Nobel Laureate Abel Laureate Advisory Board Member USERN President USERN Policy Making Council USERN Manager USERN Deputy Junior Ambassador

Major: Materials Science

Field: Application of chemistry to materials design and testing

Research Interests: My research activity aims to control the function and organization of photoactive and functional materials at the nano and macroscale. As materials scientists I am applying a multidisciplinary approach involving chemistry, materials science, biotechnology and pharmacology to the fields: i) Photoactive materials for optics and optoelectronics ii) Functional biomaterials surfaces and electrospun tissues iii) Photopharmacology light-triggered drugs.

Research Experience

June 2021- current: Refinanced MSCA-IF - "Seal of Excellence" 2020 recipient | LIOS - Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis - Riga - Latvia 
Fellowship title: "PhOAMS: Photocontrol of Cell Adhesion Mechanisms" on exploring a photopharmacology approach to the control of adhesion processes in bacterial and mammalian cells. 

2020 - March 2021: Visiting Researcher | LIOS - Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis - Riga - Latvia 
Recipient of a competitive visiting fellowship to work as a researcher in the Biotechnology group (ERA Chair holder Prof. Emilio Parisini) in the field of photopharmacology to photocontrol protein-protein interactions (5 months). 

2017 - 2020: Postdoc MSCA-COFUND Fellow    |   IBEC - Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia and CIBER-BBN  - Barcelona - SPAIN
Competitive Marie Sklodowska-Curie- COFUND fellowship in Nanomedicine: Photopharmacology field. Design and synthesis of photochromic ligands for neurotransmission control (Human Brain Project – HBP- EU).  - 2019, to date Fellow at Network Biomedical Research Center in Bioengineering, Biomaterials ad Nanomedicine (CIBER-BBN)  @Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches group leader Prof. Pau Gorostiza. (DEEPER Project - H2020). 

2015-2016: Postdoc - Photoswitching  |   Politecnico di Milano, Dipartimento di Chimica, Materiali e Ingegneria Chimica  - CMIC - Milano - ITALY  

Design of organic materials for applications in optics, optoelectronics and functional devices. Electrospinning of functional, conducting and semiconducting polymers micro-nanofibers for smart textile and biomedical field, in the framework of OPTICON EU project. Supervisor: Prof. Chiara Bertarelli. 

2014-2015: Postdoc  - Soft Lithography
  |   Politecnico di Milano, Dipartimento di Elettronica, Informazione e Bioingegneria  - DEIB - Milano - ITALY 

DNA surface functionalization (soft lithography) for “Early Stage Cancer diagnosis via HIghly sensitive Lab-on-chip multitarget systems” project.  Supervisor: Prof. Marco Sampietro.


26/02/2013 PhD cum laude    |  Materials Engineering - Politecnico di Milano - Italy   

Fellowship sponsored by Center for Nano Science and Technology (CNST)of the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT). Supervisor: Prof. Chiara Bertarelli  Thesis: "Photochromic switches as tools for concept devices". Organic synthesis and characterization of photochromic molecules and polymers to be used in optics and optoelectronic devices.

  • Skills: Organic synthesis of photoswitchable compounds, optical and electronic materials characterization.

23/12/2009 Master Degree    |  Materials Engineering - Politecnico di Milano - Italy    

Thesis: "Zero field polarization photochromic devices" on the development of photochromic materials for their application in the field of energy harvesting.  Supervisor: Prof. Chiara Bertarelli.

  • Skills: Thin film polymer processing. Poling of thin polymeric film. Optical characterization of photoactive polymeric materials. 

06/03/2008 Bachelor Degree    |  Materials Engineering - Politecnico di Milano - Italy    

Thesis: "Emission properties of fluoroamminoacridine in polymer fibers".  Nano and micrometric fluorescent electrospun fibers for sensors applications. Supervisor: Prof. Andrea Bianco.

