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ESADE, IED and UPC students team up with CERN to design innovative solutions for great challenges facing humankind

The students, in collaboration with CERN researchers, use sophisticated technology to develop new products and services that support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Five students from ESADE Business School, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) of Barcelona have participated, for the fourth consecutive year, in Challenge Based Innovation (CBI), an initiative of @Ideasquare and the Department of Innovation at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). In this project course, multidisciplinary teams of students and their instructors collaborate with researchers to discover novel solutions for the future of humankind. The projects focus on the fields of education, public health, pollution and emergency assistance.

Each group is made up of students from different disciplines. According to the CBI organisers, “The most extraordinary combinations produce the most attractive results, and that’s what this project aims to promote.” The project includes nine students from the Full-Time MBA at ESADE Business School, seven students from the UPC’s Superior Technical School of Telecommunications Engineering of Barcelona (ETSETB), three students from the UPC’s Faculty of Computer Science of Barcelona (FIB), and nine students from the Higher Degrees in Design and the Diploma in Creative Advertising and Branding at IED Barcelona.

The challenges addressed by the students from the three institutions revolve around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), established by the United Nations and set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the areas of education, health, pollution and emergency assistance.

The participants focused on developing innovative solutions related to five major challenges: empowering women and young people in developing countries through education and entrepreneurship in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); developing operational methods for radiation safety inspections; designing immersive technologies for training activities in emergency health missions; redesigning solutions for sharing knowledge; and assessing the impact of the environment on public health.

The CBI project offers students the chance to use the technology of CERN – a global leader in the development of new technologies – and to establish direct contact with the organisation’s scientists to learn about their specific areas of ​​knowledge. For four months, they explored, identified needs and learned about various problems before defining the projects that they are now working on.

Five challenges, five proposals

One of the projects focuses on creating a system based on blockchain technology for collecting data on academic certificates. The team of students behind this project was inspired by refugees who have had to flee their country due to armed conflict and find themselves unable to certify their educational qualifications. The team has devised a universal database that collects academic information and enables people to certify their education at all times.

Another team has developed a device for detecting radon gas in homes and public buildings. Based on technology developed at CERN, the device connects to an application that records people’s exposure throughout their lives in affected spaces. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), radon gas is the second most common cause of lung-cancer-related deaths and is responsible for 3% to 14% of lung cancer cases worldwide. The students plan to expand the project in order to analyse the impact of ultraviolet rays, another major radiation-related cause of cancer.

A third team’s project is based on haptic technology that allows virtual interaction based on the sense of touch. The team has developed a vest that transmits data on blood pressure, temperature and response to stimuli, making it possible for virtual training exercises for high-risk situations to incorporate more realistic sensitivity. The vest records the physiological changes (heart rate, breathing rate and perspiration) in the wearer during virtual training exercises. This makes it possible to adapt the training programme to each person’s response to high-risk situations and to determine when he or she is ready to face them in real life.

Another team has developed an alternative to the current scientific publishing system that focuses more on the dissemination of the results and their impact on society. In the existing system, the impact of research is measured only in terms of the number of citations received by a particular scientific article (the “h-index”). The students created an alternative index that broadens the concept of a scientific publication’s impact and places greater value on its impact on society, in addition to patents and the transfer of knowledge and technology to the market.

A fifth team of students created a device to improve air quality in indoor spaces and in urban mobility systems. The system filters the air and eliminates harmful particles, thereby improving the psychological sensations associated with enclosed spaces and increasing general well-being.