After ten intensive days in Archamps, the first I.FAST* Challenge-Based Innovation (CBI) has drawn to a close … and what a ten days !

Following an on-line programme of introductory talks and team-building activities, 23 students representing 17 nationalities studying in 12 European countries met face-to-face for the first time on 26 July at ESI. Working from scratch in 4 multidisciplinary groups (physics, engineering, environmental science, law, business and communication), each team identified a specific environmental challenge and then proceeded to develop an innovative solution involving particle accelerators.  A series of on-site seminars from leading accelerator specialists complemented the guidance from a team of mentors with expertise in accelerators and scientific communication.

Rather than an outright competition between the 4 teams, I.FAST CBI adopted an open innovation approach, with regular cross-pitching sessions encouraging teams to provide constructive feedback on each other’s projects and share expert knowledge. As the projects took form, the mentors went from team to team answering questions, giving feedback, and occasionally providing mediation when a team was finding it difficult to achieve consensus. Concrete deliverables, including a 3000-word written report and a 15-minute group presentation to an expert panel on the final day, ensured the teams stayed focused on the challenge, often working late into the evening.

For the final pitching session, the CBI moved to CERN and its Main Auditorium from where the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs Boson was made in 2012. An expert panel chaired by Frédérick Bordry (former Director of Accelerators and Technology at CERN), with Giovanni Anelli  (Head of CERN’s Knowledge Transfer group), Luisa Ulrici (Deputy leader of CERN’s Environment Group) and Julien Levallois (Executive Director of the University of Geneva’s Science Innovation Hub) had the unenviable task of deciding which of the four teams would win the Golden Proton award.

Projects included investigating the real-time impact of microplastics in the ocean with a compact synchrotron source mounted on a retrofitted research ship; using an electron accelerator to engineer an irradiated nanofibre composite to improve the longevity of wind turbine blades; eliminating toxic green algae blooms by using a compact electron beam accelerator to tackle excess build-up of nutrients in the water; deploying a transportable container-based electron beam accelerator to decontaminate polluted surface soil. All four teams were warmly congratulated by the panel for the impressive amount of work accomplished over such a short space of time and the exceptional quality of their reports and presentations. After much deliberation, the first ever I.FAST CBI Golden Proton award was presented by Mike Lamont (Director of Accelerators and Technology at CERN) to “Project Cyan”, the team seeking to combat green algae bloom.

Aside from the projects themselves, all those involved in the I.FAST CBI – students, organisers, speakers, mentors, staff and panel-members – hailed this invaluable opportunity to experience international, interdisciplinary collaboration at first-hand, and to forge long-lasting bonds reaching across academic and cultural borders.


*I.FAST – innovation Fostering in Accelerator Science and Technology

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 101004730.