The after Expo we dream of


A citadel of science that gathers the scientific faculties of the University of Milan, but also a technological center, a kind of Italian silicon valley. And then a US-style campus, with student and teacher residences. And, again, the flagship, a particle accelerator that serves to do research, but above all that produces concrete consequences for the industry. Finally, if we want to dream up to the end, a large theme park with a playful-educational theme that brings forward the themes of Expo and the amplifiers in a spectacular way.

At the moment, all this is the brightest among the possibilities that await the area where the universal Milan fair is taking place, which for six months is the showcase of the world: over 1 million square meters of exhibition space, 142 countries present, more than 20 million visitors expected. But what will happen when, on October 31st, the lights on the big Expo 2015 festival will go out? What will become of the pavilions, of the structures created specifically, and above all of that area as a whole?

He has been talking about it for a long time, but without yet having made any final decisions. The important thing is to prevent the area from being left to decay, as happened in other cities that hosted international and universal exhibitions. Or like the soccer world cup last year in Brazil, now abandoned or rented for weddings and company conventions.

Departure in red. The post-Expo is a difficult game perhaps more than the fair itself. In reality, the area's destiny should have been different, at least in part. The initial idea was that the land was sold to some private investor, who at the end of Expo could have exploited it for different purposes, without prejudice to certain constraints: for example, that about half of the area was destined to green.

The bet had been played on this that the organizing committee had made the Expo in Milan not on a land already owned by the public, but by private individuals. Buying the land therefore entailed a considerable expense, also because it was purchased not at the price of agricultural land as it was, but at what it would presumably have had after the event, and therefore once reclaimed, equipped and efficiently connected to the center city ​​through a series of infrastructures. Moral: the Expo operation started with a "red" of over 300 million. But no auction was presented for the sale of land, which took place at the end of last year. Of necessity, therefore, the strategy has changed.

New strategy. The new protagonist who came to decide on the terrain between the municipalities of Milan and Rho is the government, which also already has a share of the Expo company, and which has made itself available to do its part after the Expo in the presence of a valid project . "Last April 24 there was a first meeting with Maurizio Martina, Minister of Agricultural Policies, the president of the Maroni Region, the mayor of Milan Pisapia and the other members of Expo", explains Luciano Pilotti, president of Arexpo, the company who acquired the land where the Universal Exposition takes place (see chart above). "Everyone agreed on the proposal of the University of Milan, which would like to transfer the scientific faculties that are currently in Città Studi". But it would not simply be a move. «No», continues Pilotti, «the University would bring classrooms, laboratory and research activities … First creating a campus, then also a data processing center».

A place, in other words, where big data is managed, that is those collections of data so vast that they require specific technologies to extract information of various kinds. And which are useful in the most diverse fields, from traffic management to the analysis of complex experiments such as particle physics, from the study of consumer trends to those of voters.

And where would the money come from, given that the transfer would cost something like 400 million? "The Statale could put 200, the rest would be financed by national resources, through the Cassa depositi e prestiti". The latter is a joint-stock company of which the government owns around 80%, which manages state investments and finances large public works.

The hypothesis would also go well with that of Assolombarda (the association of the industrialists of Milan, Lodi and Monza-Brianza), which would like a part of the area for a technological center, that is to create a citadel of innovation and science, which could attract start-ups and technology companies.

Electron accelerator. But the most surprising part is the last part of the project. Under the decumanus, the main axis of the exhibition, over a kilometer long, the University of Milan would like to realize a particle accelerator of a particular type. "It would be a linear accelerator of electrons, " explains Fernando Ferroni, president of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics. "In these accelerators, part of the energy of the electrons, accelerated to speeds close to that of light, is converted into photons of high energy, that is X-rays. They serve to illuminate targets and to see them with a very high resolution". In essence, this machine would be halfway between a particle accelerator, a powerful laser and a super microscope. "It would be an extremely versatile" service "machine, " continues Ferroni. «It could be used for material sciences, molecular biology, chemistry. For example, one could take the "photo" of proteins: the photon produced by the accelerator makes a protein flash so fast that it is able to reconstruct it in 3D with a resolution of less than a billionth of a meter. Or, with such an intense beam of photons, you can cut the steel … In short, the possible applications are very different ". Adds Pilotti: «The Expo area, with the accelerator, could become perhaps the largest industrial laboratory in contemporary Europe. It would make the whole country take a technological leap ».

Again, one wonders if it is a dream or if there is funding. Ferroni, in this case, dampens the enthusiasm: "We estimate that the accelerator, of which we already have a ready project, because there had been the hypothesis of making it in our laboratories in Frascati, would cost at least half a billion euros. The Infn does not have this money. It is a higher decision. But we are certainly willing to offer our skills, our staff … The area would become a powerful attractor for applied research. I can say that it would certainly make sense to accelerate in Milan, which in fact has no research infrastructure ".

Science park. If many final decisions are yet to be taken, there is already a certainty about the fate of the Expo area: that is, that 44 hectares of land must be destined to green, for the construction of an urban park, with integrated sports facilities. Some would like to do even more. Eugenio Repetto, an engineer who has been involved in theme parks for many years, has put forward a very complex project for the construction of the park "From the center of the Earth to the Universe". "It would be conceived as a virtual journey from the core of our planet to the vision of it from space, " he explains. "It would incorporate the values ​​of this Expo, namely" Feeding the planet, energy for life "and other values, for example related to environmental impact. The park would in fact have zero impact. We would like to focus our attention on our planet: because it not only feeds us, but we can also feed it, or poison it ". To limit costs, the park would exploit what will remain after the Expo. Initially, it was expected that the surviving structures were only the Italy pavilion, the Lake Arena, the open-air theater and Cascina Triulza. Today, change the cards on the table, other pavilions could also be left.

But why do a theme park? «Because there is a great potential interest in theme parks with scientific content, as there are abroad. Also in Italy we are mature to overcome the vision of traditional amusement parks. For example, the Muse, the Science Museum of Trento, in the first year of activity, had almost 600 thousand visitors despite being a relatively small reality. And then not to let the Expo themes die, but rather to revisit them by enlarging their contents. And somehow, create something that anticipates the society of the future ". University campus, technological center and theme park would be ideally integrated, ensuring that the area can remain alive 24 hours a day.

A city of science and technology that Europe envy us. A machine that places Italy at the forefront of applied scientific research. And a beautiful park with zero impact, where to have fun and learn, that makes us dream. This is the next Expo we would like.