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A Design Challenge in Times of COVID-19 The first semester project

Across our program, the student's journey is marked by transdisciplinary projects at the intersection of societal and technical challenges. This year, the Design project for our first-semester took a new and exciting shape.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges to people all over the world. In this semester project, students have been challenged to bridge the gap between knowledge and societal needs by designing a technology that enhances the quality of life of stakeholders that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students worked on different challenges at the intersection of academic disciplines. By combining state-of-the-art research with an in-depth understanding of the needs, values, and socio-cultural context of their stakeholders, they designed a technology that met the criteria for responsible research and innovation, citizen science, and transdisciplinarity. Their design concepts were refined throughout an iterative design methodology that considered the interdependence of ethical, social, environmental, and technological factors. By the end of the semester, students showcased their final design in a digital portfolio and presented it to experts from all over the world, as well as to a panel of the ATLAS community.

The result was an enriching experience whose results can be checked out below:

sustainable grid

The first team decided to take on a problem in Rotterdam. With their design, the group wants to help residents of Rotterdam with safeguarding their access to freshly grown crops. With a compact, self-sustaining and modular product for growing your own crops in your backyard, the group makes it very easy for the customer to have fresh and biological food. Want to learn more about this design? Check out the project team's website.


Providing Ethiopia's lowlands with clean water - that is the design challenge the second team took on. In Ethiopia, washing hands (an effective measurement against the spread of the COVID-19 virus) is often not possible due to a lack of water sources. This team designed a product that can solve this problem. A pump-like installation including several filters and the re-use of water gives a reliable supply of clean, safe water while making sure that every drop of water is used efficiently. Interested in the design? The project website provides more information.


A combination of hydroponics, lowtech, urban and vertical farming: the solution this third team came up with to provide the slums of Mumbai with essential nutrients during and outside the COVID-19 pandemic. The design consists of PVC pipes attached to a frame in a vertical zigzag formation, allowing water to flow from the top to the bottom through all pipes. In these pipes, holes will be made to house the plants. With an additional sunlight reflector on top of the frame and a pulley system to adjust the hight of the PVC pipes to the height of the user, the design is completed. Want to read more about this innovative combination of vertical farming and hydroponics? Check out the team's website.

Safe water for the Favelas

Brazil's slums - another location where there is a need for clean and safe water. This team took another approach, by taking a simple, but smart approach. By choosing a combination of sustainable soap, a frugal water filter and instructional posters, the team wants to improve hygiene and the safety of water. The water filter, for example, consists of a plastic bottle, some sand, rocks, charcoal and a piece of fabric, and shows impressive results in filtering water. You can read more about this project at this group's website.


Washing hands is one of the things that is emphasized during the current pandemic, something that is rather difficult at the Central de Abasto market, one of the largest markets in the world. This fifth team came up with a portable handwashing station that uses about 500 ml of water per handwash. With a 25L water tank and ample soap, the WashBox supplies for 50 handwashes. The whole product is made out of recycled materials. Interested in this idea? The team's website provides you with more information.

Drinking water for refugees

The mission of this team was to reduce queues for drinking water in Camp Moria to slow the spread of COVID-19. In this refugee camp in Greece, the conditions are said to be among the worst of any refugee camp on earth. Queuing for water, plastic waste and COVID-19 are the main problems this group wanted to tackle. A solar still was their solution. It takes advantage of the available seawater, which is converted into 5 litres of drinkable water a day. Are you curious to how this works? The website about this project provides you with more information.


The seventh team decided to design a product that improves the hygiene of people in Bidi Bidi, Uganda. Bidi Bidi used to be a small village, but became one of the largest refugee settlements in the world. The team decided to improve the situation of the people living here, and came up with an inventive design to improve the availability of soap. A human-powered machine mixes water and soap powder into liquid soap, read to supply the whole community with this detergent, essential for fighting the spread of the COVID-19 virus. For more information on ...andWash, check out the team's website.

University College Twente offers a unique bachelor’s programme, Technology, Liberal, Arts and Sciences, to top students. Visit the University College Twente website for more information about the college and Technology, Liberal, Arts and Sciences website for more information about the bachelor program. Or visit us during the open day or a student-for-a-day.

Jarmo Schoemaker
Writer, Class of 2022
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