from both institutions have launched the umbrella project entitled “Venice and Suzhou: Two Cities, Three Bridges,” which groups together research efforts in three different study areas.

“Venice and Suzhou: Two Cities, Three Bridges”

Supervised by Prof. Tiziana Lippiello (Ca’ Foscari University) and Zhang Xiaohong 张晓宏 (Soochow University), the project aims to enhance the interconnection of Venice and Suzhou by building three academic “bridges” in three different areas of study: language and culture; water science and technology; and management and business.

These joint research projects are funded by targeted contributions from both partner institutions, and their development will involve faculty and student mobility as well as two workshops each year – one held at Ca’ Foscari University, and the other at Soochow University.


Language and culture

Cultural Heritage along the Silk Roads

This overarching project involves a number of different research initiatives designed to investigate various themes, the first of which will take the form of an exhibition of historical photographs mounted in Venice in May 2018.

This project comprises four sub-projects exploring different aspects of the theme of cultural heritage in relation to the historical Silk Roads.

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Goods and Myths through the Ages along the Maritime Silk Roads

Project Coordinator: Prof. Filippo Lorenzon (University of Southampton), Visiting Professor at Ca’ Foscari

This series of high-level international colloquia organized by Ca’ Foscari University and the University of Southampton aims to look at the Silk Road phenomenon through a multidisciplinary lens and across the ages.

The Silk Road has always been about moving goods from the Far East to the European Continent across political, natural and cultural boundaries. But the flow of trade has always been the opportunity for a cross contamination of cultures, beliefs, usages and tastes. Now, twenty-five centuries on, international trade between countries along and near the old Silk Road is more important than ever.

The colloquia will study the role of this ancient artery in the development of tomorrow’s trade in terms of objects, goods and beliefs by exploring the following themes:

  • The commercial model of trade along the Silk Road: yesterday, today and tomorrow;
  • From flattery to protectionism: the function of copyright through centuries of trade;
  • Law, safety and rewards along the Silk Road: the multicultural complexities of the
  • simple concept of risk in international trade.

The Porcelain Route along the Maritime Silk Road

Project Coordinator: Dr. Sabrina Rastelli (Ca’ Foscari)

Since the Tang dynasty, when trade by sea began in earnest, Chinese ceramics began to be exported in great quantities both westward and eastward. Under the Mongols’ rule, new land routes were opened and the maritime one was intensified, but it was only with the arrival of Portuguese ships at the end of the 15th century that trade became truly global, stretching from Japan to Portugal via Africa and then extending all the way to the Americas. In fact, Chinese porcelain was the first product to have been commercialized globally, and this makes it an ideal topic of exploration in today’s globalized world. This project will study the Chinese porcelain trade route through an in-depth workshop whose fruits will be published. The topics to be explored include: shipwrecks dating from the Tang dynasty to the 19th century discovered along the trade route (from Korea to Vietnam and Indonesia); archaeological excavations in Egypt and Kenya (just to mention a few examples); the influence Chinese ceramics had on the manufactures of the various countries where they were exported; the creations of great collections by members of the European élite; the effect that imported objects had on western house-furnishing; the production of porcelain in Europe one thousand years after China had first made it.

Suzhou Through Italian Eyes: Narratives of Suzhou in 19th- and 20th-Century Italy

Project Coordinators: Prof. Guido Samarani (Ca’ Foscari) and Prof. Laura De Giorgi (Ca’ Foscari)

This project explores the contact between China and Italy from the late 1800s through the twentieth century by focusing on the presence of Italians in the Suzhou area and the representation of Suzhou in Italy and Venice. As an important centre of silk manufacture and trade, Suzhou attracted Italian entrepreneurs and traders from the late 19th century on, and missionaries were also active in the region. Moreover, the city’s fame and its historical connection to Marco Polo made it a popular travel destination for Italian journalists and tourists. In the light of this historical context, this research project has two principle goals:

  1. to gather the primary sources related to Suzhou found in Italian diplomatic, missionary and private archives in order to better understand the history of the Italian presence in the city as well as the role of Suzhou in Sino-Italian and Sino-European interaction in the late-19th and 20th centuries;
  2. to analyze the perceptions and representations of Suzhou in Italian travel literature and the Italian press (including local missionary documents).

The research will focus particularly on the period extending from 1866, when the first commercial treaty involving Italy and China was signed, to 1949, and special attention will be paid to the identification of Italian primary sources relating to the period of the Japanese occupation of Suzhou from 1937 to 1945.