  • Skills: Electrospinning of fluorescent polymer fibers. Fluorescence and confocal imaging. Absorption and fluorescence materials characterization.

Awards and Grants

MSCA-IF "Seal of Excellence" - 2021 | Awarded from MSCA for the project "PhOAMS - Photocontrol of Adhesion Mechanisms" to be carried out at LIOS, Riga - Latvia. 

Competitive research fellowship2020 | Awarded from the SEDA – State Education Development Agency Republic of Latvia for 5 months research project at LIOS – Latvian Institute for Organic Synthesis, Riga Latvia. Principal investigator of a research project in the field of photopharmacology.

ISOP2019 AWARD  |  ISOP2019 Conference Prize   (09/2019) awarded during the reference meeting for the scientific community working on photochromic switches which takes place every three years. The prize aims to highlight the impact and the potentiality of a young researcher and I was awarded for the quality of the results presented in the field of photopharmacology at the last meeting on photochromism held in Paris in September 2019.  Webpage: ISOP2019 Award

Competitive mobility grant - 2019 |  CIBER - BBN - Center for Biomedical Investigation in Bioengineering, Biomaterials and Nanomedicine  - 3 months for research between  Spain and Italy.

Competitive postdoc fellowship - 2017 |  IBEC - Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia - BEST Fellowship in Nanomedicine part-funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020’s Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions COFUND scheme (GA712754) and the Severo Ochoa program of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Competitiveness (SEV-2014-0425 (2015-2019)).

International stays - visiting

Riga, Latvia | Researcher - LIOS  (05/10/2020, current) 

Barcelona, SPAIN    |  Postdoctoral researcher  IBEC - CIBER-BBN  (20/04/2017, 15/07/2020)
working on photopharmacology in the group of Prof. Pau Gorostiza.

Tampere, FINLAND  |  Visiting researcher - Tampere University - Finland   (02-03/2019)
Hosted by Prof. Laeticia Petit for optical applications of photoswitchable compounds.

Strasbourg, FRANCE  |  Visiting researcher - Universitè de Strasbourg at Institute de Science et d'Ingenierie Supramoleculaires ISIS -  (09/2014) Hosted by Prof. Luisa De Cola in the framework of the ESCHILO project.  This collaboration results in scientific publications.

Salt Lake City, Utah USA  |  Visiting PhD Student - University of Utah -  (03-05/2012)
Hosted by Prof. Rajesh Menon. The research activity deal with the application of photochromic material in optical subdiffraction lithography. This visiting period results in scientific publications.

Madrid, SPAIN |  ERASMUS Fellow - University Rey Juan Carlos -  (09/2008 -03/2009)
Competitive full fellowship to attend one semester at the Faculty of Materials Engineering, University Rey Juan Carlos.  Courses in Spanish and English.

Invited Seminars - International Universities

Tampere, FINLAND  |  Tampere University - Finland   (06/03/2019)
Talk title: "Chemical design of photochromic materials for optoelectronics and photopharmacology applications".

Nantes, FRANCE   University of Nantes - France   (01/02/2019)
Talk title: "Photochromic materials: a molecular and material design for optoelectronics and photopharmacology applications".

Paris, FRANCE  |  Ecole Normal Superieure - Cachan - Paris - France   (18/05/2016)
Talk title: "Design of functional materials for photoactive and smart devices".

Conference Presentations

I attended more than 20 international congresses; I was the speaker in 16 conferences (5 as invited speaker) and I presented posters in 6 meetings. I presented contributions to the reference meetings in the fields of materials science, photochemistry, electrospinning for nanostructured tissues. 
Recent presentations: 

