Virtual Mars mission completed

A retrospective on the first INSPIRED by UNITE!


INSPIRED (International Project Week for Interdisciplinary Research-Oriented Digital Learning) is an international and interdisciplinary project at TU Darmstadt that was held under the umbrella of the European University UNITE! for the first time in 2020. Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, the project was exclusively held in virtual form. Students, members of the jury and the organisational team reflected on what they thought about the first INSPIRED by UNITE! in a project retrospective.


In this project with a rich tradition organised by three TU Departments, 19 UNITE! students from 12 disciplines and seven different countries from three UNITE! partners set themselves a common mission: to develop a bioreactor that could supply a six to eight person team with at least ten therapeutics and/or nutritional supplements as an “Interstellar Farmacy”. The participants competed against one another in three teams and presented their designs at the end of the three-week summer school to members of the jury – professors from TU Darmstadt, Universidade de Lisboa and KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The result: Mission accomplished – both the team results and also the project itself were a real success.

"This project offers a different challenge from what we are used to, which is very interesting and tests our knowledge to the limit." - Xavier Lomba Viana

I was very impressed. I think the combination of a real challenge, and a challenge that was very open, to which there was no single correct solution and where the number of degrees of freedom was extremely high, provided the students with an opportunity to really experience multidisciplinary engineering in a way that they never do in their education otherwise.
Prof. Arnold Pears, KTH, Department of Learning in Engineering, School of Industrial Technology and Management, Guest INSPIRED jury member.

First of all, one of the main goals of UNITE! is to promote science technology, and also engineering education in a multidisciplinary and multicultural environment. And these are the key issues, also, for the INSPIRED project. So, multidisciplinary challenges are being investigated by the students and people from all over the world are involved in the teamwork. So, all the ingredients of INSPIRED fit exactly in this purpose of UNITE!. The second aspect is the virtual, physical or blended mobility, which is one of the key aspects of UNITE! also. One of the main goals of UNITE! is to improve or facilitate physical and virtual mobility of students. The idea is to create a kind of virtual campus, offering online tools, digital spaces for teaching and learning and virtual classrooms for joint teaching mobility or virtual mobility, and also socio-cultural experiences. This is also happening with the INSPIRED project. So, for those two reasons, I would say that INSPIRED is really in line with the UNITE! goals and ideas for the future. It is a good example of what UNITE! stands for.
Prof. Luís Castro, ULisboa, Instituto Superior Técnico, Guest INSPIRED jury member.

It’s ok if you are a bit shy or if you are not as confident with your English as you would like, because everyone is on the same boat. We just work as a team; we figure out how to make it work and we build friendships and great working groups. And it’s very satisfying at the end, how you evolve as a person. […] I’m a little bit sad that UNITE! only came along in these past few months. I’m now finishing my master’s degree and almost finishing my studying journey, but you – that are starting or are in the middle of your process – just go for it. It’s an amazing experience and you will never regret it. I would do it again with my eyes closed.
Sara Simões, ULisboa, Food Science & Engineering

I applied for INSPIRED, because I would like to do my master of science in Radiation Biology and I’m pretty interested in everything, which is about space. […] I would definitely recommend INSPIRED to other students, because you learn so much about the interdisciplinary work and that different fields of studies are important to get diverse solutions and approaches for a problem. In the end, you can choose the most durable and the most stable one.
Melina Kumpf, TU Darmstadt, Biology; winner of INSPIRED 2020

I definitely recommend you apply for it. Doing this project, you will open your mind, understand new perspectives, new subjects, broaden your career possibilities and meet amazing people from other countries. When you finish this project, you will notice that you evolved a lot in terms of knowledge and personal development. With this project, you will really get INSPIRED to the future.
Soraia Lopes, ULisboa, Veterinary Medicine; winner of INSPIRED 2020

This project offers a different challenge from what we are used to, which is very interesting and tests our knowledge to the limit. It allows us to gain and improve our skills in such different topics, such as materials science, biology, product development, project management and much more. It also offers a unique opportunity to know more people, learn about different cultures, countries, societies and lifestyles by exchanging different perspectives, ideas and knowledge. So, all of these differences and similarities were essential, and it helped us to do a great, creative and innovative project.
Xavier Da Fonseca Caetano Lomba Viana, ULisboa, Food Science & Engineering; winner of INSPIRED 2020

The students participating in the virtual team project this year took to their fully digital setting like ducks to water. They approached it with great ease and felt very comfortable in this setting, which is perhaps not necessarily surprising, but certainly exceeded our expectations. Also, their enthusiasm and drive to really deliver good solutions to the multifaceted problem that they were presented with – really just blew me away.
Agata Staniek, Ph. D., TU Darmstadt, Biology, INSPIRED program coordinator

Today, we have made the experiences that the students have no problems at all with the digital setting. So, they use all the tools quite intuitively and without any problems. But that, in contrast, guidance from mentors and scientific advisors is absolutely needed for methodical and scientific work. The teams develop a really strong team spirit and team commitment and even want to stay in contact after the project. And that’s a wonderful result.
Dr. Andrea Dirsch-Weigand, TU Darmstadt, INSPIRED Coordination Team, Didactic Advice & Support

So if you look at the lessons learned, as I said, we could tell that it’s possible to do it in a completely virtual format, without any team meetings and presence, which is not ideal but at least feasible. This is something very special and that is due to the fact that everybody gave their best, especially those doing the training, so all the educational advice given to the team – thank you very much for that, and also to the students, who volunteered starting in a virtual project. Therefore, I think I need to thank, and I want to thank, everybody by heart for doing that very special project – thank you.
Prof. Heribert Warzecha, TU Darmstadt, Vice President, Academic Affairs & Diversity, INSPIRED founding professor

"Without interdisciplinary work no astronaut would ever fly to Mars." - Melina Kumpf

About UNITE!

Alongside TU Darmstadt as the coordinator, UNITE! (University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering) also includes Aalto University (Finland), KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), Grenoble Institute of Technology (France), Politecnico di Torino (Italy), Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (Spain) and Universidade de Lisboa (Portugal).

The seven partner universities aim to use the European University to create a trans-European campus for students and researchers with the involvement of regions and companies. The partners have a total of 167,000 students, already cooperate closely in more than 80 EU projects and have exchanged more than 2,000 students in the past five years. The alliance has set itself the goal of combining courses for the benefit of students, breaking down existing technical and administrative hurdles, and thus significantly increasing student mobility. Research will also benefit from the conditions created for larger and easier cooperation, which will strengthen the competitiveness of the European Higher Education Area overall.

UNITE! is being funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union, while the INSPIRED project within UNITE! is receiving funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research via the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).