COVID-19 has disrupted virtually everyone’s daily life. We asked Adriana Bernardi, coordinator of the EU H2020 project GEO4CIVHIC, how the pandemic has impacted her work and personal life. A physicist and a researcher at the National Research Council-Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Adriana is currently the head of the Padua unit of CNR-ISAC. Having gained vast experience in a broad range of projects and programmes, she has in the last 20 years coordinated 6 EU projects – among which is GEO4CIVHIC – and has been responsible for an additional 6 scientific projects.
Tell us about GEO4CIVHIC and where the idea and the application to historical buildings came from?
GEO4CIVHIC stands for “Most Easy, Efficient and Low Cost Geothermal Systems for Retrofitting Civil and Historical Buildings”. The idea came from another European project MESSIB that ended in 2013 and related to renewable energy sources (RES) production and storage, where a section was devoted to the evaluation of the applicability to historical buildings. I was responsible for the research in this section. This research demonstrated that from the different RES available, shallow geothermal was the most suitable and less invasive among the different systems to save energy for the refurbishment of the historical buildings.
What areas of expertise are present in the project and what is the potential of this large consortium? What does UNESCO bring to GEO4CIVHIC?
The consortium is multidisciplinary and complementary, composed of specialists in different disciplines: engineering, geology, physics, climatology, mechanics, architecture and technology. 9 EU-countries (Italy, Belgium, Greece, Germany, France, Ireland, Romania, Spain and Malta) and 1 non-EU country (Switzerland) are involved. The partners involved have great experience and a large network in all of Europe to be able to disseminate and push the innovative technologies across Europe.
The presence of UNESCO in the project is very important. UNESCO helps in ensuring a large dissemination of the application of shallow geothermal in Europe and the world for a suitable and energy efficient refurbishment of the historical buildings. UNESCO also brings its expertise relating to constraints linked to the cultural value of these buildings.
Are there challenges in coordinating a large EU project like GEO4CIVHIC?
In general, it is not easy to coordinate such a big consortium, but in the case of GEO4CIVHIC, it was manageable because there is a long standing knowledge and good relationships among the partners involved in a previous European project, Cheap-GSHPs, on a similar subject that I coordinated, where UNESCO was also a partner. This kind of good and long cooperation leads to maximal performance and good results.
During my career I have met many accomplished women. The number of women leading projects is luckily growing every day. While the percentage of women remains low compared to men, the trend is positive. Science used to be considered a male-dominated field.
According to UNESCO data, less than 30% of scientific researchers worldwide are women and only around 30% of all female students select science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) -related fields in higher education. In the past, women were in fact discouraged from, or became less interested in STEM, entering the fields of at a young age. UNESCO’s commitment to promoting gender equality, as a crucial means to promote scientific and technological excellence, plays a crucial role.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared about science being held back by a gender gap: “To rise to the challenges of the 21st century, we need to harness our full potential. That requires dismantling gender stereotypes.” Despite gender discrimination and lack of recognition in the scientific community, countless inspiring women in these fields have made historic contributions to science and helped advance understanding of the world around us. In my own way, my achievements will help generations of female scientists to come. Difficulties in balancing family life and work have a big role in women’s opting out of scientific career paths. Institutions and funding agencies need to work harder to reverse this disparity. Having exacerbated many challenges but also opportunities, the COVID-19 pandemic can be a game-changer for women scientists all over the world, whether positive or negative.
How did you cope with work and personal life during the COVID-19 lockdown? Looking in particular at GEO4CIVHIC, how has the project adapted to the new challenges?
During these difficult days, I was able to set a right balance between science, family and rules imposed by the COVID-19 emergency. In my opinion, the main aspects that suffer are the relationship with your partners and the exchange of discussions and ideas. Science depends on this and distancing definitely works against such necessary stimulus.
COVID-19 did not change the way we do science. We have found that we can communicate in different ways; yet, at the same time, recognizing the importance of opinions exchanged in meetings and stimulated through in-person discussions. At the same time, the lockdown has given us the opportunity to grow our network through virtual meetings and webinars available to more stakeholders.
GEO4CIVHIC has a demonstrative part that is clearly suffering, and delays are occurring. Experts and partners need to travel to the countries where the demo sites were planned, but this is no longer possible because of the current travel restrictions. We are waiting for the situation to change to be able to perform some of the planned activities.
What impact can be expected from GEO4CIVHIC on society and culture?
I am expecting a strong impact on society and culture from GEO4CIVHIC, notably because the project can offer innovative, simpler and cheaper solutions for historical buildings. Shallow geothermal is one of the best renewable sources that we have: free, without drawbacks, inexhaustible, the greenest one! Unfortunately, it is less known. We are trying to raise awareness of this renewable source, which is particularly important in solving the problems of the refurbishment of the historical buildings which at this time is difficult to do using renewable energy in an efficient way.
A great example is the UNESCO-coordinated GEO4CIVHIC real demo site in Ferrara, a UNESCO World Heritage site. “Porta degli Angeli,” the Angel’s Gate, is a historical and iconic building in which an innovative medium-sized hybrid dual source high temperature heat pump developed will be installed. The site is currently less exploited and visited because of its internal environmental conditions that limit its use. The project hopes to demonstrate that shallow geothermal will solve refurbishment constrains for the site, and that the site can become a best practice example for a green-refurbished historical building that respects conservation and cultural values.