Interview with research talents

Ugo Marzocchi

Ugo's background

I completed a Master program in “Nature conservation” at the University of Parma (Italy), where very early I directed my interests towards ecology and geochemistry of aquatic environments. After graduation I moved to Aarhus University for my PhD studies where I focused on the development and application of bio-electrochemical sensors for the study of nutrients cycling in marine system. As a postdoc, I worked at the University of Southern Denmark where I broaden my knowledge on optic sensing technologies and investigated nitrogen transformation under transient anoxic conditions in marine sediment. Later, thanks to a Marie-Curie grant I focused on natural electric processes occurring on the seafloor, this research is carried out between Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Aarhus University.

Present your project

In this project I investigate the occurrence of natural bio-electric process (electric interaction between microorganisms and minerals or electrodes) in oil reservoirs. Our working hypothesis is that by stimulating such bio-electric process we can alter the chemical environment and thus, in turn, improve the quality of the extracted oil.

What do you expect the major challenges in your area of study will be?

At this stage we have to face two main challenges: first, oil reservoir are poorly accessible and extreme environments (e.g. pressure up to hundreds bar). This makes such systems hard to reproduce and control under laboratory settings. Second, the bio-electric process are mediated by bacteria and thus have to be studied at very high spatial resolution in the micro to millimeter scale.

How do you plan to contribute in solving these problems?

Experiments will be performed in pressure tanks that will assure to reproduce the pressure level acting in situ. Microbial processes will be investigated at the appropriate space resolution by applying a wide array of microsensors (with tip diameter of 10 to 60 micrometers). The Section for Microbiology at Aarhus University has world leading experts in the development of such tools, this technology and the necessary know-how will be available for facing the challenges of this project.

What are your expectations for your future career?

I am fascinated by how the activity of tiny microorganisms can have tremendous impacts on large scale ecosystems, and by the enormous complexity of reactions that they can mediate. There is still a lot to learn in this direction and in the future I intend to continue to research along this line. I also give high value to the synergy between basic science and technological development (both disciplines have lot to gain from each other) I therefore hope to continue to engage in projects like this one.
6 APRIL 2020