When you look back in time, what do you see differently? 

Reflecting on our recent journey at CERN, it’s hard not to marvel at how time and perspective can reshape our experiences. This blog is part 1 of 2 covering our journey and experience of working alongside really smart people at CERN.   Jet lag became our unexpected companion as we landed back in the Eastern time zone after two exhilarating, albeit exhausting, weeks in Switzerland. The memories we created, the friendships we forged, and the expansion of our minds were all part of a transformative experience at CERN Ideasquare. While it’s impossible to encapsulate the full thrill in a simple blog, we are determined to do justice to the adventure. Our intensive journey kicked off on November 6, 2023.The first stroll towards Ideasquare felt like stepping into a dream, with the imposing CERN globe and the newly erected Science Gateway, with the scenic Alps in the background, providing a tantalizing glimpse of what lay ahead.

The inaugural day was introductions, with some nicely prepared icebreakers, which allowed  us to introduce ourselves to the people who we would proudly call family after 2 weeks! After a general info session, we embarked on a tour of the CERN campus, standing in awe at the birthplace of the internet (keep reading for a surprise related to this!), and witnessing the place where the linear acceleration of hydrogen protons starts, which puts the renowned Large Hadron Collider into motion. The day concluded with a deep dive into the “Growth Mindset” philosophy and the formation of team dynamics, setting the stage for the weeks ahead. This session taught us to rephrase our “Failures” with “Not Yet’s.” 


New York City Design Factory at CERN IdeaSquare

The second day was nothing short of thrilling. We delved into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and explored the intricate web of “Systems thinking.” Later, Dr. Markus Nordberg, the head of resources development at CERN, took us on a mind-bending journey through the world of science-fiction and the relentless pursuit of unraveling the mysteries of our universe, down to the mind-boggling 10^-43 seconds after the big bang. He recounted the decades of demanding work that it took to build massive particle colliders that  help observe the tiniest of particles. Call that passion, perseverance, and commitment!  Neal Stone, former head of design at British Airways, introduced us to the double diamond design thinking process, providing insights gleaned from his experience – including working on the 2012 Olympic Torch. The days that followed were a whirlwind of ideation within our groups, resulting in innovative prototypes. Team Oculus designed a sink that saves water by preventing dishwashing, and solution for brownfields composed of lead-absorbing worms, among other prototypes and ideas.

Sharing stored solar energy across the world

The new sink at IdeaSquare!

We unpacked cutting-edge technology from ATTRACT, gaining a profound understanding of solutions developed by scientists. Sessions on idea napkins, discard studies, and ethnographic research equipped us with the tools needed for our upcoming research. The week reached its crescendo with a session on tackling complex problems by Pablo Garcia Tello, Section Head of Development of EU projects & Initiatives at CERN.  Pablo provided us with a masterclass on problem quantification and finding the key variables responsible for driving the production and consumption of a product, helping in identifying possible solutions to a problem.  A highlight of the week was the visit to the Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the four detectors of the Large Hadron Collider, where we descended 100 feet underground to marvel at the feat of engineering. The sheer scale of the underground facility, the hum of scientific instruments, and the palpable excitement among our group created an unforgettable memory. 

The week concluded with a community breakfast, where we shared cultural treats amongst our peers, teaching teams, and some CERNies willing to spare some time educating us on what they do at CERN. Remember the surprise we mentioned at the start of the blog? The breakfast was graced by the presence of… drumrolls… the Co-Inventor of the World Wide Web, Mr. Robert Cailliau. Our jaws dropped the moment we got to know that the humorous and highly enthusiastic man we were talking to for the last 15 minutes was one of the reasons for the existence of the internet! We got the chance to chat about his experience working at CERN throughout the years, and hear some of his thoughts on UX design topics. 

Stay tuned for part 2, where we will dive deeper into the technology and share information about our presentations in week 2!



Nishant, Lauren, Liza, & Priyanka!