Global Issues program recognizes outstanding projects

© 2019 Maxime Marendaz

© 2019 Maxime Marendaz

At a ceremony held on March 5 at the SwissTech Convention Center, 12 of the best student posters from the 2018 Global Issues course in the College of Humanities (CDH) received awards, and four were selected for special recognition. Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus provided a thought-provoking keynote speech.

Each year, more than 1,000 students from EPFL’s eight faculties and colleges participate in the CDH Global Issues course across six tracks: health, climate, food, energy, communication and mobility. Usually, the three best student posters from the course are chosen for special recognition each year, but in 2018, four posters earned this honor.

© Maxime Marendaz 2019

A unique and essential course

Opening the ceremony, EPFL Vice President for Innovation Marc Gruber and CDH Director Béla Kapossy introduced the Global Issues course, which is part of the CDH’s Social and Human Sciences program. The course is compulsory for all EPFL first-year students, and the six tracks are taught by both science/engineering and social sciences educators from EPFL and the University of Lausanne to create an interdisciplinary learning experience.

“If you look at the problems that humanity is facing nowadays, I think it is always the combination of technology and human and social sciences that can provide good answers. Understanding both topics together is a true competence that our students should have,” Gruber said.

Kapossy added that the program is a notable example of the college’s “POLY-perspective”, which brings together research, education and public engagement activities within a framework of interdisciplinarity, global awareness, active citizenship and creativity.

The groups of students behind the four best posters then took the stage to present their projects to the audience.

© Maxime Marendaz 2019

“You have to build new roads”

The evening was highlighted by a keynote address by Professor Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with the Grameen Bank, which he founded in Bangladesh in 1983. Yunus pioneered the concept of microcredit, or small loans to help those in poverty – especially women – support their own businesses and livelihoods. He is also an advocate for social business, and EPFL is home to Switzerland’s only Yunus Social Business Centre.

Yunus focused his talk on his three greatest concerns for the future of humanity: the “ticking time bomb” of wealth inequality, the urgency of the need to limit climate warming, and threats to society and employment posed by technologies like artificial intelligence.

“If you follow the old roads, they will always take you to the old destination. If you want to build a new world without environmental threats, with shared wealth, and with technology to benefit people, that’s a new destination. In order to reach it, you have to build new roads, and that's your task,” he told the audience.

Yunus closed by referencing the final pillar of the CDH “POLY-perspective”: “Each human has unlimited creative power. If humans created all these problems, then it’s humans who can solve them,” he said.

© Maxime Marendaz 2019

The best posters of Global Issues 2018

In the category of food, Paul Moreau, Camille Delgrange, Fannie Kerff, Estelle Renard-Dausset and Zeina Gabr presented their poster entitled, “To Beef or not to beef - La culture de viande in-vitro: une alternative durable à l’élevage intensif ?/In-vitro meat culture : a sustainable alternative to intensive livestock farming?” Their conclusion: despite ethical, health and technological challenges, in-vitro meat has potential as a sustainable alternative to intensive livestock farming. However, they caution that the high-tech solution could mask the real environmental problem: overconsumption of meat.

In the category of climate, Kjetill Christinat, Jules Gros-Daillon, Victoria Kunz, Capucine Marion and Quentin Pythoud presented their poster, “Les arbres oxalogènes: Une solution pour le stockage de CO2/Oxalogenic trees: A solution for CO2 storage”. Based on a local case study of a forest in Haiti, the students concluded that planting oxalogenic trees – which fix atmospheric carbon dioxide with the help of bacteria and fungi – could be a sustainable and effective solution for carbon storage in light of global deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Two groups presented posters from the health track. Eugénie Chabenat, Charlotte Meyer, Mathilde Outters and Camille Pescatore’s poster was entitled, “Crise des Opioïdes : Addiction sur ordonnance ? L’exemple des Etats-Unis/Opioid Crisis: Prescription Addiction? The example of the United States”. The students argued that the crisis currently affecting the US requires coordinated intervention by governments and medical providers to provide a legal framework for effective substance dependence intervention, prevention and treatment. Big data, they said, can be an important tool for helping researchers identify biomarkers for predisposition to addiction.

Finally, Loïc Lerville, Alexy Mann, Philippine des Courtils, Pauline Ruch and Kazuma Miyai presented their project, “5G: Enjeux et controversies/5G: Issues and controversies”. They provided a detailed background on the technological promise of 5G wireless networks, legislation governing their implementation in Switzerland, and conflicting research on the potential health impacts associated with non-ionizing radiation. They argued for more realistic threshold values and scientific consensus on potential health risks, as well as technological alternatives to 5G implementation in Switzerland.

All images © Maxime Marendaz.