After a first revealing meeting of the ATTRACT initiative presented by the initiators of IdeaSquare in Barcelona, Jan Visser remembers himself thinking "I need to make sure this grows". Spreading the word in The Netherlands most likely contributed to a good percentage of Dutch involvement in ATTRACT projects.
Having never seen an institution so "supportive of the uncommon", he, currently, —the Industry Liaison Officer in the Netherlands for CERN—thought it his duty to support the idea to "send Dutch students to IdeaSquare to work on the application of ATTRACT projects". The resulting summer schools organised by the TU Delft turned out brilliantly. "Similar institutions to IdeaSquare are slowly emerging in the Netherlands, but CERN, of course, is a very strong brand."
Visser is thrilled when he tells us about his first acquaintance with what he describes as "a place so inspiring, people instantly know they can do big things". He puts it down to the fact that IdeaSquare mixes students from different "flavours", a strategy which was especially applied for the ATTRACT project. "Initially, we put together a very varied group of engineering students from Delft and we were enthusiastic to see what they will come up with!" Now, the school takes in students from the University of Amsterdam and the Rotterdam School of Management to create an even wider range of views and backgrounds to further encourage a wide range of possible applications to be envisioned.
"There are two things that differentiate IdeaSquare from the rest of the centres of the ATTRACT consortium: the people working there and the facilities themselves."
In Jan's opinion, IdeaSquare's openness, its multidisciplinary approach and their “challenge-based” methodology is highly stimulating for students. "I was there one morning and some students were stuck with a certain problem. An IdeaSquare member heard that, and he immediately came to me saying, 'do you want me to give them a 20-minute instruction on how to tackle this?'". In about half an hour, all students were fantastically briefed, and they were able to come up with great ideas. "Especially Markus Nordberg's and Pablo García Tello's unconditional commitment is hard to find elsewhere", he adds. Indeed, with the pandemic hitting hard in 2020, it was moving to see both physicists offering help to their online students "no matter what unusual ideas they proposed".
"IdeaSquare's extraordinary atmosphere certainly gives students many opportunities to explore and prototype", Visser goes on. The fact that it's an institution willing to make them work with actual projects —those of ATTRACT— not only motivates them greatly, but also allows them to “push” real-world technologies forward. "Thanks to this 'real-market approach', I could get in touch with a whole different community of people: we were invited to Aalto, where we met the people from the other Design Factories, etc. I am really thankful to IdeaSquare for that."
"IdeaSquare is a place where students are allowed to step outside their comfort zones and breed out-of-the-box ideas they would have probably never thought of before."
Jan praises the approach taken with CIJ, IdeaSquare's Journal of Experimental innovation —"a unique journal because it's one of the few which accepts very multidisciplinary articles". According to him, it's hard to find a publication with such an unlimited freedom when it comes to innovation. "Despite having students from very different backgrounds, four or five teams managed to publish in CIJ ", he explains. "This shows the true fabric of IdeaSquare."
Jan Visser is the Industry Liaison Officer in the Netherlands for CERN. He is responsible for finding appropriate industrial partners for CERN tenders, starting collaborations in research projects and looking for opportunities for CERN technology to be adopted by existing companies or start-ups through the CERN business incubators HighTechXL in Eindhoven and ACE in Amsterdam. His overall aim is to increase the return from CERN to the Dutch industry via direct orders or technology transfer. At CERN, he is the CERN ILO-forum chair and one of the delegates for the Knowledge Transfer Fora. In addition, he supports the TU Delft summer school working with the ATTRACT projects especially in the validation process and the prototyping work at IdeaSquare.