  • INVITED SPEAKER: ESN - European Society of Neuroscience (online) - 26 May 2021 "Design of photoswitchable inhibitors of neuronal activity"
  • INVITED SPEAKER: USERN International Congress, Teheran 11-14 November 2020 (online) “Switching with light: a palette of opportunities for photochromic materials” (09-11-2020).
  • Flash Oral presentation: 27th SCT Young Research Fellows Meeting 29-31 Caen, France - January 2020 “Design of photoswitchable acetylcholinesterase inhibitors” R. Castagna, C. Matera, J. Hernando, P. Gorostiza.
  • Oral presentation CONFERENCE PRESENTATION PRIZE: ISOP2019 “InternationalSymposium on Photochromism 2016” Paris – France – 23-27 September 2019 “A novel GABAAreceptor ligand derivative that photoswitches with red light”. R. Castagna, C. Matera, H. Lee, G.Maleeva, P. Bregestovski, P. Gorostiza.
  • INVITED SPEAKER: Interphotonics 2018, 8-12 October 2018, Antalya Turkey“Switching with light: a palette of opportunities with photochromic materials” R. Castagna
  • Oral presentation: BIOM&M 2018 1th International Conference on Materials, Mimicking, Manufacturing from and for Bio Application – Milano – Italy – 27-29 June 2018 “Biohybrid electrospun membranes for chemical filtration” R. Castagna, P. Colnago, S. Donini, E.Parisini, C. Bertarelli
  • INVITED SPEAKER: Workshop on Design of photochromic switches: materials, characterization and applications -18 January 2017 - Milano - Italy“ Photochromic materials: Light-triggered properties Modulation” R. Castagna
  • Oral presentation: ISOP2016 “International Symposium on Photochromism 2016” Shanghai – China –4-7 November 2016 “Insight into light-induced dipole moment modulation in diarylethenes”.

Scientific publications

H-Index: 13, Total citations: 385  (Source Google Scholar, June 2021) Link: Google Scholar

Total number of publications: 29,  First author: 6 papers. - Corresponding author: 3 papers.

Recent publications: 

- R. Castagna, G. Maleeva, D. Pirovano, C. Matera, P. Gorostiza (2022) - "Donor-Acceptor Stenhouse Adduct Displaying Reversible Photoswitching in Water and Neuronal Activity"  JACS 2022, 144, 34, 15595-15602. https://doi.org/10.1021/jacs.2c04920

- S. Eli, R. Castagna, M. Mapelli, E. Parisini (2022) - "Recent approaches to the identification of novel microtubule-targeting agents" Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences 841777 doi: 10.3389/fmolb.2022.841777. 

- R. Castagna, D. Kolarski, R. Durand-de Cuttoli, G. Maleeva (2022) - "Orthogonal Control of Neuronal Circuits and Behavior Using Photopharmacology" Journal of Molecular Neuroscience 1-10. 

- USERN2020 Consensus: "International Scientific Collaboration Is Needed to Bridge Science to Society: USERN2020 Consensus Statement" SN Compr. Clin. Med. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42399-021-00896-2.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8111052/

- R. Castagna*, S. Donini, P. Colnago, A. Serafini, E. Parisini, C. Bertarelli (2019) - BiohybridElectrospun Membrane for the Filtration of Ketoprofen Drug from Water - ACS Omega, 2019 - 4, 8,13270-13278. *corresponding author

- G. Pariani, R. Castagna, L. Oggioni, L. Colella, A. Nardi, S. Anzani, C. Bertarelli, A. Bianco -Adaptable Microcontact Printing via Photochromic Optical-Saturable Lithography - Advanced MaterialsTechnologies - 2018 - 3 – 1700325 2018 IF = 4.622

- N. Peserico, R. Castagna, L. Bellieres, M. Rodrigo, A. Melloni - Tip-Mould Microcontact printing for functionalization of optical microring resonator - IET Nanobiotechnology - 2018 -12(1)- 87-91 2018 IF= 2.059

- G. Pariani, M. Quintavalla, L. Colella, L. Oggioni, R. Castagna, F. Ortica, C. Bertarelli, A. Bianco -New insight into the fatigue resistance of photochromic 1,2-diarylethenes - Journal of Physical Chemistry C - 2017 - 121 (42) - 23592-23598

