RCA / CERN Collaboration Applies Science and Design to Sustainability Challenges

The Royal College of Art has partnered with CERN in an innovative project that brings together science, technology and design to propose solutions for international sustainability challenges.

To celebrate this partnership the RCA has hosted ‘Future States: Science and Design for Sustainability’ a day-long symposium that brought together leading practitioners from the world of science, engineering and design. These practitioners discussed the challenge of sustainability, the importance and practice of interdisciplinary innovation, and demonstrated through their projects how designers and scientists can innovate more effectively to address these challenges. The symposium also showcased six collaborative projects between Service Design students and scientists at CERN.

‘The issue of sustainability is the biggest design challenge we face, and needs a response that is systemic and urgent – one that combines technological, social and political innovation,’ explained Dr Nick de Leon, Head of Service Design at the RCA. ‘This initiative has brought together the world’s leading scientists with the uniquely creative talent of the RCA. Together they've devised solutions that go far beyond what either party had expected and have truly demonstrated the power of interdisciplinary innovation.’

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, is the home of the Large Hadron Collider and was the birthplace of the World Wide Web. Founded in 1954 CERN was one of Europe's first joint ventures and now has 22 member states. The partnership between CERN and the RCA examined how innovative and disruptive technologies can help address the world’s most intractable challenges by combining science with design. 

The collaboration focused on addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These targets are the output of the largest consultation the UN has ever undertaken; over 8 million people were consulted, 70 countries were engaged in the working parties and 193 nations have signed up to them. The goals are a compelling and clear global articulation that seeks to bring about a world of prosperous and resilient economies, fair and just societies within the limits of what the world can provide.

Teams of Service Design students have worked closely with CERN over the last six months to develop ways to exploit CERN’s technological breakthroughs to address the these sustainability goals through service design. At the symposium the students presented the outcomes of these projects which include applying CERN innovations to improve earthquake detection, tackle the issues of microplastics in the world’s oceans and create a more sustainable alternative to HFCs in air-conditioning.

The speakers at the symposium included the Head of innovation for CERN Markus Nordberg, who introduced the project along with Dr Nick de Leon, Head of Service Design at the RCA. Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, discussed the important role that innovation plays in tackling Climate Change, Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator for the Design Museum, spoke about the capacity of design to drive change, and Alison Boyle, Keeper of Science Collections at the Science Museum presented a paper discussing social engagement with science. There were also papers on sustainability and design from Dean of the School of Design Professor Paul Anderson, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering Professor John Wood and Dr Ronald Jones, Senior Service Design tutor at the RCA.