An image of earth taken from space.
Picture by NASA's Earth Observatory
An image of earth taken from space.
Picture by NASA's Earth Observatory
Students design an extraterrestrial greenhouse in a Unite! summer project
An image of earth taken from space.
Picture by NASA's Earth Observatory
INSPIRED, the International Project Week for Interdisciplinary Research-Oriented Digital Learning, is launching its second virtual team project on June 14, 2021 following its successful 2020 edition. Across universities, countries, and continents, the participating students will carry out research and learn together in interdisciplinary teams. Their task: to design a sustainable and efficient greenhouse facility on Mars.

The three-week summer school is the culmination of an exclusively digital program offer, redesigned last year from its original blended format in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The INSPIRED summer school is established on a strong foundation of international and interdisciplinary projects fostered by the Technical University of Darmstadt. Coordinated by the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Materials and Earth Sciences, and Biology, the program consists of two phases: an asynchronous e-Learning phase and the so-called “Do phase”. In the e-Learning course, the participants of diverse academic backgrounds prepare independently to complete the task that awaits them during the summer school. Their main objective in the “Do phase” is to investigate an unconventional and challenging (bio)engineering problem together – in international and interdisciplinary project teams, whether co-located or remote.

Bespoke virtual working environment for 55 international students

Following the conclusion of the preparatory e-Learning course (March 22 to June 6), the program coordinators are now looking forward to welcoming 55 students of the Unite! alliance and beyond – with participants from Brazil, Japan, Singapore, and the USA joining in. The INSPIRED 2021 Virtual Team Project will take place from June 14 to July 2 and offers them a bespoke virtual working environment. “With great interest, I took part in the lectures ‘Foundations of Space Systems’ and ‘Orbital Mechanics’ at TU Darmstadt and developed an increasing interest in space travel and astronomy. This is my first time participating in such a project. I am looking forward to getting in touch with everybody and sharing interests and ideas”, comments participant Samuel Dera during the e-Learning phase. Dera is a master student in Mechanical Engineering at TU Darmstadt.

“In the second edition of a purely virtual program, we are excited to see so many students from all over the world attending our very special summer school. While not able to travel on our own planet, we are again headed to Mars to solve some of the challenges of future space travel”, says biology professor Heribert Warzecha, one of the founders of INSPIRED and TU Darmstadt’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Diversity. The Extraterrestrial Greenhouse challenge that the students are about to tackle is to design a facility that can supply the space-traversing inhabitants of the future off-world colonies with sustainable nourishment. This will call for creativity, inventiveness, and cooperation. While set against the background of space travel and the exploration of the red planet – featuring prominently in recent headlines, the task has clear implications for the problem of food sustainability that we are facing here on Earth.

In a series of guest lectures and Q&A sessions dubbed ESA Lab Experience, the program participants will get the opportunity to find out what it takes to be a successful space scientist. The sessions are meant to complement their multidisciplinary teamwork supported by trained mentors and advisors. Moreover, the students have been invited to join the Merck Virtual Site Experience with live dialogue offered by Merck KGaA, the world's oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company, as well as the live online tour of the GSI and FAIR (Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research and Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research), both located in Darmstadt. An array of cultural online activities is in store as well.

Summer school under the umbrella of Unite! since 2020

The three-week summer school INSPIRED was held for the first time on-site in Darmstadt in 2019. Since 2020, it has been held virtually under the umbrella of the Unite! European university alliance. INSPIRED 2021 continues on this path, with students from six of the Unite! partner universities (TU Darmstadt, Aalto, Grenoble INP-UGA, PoliTO, ULisboa, and UPC) participating and jointly pushing current frontiers of research towards the challenges of the future. INSPIRED is a good example of what Unite! stands for and how students profit from it: innovative, challenge-based, team-oriented forms of teaching with co-students from all over the world. The summer school provides students with an opportunity to experience multidisciplinary teamwork, in a way that they never do in their education otherwise.

Whether face-to-face or online, the INSPIRED project promotes interaction and collaboration between students and offers a lively networking platform. Now, welcoming its participants to the carefully curated virtual working environment, the program additionally aims to prepare students to face the challenges of the emerging professional contexts – digital, multidisciplinary, international and intercultural, requiring synchronous as well as asynchronous cooperation – to broaden their career perspectives.

In the spirit of Unite!, the INSPIRED team shared the didactic concept of interdisciplinary and international project weeks within the alliance to grow the family of exciting and innovative short-term student exchange programs. The inaugural edition of ULisses, University of Lisbon Interdisciplinary Studies on Sustainable Environment and Seas, is running this summer and a new offering by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is expected to launch in 2022.

Contact for questions about INSPIRED:

Agata Staniek, Ph.D., &

Maik Mendler, M.Sc.,

INSPIRED Coordinators

Text by Daniela Fleckenstein (TUDa):