- A. Bianco, G. Ferrari, R. Castagna, A. Rossi, M. Carminati, G. Pariani, M. Tommasini, C. Bertarelli -Light-induced dipole moment modulation in diarylethenes: a fundamental study - Physical ChemistryChemical Physics - 2016 - 18 - 31154-31159

- R. Castagna, M. Tunesi, B. Saglio, C. Della Pina, A. Sironi, D. Albani, C. Bertarelli, E. Falletta -Ultrathin electrospun PANI nanofibers for neuronal tissue engineering - Journal of Applied PolymerScience - 2016 - 43885

- R. Castagna*, V. Nardone, G. Pariani, E. Parisini, A. Bianco - The interplay of soft-hard substituents in photochromic diarylethenes - Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry - 2016 -325 - 45-54 *corresponding author

- R. Castagna*, A. Bertucci, E.A. Prasetyanto, M. Monticelli, D.V. Conca, M. Massetti, P.P Sharma, F.Damin, M. Chiari, L. De Cola, R. Bertacco - Reactive microcontact printing of DNA probes on (DMA-NAS-MAPS) Copolymer-Coated Substrates for efficient hybridization platforms - Langmuir - 2016 - 32,3308-3313 *corresponding author

- S. Formenti, R. Castagna, R. Momentè, C. Bertarelli, F.Briatico-Vangosa - The relevance of extensional rheology on electrospinning: The polyamide/iron chloride case - European Polymer Journal- 2016 - 75 - 46-55.

- R. Castagna, R. Momentè, G. Pariani, G. Zerbi, A. Bianco, C. Bertarelli - Highly homogeneous core-sheath polyaniline nanofibers obtained by polymerization on a wire-shaped template – Polymer Chemistry - 2014 - 5 - 6779-6788.

Editorial Activity: 

2021 - Guest Editor for the Special Issue: "Design and Characterization of Functional, Light-responsive Materials for Drug Delivery and Tissue Engineering" - Pharmaceutics (IF. 6.5) MDPI

Outreach activities

  • Women in Science – 11th of February 2020 - 2021 - 2022 |  Speaker for the Women in Science event at the Escola Gayarre, Barcelona – Spain.  Motivational talk on career in science for primary school students. Language:  Spanish. 
  • Laboratory activities for students – 2017-2020 |  "Future Medicine - La medicina del futuro", IBEC - Barcelona - Spain Didactical laboratories activities with kids and high-school students on nanoscience (ESCOLAB project).  Language Spanish - English
  • Science Outreach – 4/11/2015 |  Speaker at the Meeting of the Italian Association of Science Educators (ANISN) - Torino – Italy . Talk: “Development of molecular biosensors for biomedical applications”. Language: Italian

Teaching and Student Supervision

Teaching assistant  |  Functional Materials  - Politecnico di Milano  (2012, 2016)
Frontal lessons and laboratory activities (about 250 students per year). The course aims at providing knowledge about organic materials for electronics and optoelectronics. Held by Prof. Chiara Bertarelli.  Language: English. 

Teaching assistant  |  "Nanostructured Materials"  - Politecnico di Milano  (2010, 2011)
Frontal lessons and laboratory activities (about 100 students) "Tecnologie dei materiali nanostrutturati".  Held by Prof. Chiara Bertarelli.  Language:  Italian. 

Master Thesis co-supervisor  |  Course: Materials Engineering and Nanotechnology - Polimi Italy (years 2011, 2016):
Bachelor Thesis co-supervisor  | Course:  Materials Engineering and Nanotechnology – Polimi Italy  (years 2013, 2016)

Society Affiliations

USERN: Universal Scientific Education and Research Network 

ESN: European Society for Neurochemistry

FENS: Federation of European Neuroscience Society 

ACS: American Chemical Society                              

EFMC: European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry



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