From Rome, Italy, to Morgantown, Luigi Antonio Poggi has made the most of his college education.

Since having a study abroad experience was something he’d thought about for years, Poggi took advantage of a partnership between the University of Rome Tor Vergata, where he is studying energy engineering, and West Virginia University.

In 2010, WVU and the University of Rome Tor Vergata entered into a research agreement to facilitate an exchange program for graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, researchers and faculty for both institutions that would focus on the areas of physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, biomedical sciences, social sciences, humanities and creative arts and design.

The five-year agreement also paved the way for the exchange of research information as well as a series of meetings, seminars and courses.

Although many of the interactions between the two schools happen behind the scenes, both made a prominent showing in Irvine, California, during the 2013 Solar Decathlon. During the year-long design process and construction of its energy efficient and sustainable log-style home, the WVU team consulted with representatives of the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

Poggi, whose professors encouraged him to apply for the program, spent time at WVU as an exchange student and graduate research assistant.

“If it were not for them I would have probably never heard about WVU,” he said. “I have the huge gift to be born in Rome, and I spent all my life there, but I believe living abroad, even if a semester is a really short period, can enrich dramatically both professional and personal development,” he said.

Although he was only on campus for a semester, Poggi accomplished a great deal during his brief time at WVU.

Under the guidance of Kaushlendra Singh, assistant professor of wood science and technology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Poggi worked on a project, funded by the WVU Faculty Senate, devoted to biomass pyrolysis, the thermal decomposition process of plant matter obtained while heating it in the absence of oxygen.

His research focused on modifying bio-char, the solids produced during the pyrolysis process, made of switchgrass, as a catalyst to produce stable bio-oil from woody biomass, which is abundant in the State of West Virginia.

“Bio-oils produced with current processes are very unstable for prolong storage and it requires further refining to produce liquid transportation fuels using costly catalysts used in the petroleum industry,” Poggi said. “We are trying to find a cheap catalyst that can also lead to a better product, a bio-oil that would need less post treatment.”

“Using modified switchgrass bio-char as catalysts may sensibly reduce the cost of bio-oil refining and hopefully get it close to being competitive with fossil fuels,” he said. Poggi has developed a catalysts testing system for the purposes of this research.

While still in the testing phase, Poggi’s initial results are promising.

He also had the opportunity to participate in a coal conversion technology class taught by John Zondlo, professor of chemical engineering in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, as well as use the Scanning Electron Microscopy Facility in the Engineering Sciences Building.

Although the principles of engineering are the same, the educational techniques employed by WVU and University of Rome Tor Vergata are different.

The engineering program at the University of Rome Tor Vergata is well-known and respected, but the education is theory-oriented.

“We examine really in-depth physics and math behind real phenomena and sometimes I feel like we lose the contact with the real world,” Poggi said.

“Certainly we achieve a deep knowledge of the general principles and we can use it in a wide range of applications, but the university doesn’t provide practical activities to complete our learning process.”

At WVU, however, Poggi found special attention and time were given to practical and laboratory activities.

“This completes my knowledge that until a few months ago was basically grounded in only books,” he said.

When he wasn’t in the laboratory, Poggi was sure to make time for extracurricular activities.

He joined the WVU Men’s Club Volleyball team and competed against other teams across the United States. The icing on the cake was when the team placed fifth at the National Collegiate Club Volleyball Tournament in Reno, Nevada, in April.

“Since this was my first experience abroad I wanted to take advantage of as much as I could, day by day,” Poggi said. “This is possible only if you don’t concentrate only on studying. WVU offers facilities and opportunities for everybody.”

With his time in Morgantown coming to an end, Poggi decided to continue making the most of being in the United States.

Over the next several weeks he’ll spend time in New York, Denver and Los Angeles before returning to Rome in mid-June.

One thing is for certain, however. He will miss the friends, professors and teammates that became family to him while at WVU.

“I have to say that a semester is a really short period. Once you settle down and really feel again ‘at home,’ it comes time to leave,” he said. “I think a year would have been the perfect period of time, so I am really sad to leave.”

If you’re a WVU student interested in learning more about study abroad opportunities, visit



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