CERN Accelerating science

European Organization for Nuclear Research

Thank you IdeaLab!

IdeaLab Concept Prototype in Building 16/153

The basic concepts of IdeaSquare were tested out in Building 16/153 starting in August 2013, kindly and generously lent by PH Department for a period of one year. The open area given for these purposes was extensively used, also including barracks with meeting rooms. A well-equipped mechanical workshop was also made available, including a dedicated technician to supervise and assist the students during their work assignments.

The following questions were addressed:

  1. What is the offering for the MSc-students?
  2. How best to connect the detector R&D projects (TALENT, EDUSAFE) and the MSc-level students?
  3. How best to support the students while their stay at CERN?
  4. What requirements will all above have on the design of the new building (IdeaSquare)?

The findings are summarized below ( a more detailed report is made available later in 2015):

First, the student offering should combine the uniqueness of CERN and complementarity in the curriculum universities currently offer around Design Thinking. This suggested two things: on the one hand, the students needed to be exposed to detector R&D-related initiatives to better understand the role of next-generation technologies in physics problem-solving. On the other hand, the students needed in parallel to start working on completely unrelated (technologically yet undefined) societal challenges, such as finding new ways to help autistic children to learn more effectively. We quickly realized that the students were expecting the CERN experts to solve their societal challenge, which obviously was the opposite of what was intended. The main learning thus was that as detector R&D at CERN is technology-driven but design thinking is more human-centric or end-user need driven, the students need to understand that the two worlds will not necessarily be superimposed. Thus, it is better to look for inspiration from the detector R&D projects rather rigid technical solutions, keeping the solutions space wider up to the end of the student assignments.

The first pilot student project, Challenge Based Innovation or CBI-1 started in October, 2013 and finished in early March, 2014. Seventeen students comprising two teams presented their prototypes, inspired by TALENT and EDUSAFE in a so-called "Gala" event in the Filtration Plant (B222), and is recorded here. CBI-1 was strongly influenced by programs such as ME310 in Stanford and PDP in Aalto, Finland. The key concept is the process around rapid prototyping of new ideas, which are generated using different methodologies and pedagogical approaches.

Second, given that TALENT and EDUSAFE projects were already placed elsewhere at CERN at the time, the MSc-students needed to be strongly encouraged to go and meet the (young) project researchers to find out what they are doing. Our finding was that this was a lot harder than thought, despite the constant pushing. Probably, the students found CERN a bit too overwhelming in the beginning. Therefore, regular meetings in IdeaLab were attempted to engage them all together, although this did not work optimally either, due to strong time pressures within the two R&D projects. The key lesson was that unscheduled, close ad-hoc type of proximity would probably work best, suggesting that in IdeaSquare the R&D projects must have some level of permanent, if minimum presence. This in turn will have an impact on the type of supporting technical infrastructure within the building.

Third, the students needed separate team work space for carrying out their rapid prototyping assignments. Good use was made of the open area and the next-door barracks that got to be called "the Red Bus". This concept was also extensively prototyped, resulting in a clear expressed need for creating similar ad-hoc meeting spaces also for IdeaSquare. As expected, the number-one rapid prototyping material was cardboard and duct tape. Amazing shapes, sizes and concepts came out of them! A small surprise was the low usage of the mechanical workshop made available for the students downstairs in B16. This resulted in scaling back initial plans made for the IdeaSquare mechanical workshop, although the intent had been there from the start to use existing workshops at CERN as much as possible, in particular for more advanced prototyping. The use of strong light was found to be important, both natural sun light (windows!) and artificial light around the building.

One known major handicap in IdeaLab was the lack of facilities to prepare and store food supplies. Due to the long working hours of the students in residence (typically, from 9 AM to 9 PM), keeping the troopers going with strong coffee and snack bars was a true challenge. Strong student feedback was received as for a need for a well-equipped kitchen with a fridge, oven, washing machine and a industrial coffee machine. Moreover, instead of using disposable accessories they found very ineffective and environmentally unfriendly, proper kitchenware should be provided.

The noise level in the building generated a lot of discussion. There were several reasons for this: the hall had a strong echo and one heating fan was just above the open area. The students found the background humming tiring and had difficulties in presenting their work assignments even when equipped with microphones. The inhabitants of B16 found also the CBI activities and noise generated by the buzzing students somewhat distracting. Friendly arrangements were made on both sides to help each other to work in the building. The learning of this was that in IdeaSquare, the students should feel free to express themselves there (even if occasionally raising the noise levels), at the same time allowing the researchers in the R&D projects to work without unwanted interruptions. Special attention would thus be made in IdeaSqaure to find ways to lower the background noise levels using simple and affordable sound insulation techniques.

All in all, despite its obvious shortcomings, the students reported finding "their" IdeaLab as "adorable". It became clear that IdeaSquare needs to facilitate the presence of, and interaction between, both the detector R&D projects and the CBI students. The location of the people inside the building should be easy to spot and there should be a place for periodical social interaction (kitchen).

In fond memory of the "IdeaLab Days", a short thank-you video was prepared. It can be viewed here.