Waterscapes as Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Tourism: The Hydrographic Network in Suzhou

Project Coordinator: Prof. Francesco Vallerani (Ca’ Foscari)

This project aims to support the initiative to create a Global Network of Water Museums, which is designed to spark fresh, new perspectives on water sustainability by connecting past and present water use with future needs. Water Museums present outstanding examples of our water-related heritage by gathering and interpreting artifacts, techniques and oral knowledge passed down from generation to generation.

The study of water systems and their management is an important and rich field of research for a number of reasons. First of all, the control and management of watercourses are some of the human activities that transform the natural environment the most, and we have been carrying them out for millennia. According to Chinese mythology, Yu the Great, Da Yu 大禹, the founder of the first Chinese dynasty, managed to control the floods that had plagued the lands and hindered economic and social development. To achieve this, Yu spent more than nine years building a series of dikes and dams along riverbanks and created a system of irrigation canals to control flooding (大禹治水), thereby transforming the landscape and the human experience of it.

But canals and rivers like the ones Yu managed are important for more than their ability to shape and transform a physical landscape: they are also the linear paths along which unique cultural landscapes develop. An example is the culturally unique lagoon-based city of Venice, where water management has always been a supremely important aspect of the city’s history, for Venice and its surrounding region have one of the most complex hydrographic networks in Europe. As a result, Venice, and by extension Ca’ Foscari University, provides an ideal context for exploring water management phenomena from an academic perspective. The same can be said of Suzhou, which, like Venice, was built in a singular, complex waterscape where natural rivers and lakes interact with a complicated network of artificial canals.

Part of this project will focus on exploring Suzhou’s historic forms of water control and exploitation – such as mills, dams, locks, dykes, bridges, inland harbors – and water representation (cartographic and artistic imagery) in relation to the natural and cultural landscapes that aim at boosting the potential of urban waterways to foster sustainable eco-tourism. Another part of the project will focus on nanomaterials designed to recycle water pollutants. Both projects will be implemented in cooperation with Soochow University (China).

A fruitful comparison with the Venetian urban structure will enable the development of common strategies concerning the enhancement of historic waterways and their related territories as resources for the development of sustainable tourism, thereby offering a response to the growing demand for cultural and environmental protection as well as for enriching recreational experiences. The result of this research will be not only the strengthening of the link between Venice and Suzhou, but also the creation of a testing ground and pilot project for the entire Global Network of Water Museums.


Management and business

“From Blossom to Fruit”

Project Coordinator: Prof. Tiziano Vescovi

This project focuses on the consolidation of start-up enterprises (industrial solutions) that have passed the stages of preparation and evaluation and must now make the leap to becoming solidly established companies. The project targets starts-ups that operate in key sectors in both the Chinese and Italian markets.

The story of a successful start-up can find a happy ending in one of two ways: (a) by selling the company to investors (financial solution); or (b) by transforming itself into a solid business (industrial solution). Most start-up incubators operating internationally have focused principally on the first kind of solution by dedicating their energy to financial aspects such as the preparation of business plans and how to present the idea to potential investors. Few, however, pay as much attention to the second option by attempting to foster the industrial development and implementation phases of a start-up.

“From Blossom to Fruit” aims to fill this gap by studying methods for assisting start-ups that have passed the preparation and evaluation stages but now need to grow in order to become solid companies. The project focuses on start-ups that have an interest in both the Chinese and Italian markets and that operate in sectors that are important in both China and Europe. In the past few years the collaboration between China and Italy has been reinforced not only in terms of industry – Italy ranks 15th among China’s most important global trading partners and fourth among its partners in Europe – but also from a political perspective: the year 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Italy. Recently, the two nations’ partnership has been emphasized by the Belt and Road Initiative, within which Italy can play a key role thanks to its maritime infrastructure in such cities as Genoa, Trieste, and Venice. The last of these, of course, served as the European terminus of the ancient Silk Road, and since it is now one of Italy’s most advanced industrial regions, it is poised to become a major node along the contemporary Silk Road, thereby making it an ideal context for the kid of research the present project involves.

