A spirited and creative brainstorming marathon for Mars


More than hundred secondary school pupils from years 5 and 6 competed in the "Creativity Marathon" on 9 and 10 March, organised by the Flemish organisations, Vlajo and essenscia, at Technopolis in Mechelen. The aim of the game: for each team to fire up its imagination and come up with an ingenious plan to meet a major scientific challenge. At the end of a close race brimming with discussions and ideas, it was the 'Rocketpower' team, coached by experts in space research from SCK•CEN, who came out on top of the three finalists.

It is very clear from the broad smiles and concentrated faces of the hundred or so youngsters gathered together at Technopolis, that the scientific challenges set by this Creativity Marathon aroused a flood of ideas the moment they were announced. These year 5 and 6 secondary school pupils from all four corners of Flanders were mixed together to form 18 teams. Three major themes, proposed by the companies sponsoring the event, were distributed among the teams. “Imagine a sustainable habitat for astronauts on a mission on Mars". It didn’t take long for the challenge set by SCK•CEN to fire up the neurons of these budding young entrepreneurs.

Martian energy

From an underground shelter shielded from radiation to Martian wind turbines, or growing cacti to produce oxygen, ideas merged and bounced off one another during brainstorming sessions led by coaches from the research centre, who had dressed in their ESA-stamped space suits for the occasion. Participants laughed, shouted, dared, and questioned. After the first day of reflection, it was time for the presentation to the jury. Every group had four short minutes to convince the jury of its project’s validity. Then came the final between the six selected groups. And in an electric atmosphere, the verdict was finally pronounced: SCK•CEN’s Rocketpower team won a place on the podium.

“The curiosity and ingenuity of these youngsters is incredible!”, exclaims Sarah Baatout, head of the Radiobiology Department at SCK•CEN. “They very quickly understood the task and everyone suggested innovative and original solutions. What better for us, as researchers, to be able to pass on our passion to this ambitious younger generation. We can rest assured that they’ll be the next in line to conquer Mars!”


The Creativity Marathon is organised by Vlajo (Vlaamse Jonge Ondernemingen) and essenscia, the Belgian Federation of Chemical Industries and Life Sciences. More info: www.essenscia.be



 © Olivier Chenoix