The University of Lecce, in southern Italy, is emerging as a global centre of excellence for research in avant-garde engineering, particularly in the use of nanotechnologies and new materials.
A £600,000, three-year research agreement with Agilent Technologies, the communications and fibre-optics division of Hewlett Packard, has shattered the stereotype of Italy's southern universities as being inferior to those of the north.
Lecce is discussing a similar project with STMicroelectronics, the world's seventh largest producer of computer chips, which recently established a production plant in Sicily.
The Lecce-Agilent project will focus on photonic technologies and devices for fibre-optic communications.
The Lecce-STMicroelectronics talks concern the creation of a joint-venture laboratory to investigate internet protocols, fourth-generation telecommunications and new, high-level programming languages.
Agilent Technologies, based in Ipswich, will be sending some of its researchers to Lecce.
Agilent will support five PhD student fellowships and one postdoctoral researcher, as well as contributing to the cost of materials. Agilent has established a network of links with universities across Europe.
Lecce will provide its own team of researchers, headed by Roberto Cingolani, a nanotechnologies expert, as well as a state-of-the-art laboratory including metal organic chemical vapour deposition reactors, electron-beam lithography, nanoprocessing, scanning probes and chemical laboratory facilities.
"The fact that this project is happening in the deep south is, in a sense, incidental," said Professor Cingolani. "It was decided on an international level to establish a centre of excellence in this field in Lecce.
"This has been a success and now we are, without doubt, of European importance. The brightest young minds from southern Italy are working here and they are learning to reason in international terms. This can only benefit the region."