The primary goal of the project is to help start-ups become solid companies by providing the conditions for economically viable and strategically feasible development in the short to medium term. Therefore, the specific objectives of the project are:

  • to support Chinese and Italian start-ups in the industrial execution phase (markets, resources, people), beyond the financial phase of drafting business plans and proposals;
  • to create a virtual industrial park where start-ups can find support and be integrated into a network of existing firms by becoming their customers or suppliers;
  • to establish networked clusters of established companies and start-ups;
  • to design an industrial and entrepreneurial growth and development model focused on internationalization;
  • to promote the development and consolidation of university spin-offs;
  • to develop and implement a low-cost pilot project in Italy and China.

The collaboration between Soochow University and Ca’ Foscari will facilitate:

  • the creation of a support network for start-ups that allows them to collaborate with established companies, both Chinese and Italian;
  • the identification of the industrial development models generated by the project;
  • the development of shared methods for facilitating the internationalization of businesses;
  • the two universities to become the gateways for Chinese companies expanding to Europe and for European companies expanding to China;
  • the establishment of a research group uniting the two universities that will devise and undertake future integrated projects.

The project will last a minimum of two years but will ideally last three. Of the funds provided by Ca’ Foscari and Soochow University, some will be earmarked for research grants and other forms of compensation for researchers as well as for the research team’s travel-related expenses.


Water science and technology

Improving Water Quality with Advanced Materials for the Removal and Recovery of Contaminants in Natural Waters

Project coordinator: Prof. Antonio Marcomini (Ca’ Foscari University)

This collaborative research initiative explores the application of a variety of micro/nanostructured materials suitably functionalized for the removal and recovery of contaminants resulting from accidental and ordinary release into natural waters.  The performance of the materials depends on both their physical-chemical characteristics and the composition of the aquatic environment. The project aims to optimize removal and recovery yields according to target pollutants and water composition, as well as environmental risk targets.

Water has a broad impact on all aspects of human life, including, but not limited to, health, food, energy and the economy. In addition to the environmental, economic and social impact of poor water supply and sanitation, the availability and supply of fresh water is essential for the safety of children and the poor. The portion of total run-off that constitutes stable run-off flow is considered as the fresh-water resource upon which humans depend. But accessible fresh water accounts for only 0.5% of the world’s 1.4 billion km3 of water, and it is poorly distributed around the globe. It is also difficult to increase the supply of fresh water due to competing demands of the world’s increasing population. The shortage in the freshwater supply is also a result of the exploitation of water resources for domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes in many parts of the world, and due to the ever growing demand for food, energy and so forth around the world, the pressure on freshwater resources will only increase. Polluting surface/groundwater sources is another cause of reduced freshwater supplies. Aquifers around the world are being depleted and polluted due to multiple problems of saltwater intrusion (which is intensified by climate change), soil erosion, inadequate sanitation and the contamination of ground/surface water by algal blooms, detergents, fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals and other substances. Another important problem is that the coastal waters that are vital to aquaculture and sustainable tourism are experiencing remarkable loads of pollutants as a result freshwater catchments. To make matters worse, water-related problems are expected to worsen over the next two decades due to climate change and population growth.

The presence of new/emerging microcontaminants (e.g., endocrine-disrupting chemicals [EDCs]) in polluted water/wastewater has rendered existing conventional water/wastewater treatment plants incapable of meeting environmental standards. The discharge of these chemicals into the aquatic environment is affecting all living organisms. Traditional materials and treatment technologies, such as activated carbon, oxidation, activated sludge, nanofiltration (NF) and reverse osmosis (RO) membranes, are not effective in treating water polluted by multiple agents, including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, surfactants, various industrial additives and numerous chemicals purported. Conventional water treatment processes are not able to achieve an adequate removal of the broad spectrum of toxic chemicals and pathogenic microorganisms in raw water. Now is the right time to address water problems, for aquifers around the world are being depleted due to multiple factors, such as saltwater intrusion and contamination from surface water. Nanotechnology has been considered effective in solving water problems related to water quality and quantity. Nanomaterials (e.g., carbon nanotubes [CNTs] and dendrimers) are contributing to the development of more efficient treatment processes in advanced water systems. There are many aspects of nanotechnology that can address the various problems of water quality in order to ensure environmental stability.

The collaboration between Ca’ Foscari and Soochow University proposed by this project is based on sharing research expertise regarding the use of nanotechnology in water/wastewater treatment and reuse, and will lead to the application of a variety of micro/nanostructured materials created to effect the removal and recovery of contaminants resulting from accidental and/or ordinary release into natural waters. A set of micro/nanocomposites will be tested to remove both inorganic and organic water pollutants in the ppm-ppt concentration range.