The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #10

Backyard balsamic vinegar, a pizza oven and technological progress in agriculture

Guest: Daniele la Cecilia

May 9th, 2023


“…if we optimize all the processes, that doesn’t mean that we should grow more than what the catchment can supply us…”

In the face of an unpredictable future, we are all called upon each and every day to think of out-of-the box ways to tackle challenges to our environment, wellbeing or the many beneficial uses of an outdoor pizza oven.

My guest today is Dr Daniele la Cecilia, a postdoctoral Marie-Curie fellow at the University of Padova, Italy. Daniele specializes in understanding the fate of plant protection products in the environment and ways to support better awareness around and improvements to how we grow our world’s food.

Today on the show, we explore how Daniele’s global journey has helped him to acquire his interdisciplinary skill set and combine his passion for water and food. Starting from his home town in Modena, Italy and venturing across the UK, US, Australia and Switzerland, we discuss technological progress that will shape agriculture’s future.


Daniele la Cecilia is a MSCA-Postdoctoral Fellow (Maria Skłodowska-Curie Actions) at the University of Padova, Italy. He studied Environmental Engineering at the University of Trento with a focus on planning and design of river regulation and restoration works and hydraulic risk mitigation structures. After graduating in 2014, he worked on Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT project) at Zanasi & Partners (Modena, Italy) and then on monitoring key environmental parameters in the Alpine environment at Eurac Research (Bolzano, Italy). From 2016 to 2019, Daniele moved to the University of Sydney, Australia to do a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering funded through the International Student Postgraduate Research Scholarship. There, he worked on herbicides biodegradation-adsorption-transport in agricultural soils.

After his PhD, Daniele joined the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science & Technology (Eawag) as a postdoctoral researcher in the Environmental Chemistry Department. Daniele analysed innovative continuous high-frequency and low-frequency time series of plant protection products concentrations in surface water with the aim to identify contamination sources and flowpaths from agricultural soils to water bodies. He was awarded an Eawag Academic Transition Grant to develop his own remote sensing project for classifying agricultural land cover including protected agriculture in collaboration with the Department Surface Waters Research & Management. Prior to moving to Padova, he worked on activities within the EU-funded RECONECT project, which aims to implement Nature-Based Solutions for effective mitigation of the hydro-meteorological risk.

Daniele is a passionate researcher and his curiosity for environmental and societal issues allowed him to publish 21 ISI-cited scientific articles since 2016 in addition to participation in international conferences. He specialises in connecting dots and filling knowledge gaps through data analysis and environmental modelling. Over the next few years, Daniele’s research will address catchment-scale hydrological modelling of greenhouses for food production in the context of the EU-funded REWATERING project.

Resources Related to the Episode

  • Some nice facts about indoor house plants from NASA – plants can help clean the air, here are some suggestions [Wikipedia]
  • We reference Episode 4 of the podcast: Good vibrations – a sensorial journey into urban soundscape design with Sofia Boarino
  • How do they make Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena [YouTube]
  • Some info on Ancient Roman Aqueducts (active subtitles for automatic translation) [YouTube]
    • The story of lead leading to the fall of the Roman Empire [More Info]
  • EURAC Research MONALISA [More Info]
  • Plant Protection Products, Biocides, Pesticides, some useful clarification of terminology [Link]
    • Definition of pesticide from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
    • Daniele’s work on Glyphosate dispersion: la Cecilia, D., Tang, F.H., Coleman, N.V., Conoley, C., Vervoort, R.W. and Maggi, F., 2018. Glyphosate dispersion, degradation, and aquifer contamination in vineyards and wheat fields in the Po Valley, Italy. Water research146, pp.37-54. [Link]
    • And probabilistic risk assessment: la Cecilia, D., Porta, G.M., Tang, F.H., Riva, M. and Maggi, F., 2020. Probabilistic indicators for soil and groundwater contamination risk assessment. Ecological Indicators115, p.106424. [Link]
    • Is Glyphosate carcinogenic? Here’s the monograph from the IARC in 2015 and the details from the US EPA recently.
  • We make a few references to Episode 5 of the podcast: Like wastewater for chocolate – control, serendipity and digital twins with Peter A. Vanrolleghem
  • The European Union Water Framework Directive (WFD) [More Info]
  • High-frequency monitoring with MS2Field and Daniele’s time at Eawag
    • Daniele’s work with MS2Field: la Cecilia, D., Dax, A., Ehmann, H., Koster, M., Singer, H. and Stamm, C., 2021. Continuous high-frequency pesticide monitoring to observe the unexpected and the overlooked. Water research X13, p.100125. [Link]
    • And follow up: la Cecilia D, Dax A, Ehmann H, Koster M, Singer H and Stamm C., 2023. Continuous high-frequency pesticide monitoring in a small tile-drained agricultural stream to reveal diel concentration fluctuations in dry periods. Front. Water 4:1062198. [Link]
    • More about the MS2Field system
    • The Swiss National Surface Water Quality Monitoring Program (NAWA) – Trend [More Info]
  • Organic production and products in the EU [More Info]
  • Daniele’s current Marie-Curie Project: REWATERING under development [Link]
  • An interesting article on urban farming from The Guardian [Link]
    • And while we’re at it… Vertical farming [Link]
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood (Episode 1) can be watched on YouTube [YouTube]

Connect with Daniele la Cecilia