Ideas worth nurturing

Originally created in response to requests from experimentalists working in the collaborations, IdeaSquare has evolved into a place where innovative ideas meet established expertise. Although the project is still in its pilot phase, two EU-funded projects have found their home in the IdeaSquare building and 46 students have already participated in the Challenge-Based Innovation courses based there. More to come…


IdeaSquare, which will be inaugurated on 9 December, is the name given to the B3179 refurbished building at LHC Point 1. More importantly, IdeaSquare is the name of a project designed to nurture innovation at CERN. “The scope of the project is to bring together researchers, engineers, people from industry and young students and encourage them to come up with new ideas that are useful for society, inspired by CERN’s ongoing detector R&D and upgrade projects,” explains Markus Nordberg who, together with Marzio Nessi, set up IdeaSquare within the Development and Innovation Unit (see box).

In addition to pursuing its core mission, IdeaSquare has already attracted two EU-funded projects – EDUSAFE and TALENT – and has hosted two Challenge Based Innovation (CBI) courses and one hackathon, among other events. “IdeaSquare is a modular building built out of containers,” says Nordberg. “Projects can find office space and a ready-to-use technical infrastructure here. They can also take advantage of the great networking and idea-sharing opportunities.”

The only requirement to be part of the IdeaSquare programme is simple but very challenging: you must have an idea worth nurturing – that is, an idea that combines innovation with usefulness in particle physics and for society. “At IdeaSquare, we agree to support projects only after consulting with all the parties involved, including, of course, the CERN Management and experiments,” explains Nordberg.

One of the new ideas currently being considered as a potential future project to be developed at IdeaSquare is the possible use of technologies related to the Gas Electron Multiplier (GEM) detectors found in the CMS experiment. “In the current detectors, charged particles are multiplied and accelerated to “impact” on the read-out electronics,” explains Stefano Colafranceschi, an aeronautical engineer working in the CMS collaboration. “With SpaceGEM, we are thinking of building a novel engine for spaceships using GEM’s very efficient capability to accelerate charged particles. The idea consists of accelerating a plasma of charged particles and eventually expelling it to propel the spaceship.”

Besides SpaceGEM, and thanks to the CBI courses and other initiatives, IdeaSquare has already gathered over a hundred new ideas, just a few of which will end up being prototyped at CERN. “IdeaSquare is an example of the many connections existing between “Open Science” and “Open Innovation”. It is the common ground where creativity coming from research infrastructure meets society at large,” concludes Sergio Bertolucci, CERN’s Director for Research and Computing. 

The Development and Innovation Unit

Established in 2013, the Development and Innovation Unit (DG-DI-DI) contributes to the longer-term development work on detector and imaging technology carried out at CERN and elsewhere, with the parallel aim of generating benefits to society. The Unit works with and engages external partners to foster the development and innovation potential of detector technology outside the domain of particle physics. The Unit works closely with related departments and groups, including for example FP-KT, PH, IT and DG-EU. It actively seeks external funding for the above activities from sources such as the European Union.

Besides IdeaSquare, the Development and Innovation Unit also coordinates the following activities:

  • Neutrino programme - Launching an R&D programme for the development of technologies required for the creation of a modern neutrino beam line and to host related installations and projects;
  • ATTRACT - Initiative presented to the European Commission for a dedicated detector and imaging R&D programme, engaging small and medium-sized enterprises and students.


by Antonella Del Rosso