Copyright: NASA
Copyright: NASA
22 June 2020
INSPIRED: a virtual trip to the stars
Copyright: NASA
Students from three UNITE! Partners are designing a bioreactor for space missions in the INSPIRED project

The INSPIRED (International Project Week for Interdisciplinary Research-Oriented Digital Learning) project is being held entirely in digital form this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Students from Portugal, Italy and Germany are carrying out research and learning together in interdisciplinary groups for three weeks. Their task: to design a sustainable and efficient bioreactor that can generate nutrients and therapeutics under the extreme conditions found in space. The project has been held under the umbrella of the European University UNITE! since 2020. INSPIRED is a good example of what UNITE! stands for: completely new forms of cross-border teaching and student exchange.


INSPIRED builds on a long tradition of international and interdisciplinary projects at TU Darmstadt. Coordinated by the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Biology and Materials and Earth Sciences, the programme consists of two phases: a virtual e-Learning phase and the so-called “Do phase” – a three-week summer school that was held on-site in Darmstadt during the first edition of the project in 2019. In the e-Learning course, the participants with different specialist backgrounds prepare independently to complete the task that awaits them during the summer school. In the “Do phase”, the main aim is to investigate an unusual and challenging (bio)engineering issue together – in international and interdisciplinary project teams.


Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the planned face-to-face summer school has been completely replaced by a digital format. Following the conclusion of the preparatory e-Learning course (30 March to 14 June), the project coordinators can now look forward to welcoming the students of the UNITE! alliance to the virtual team project for INSPIRED 2020 (22 June to 10 July). “Nobody imagined six months ago that we would have to hold a summer school study project in virtual form. All of those involved deserve a lot of praise for enabling us to hold the event in this creative way. In particular, the fact that we are able to offer the students a fantastic teaching and learning programme in an international context during a period characterised by immobility is truly outstanding”, says Biology Professor Heribert Warzecha, one of the founders of INSPIRED and TU Vice President for Academic Affairs and Diversity.


The task facing the students over the next three weeks is to design a sustainable and efficient bioreactor that can generate the special nutrients and therapeutics required by inhabitants of future colonies in space. This will call for creativity, inventiveness and cooperation – and this year, the students participating in the project will reach for the starts together from home.


As in the originally planned face-to-face event, the digital INSPIRED 2020 project will specially promote interaction and cooperation between students and offer a lively networking platform: It will unite students across national boundaries and expand their educational and career perspectives.


The university alliance UNITE! – that is organising INSPIRED 2020 – pursues the same goal. TU Darmstadt as the coordinator and 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) have joined together in UNITE! (University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering) as part of the European Universities Initiative of the European Commission. Their objective is to create a trans-European campus for students, researchers and all other relevant status groups, with the involvement of regions and companies. As is also the case in the INSPIRED project, the focus is placed on innovative pedagogic concepts, e-Learning in a trans-European – and currently primarily virtual – campus, greater interdisciplinary collaboration and international cooperation. 


INSPIRED 2020 is a significant step on this path, with students from three UNITE! partner universities, TU Darmstadt, Universidade de Lisboa and Politecnico di Torino, participating and jointly pushing current frontiers to carry out research into the challenges of the future.

Press contacts

For questions about INSPIRED:

Dr. Andrea Dirsch-Weigand, Didactics and virtual working environment for INSPIRED, +49 6151 16-76650, 

Dr. Agata Staniek, Coordinator INSPIRED, +49 6151 16-20906, 

For questions on the European University alliance UNITE!:

Dr. Andreas Winkler, Secretary General of UNITE!, +49 6151 16-24059, 

Further information:



UNITE! at TU Darmstadt:


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).