Valérie Bergeron: "We want to bet on design as a carrier of innovation"

Materfad, FAD's materioteca, together with Barcelona Design Center, are members of the European Datemats project, an ongoing collaborative initiative that seeks understanding between academia, knowledge and design transfer centres, and industry and business. Through a programme of training activities, a network is created between members of four European universities and up to 72 companies, which seek to take the best of the convergence between design, engineering and creativity.

We spoke to the director of Materfad, Valérie Bergeron, who is committed to initiatives of this type: formative, transdisciplinary, and who seek to innovate, always with sustainability as a flag.

What is the Datemats project?

The idea is to associate a university with a materials center and a company or group of companies. