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RCA x CERN – The Grand Challenge

A collaboration between two world-leading institutions, bringing together science and design to find solutions to global societal challenges

The Grand Challenge is a unique and for innovative learning experience for MA students in the School of Design.  

CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, and the Royal College of Art come together to explore how science, technology and design can propose solutions for international sustainability challenges.

What is the Grand Challenge?

The Grand Challenge is an interdisciplinary project that gives MA students across the RCA’s School of Design the opportunity to work collaboratively with  other disciplines, including: Design Products, Fashion, Global Innovation Design, Innovation Design Engineering, Service Design and Textiles.

Students work in interdisciplinary teams over four weeks to find solutions to a series of different global issues, set by CERN and the RCA. In 2018, the teams addressed four themes: Health & Wellbeing; Digital Disruption; Energy, Infrastructure and the Environment; and Social and Economic Disparity.

The project challenges students to identify the underlying causes of real-world issues, determining the needs of the communities most affected and the key stakeholders that could effect change.

Using existing technologies from CERN or beyond, they create compelling new solutions that demonstrate how design can produce integrated solutions that match human behaviour and social change with technological innovation.

The four winning teams visited CERN’s innovation space, IdeasSquare, to pitch and demonstrate their projects.

‘The Grand Challenge has been a fascinating learning experience for our students and will equip them with skills they can use in the next phase of their work. It’s the largest multidisciplinary project CERN has ever conducted. We have so much to learn from each other.’
Dean, School of Design, Professor Paul Anderson

‘The connection between CERN and our students enables this immense source of knowledge to become accessible for our students, so they feel that as designers they can play an important role in shaping both the present and the future.’
Innovation Design Engineering Senior Tutor Dr Savina Torrisi.

Student writes on mind map as part of a design workshop
CERN Workshop at the RCA

When did the collaboration start?

Originating as a project for first-year Service Design students, the Grand Challenge has expanded to include students from Programmes across the School of Design, seeing 374 RCA students work on four big themes.

What is CERN?

The European Laboratory for Particle Physics, 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.

Why did CERN want to work with the Royal College of Art?

CERN approached the RCA because they wanted to find innovative new ways to use their science to support and solve global societal challenges. Through collaborating with the RCA, scientists from CERN witnessed the power of design to explore and develop innovative applications for technologies through disruptive models of interdisciplinary innovation.

‘We are very interested in the differences and similarities between scientists and designers, and how working together can create new knowledge’, explains Dr Markus Nordberg, Head of Resources Development at CERN. ‘CERN wanted to work with the Royal College of Art as it is one of the best known cross disciplinary institutions that brings together different forms of artists, engineers, architects, and designers.’

A Busy Lecture Theatre
CERN Workshop at the RCA

Find out more about the Programmes in the School of Design and how to apply.

"Working in a team of people who have culturally diverse experiences can bring a lot to solving a problem. We each brought different experiences and unique strengths, which contributed to the development of the product. Coming from a Service Design background, I really enjoyed working towards a product-based outcome." Helene Benz

Student, Service Design