Mauro Gallo's Three Challenges
Developing a Masters in Sustainability, Enhancing Agriculture and Improving our Waterways
Mauro Gallo, current associate lector Biomimicry and academic visionary, is keen on establishing bridges between different disciplines. “That is the future”, Gallo explains, “to link academics and researchers from different areas of expertise together, and I can’t wait to start and inspire students to do the same.” Besides, Gallo has not been idle these past couple of months.
Last April, he gave his inaugural speech at Aeres Hogeschool in Wageningen. Moreover, he is currently initiating projects within Inholland’s vision of ‘Sustainable Solutions’: “I have several plans this year. And they’re all connected to bringing people and knowledge together.” How he plans to do that? “It’s just like moving house or planning a wedding. Just add it to my list of stressful, but exciting events.”
Challenge no.1: Developing a Masters in Sustainable Solutions
Mauro Gallo’s main ambition is fully based on a multidisciplinary approach. “We’re too pigeonholed at the moment, and it holds us back from doing proper research. For example, biologists have their own research. Physicists have their own research. So do economists, engineers, and mathematicians. So? We all live and work in our own separate bubbles. There’s a dramatic lack of communication. And we need to change this.”
Fortunately, a solution is on its way. Within Inholland’s Sustainable Solutions, Mauro Gallo is one of the professionals working on a new masters in sustainability. If all goes well, it should be available to students around September 2020. Its study programme is slowly taking shape: the first year covers the basics, such as terminology, (social) concepts, and a course in biomimicry. During their second year, students have the opportunity to specialise in one of Inholland’s Sustainable Solutions three leading programmes: Feeding & Greening Mega Cities, Living in an Urban Delta, and Gallo’s own domain: Nature Inspired Products & Services.
Students learn how to communicate with students and professionals with different areas of expertise, giving this programme a more holistic approach. Students not only design a product, they should also learn how the system works. As Gallo points out: “Imagine a student designing a state-of-the-art self-harvesting robot”, he continues, “that’s all very well, but if these robots aren’t made of sustainable materials themselves, we’d be wasting our time!”
"Human activity should be close to nature."
Challenge no.2: Optimising current agricultural models
Gallo’s views are harsh but clear: “In my opinion, we’ve reached a paradox when it comes to agriculture. Human activity should be close to nature, but what happened? We’ve maximized the implementation of industrial models. It doesn’t make sense. Even worse, it creates a lot of problems.” Most agricultural models today are mainly based on monoculture, meaning that farmers cultivate only one species of plants. And this type of model is far from sustainable, simply because it requires the use of chemicals (pesticides), it leads to soil erosion, and it eventually reduces the quality of food. In short: lots of issues.
Three different universities that share their green DNA work together on this innovative project: Inholland University of Applied Sciences in Delft, Aeres Hogeschool in Wageningen and VHL University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden. How? The solution revolves around biodiversity. An ambitious plan, but not impossible: “One single piece of land should support different types of plants, instead of just one.” Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. A farmer, who has been cultivating apples – and only apples – for years, is having it significantly easier than his neighbour who decides to cultivate apples and pears, pumpkins, mushrooms and potatoes. Cultivating multiple species means an increase of costs, because most of the work has to be done manually. “My solution?” says Gallo, “is the use of bio-inspired robots.” It is a challenging project, currently in its infancy stage, but it definitely has the potential to radically change the future of agriculture.
Challenge no.3: Improving our Waterways
The sky is the limit. Or, rather its opposite: our groundwater is the limit. Gallo’s most recent project is focused on water management in the agrifood sector. “I’m interested in developing bio-inspired filtration systems in order to prevent leakages in waterways”, Gallo explains. “You see, only recently we started to notice what the effects are of our own waste. Compounds, such as medicines for example, are easily dumped in our waterways and they can be very harmful for us and the environment.” So, what can we do about it? Gallo has a bio-inspired solution: wetlands. Small bodies of water, such as ponds or marshes, could filter polluted water. Result? The plants absorb the nutrients. Gallo however, is keen on using biomimicry to take it one step further: “We could increase the capacity of the wetlands by combining this system with advanced bio-inspired filtration systems.”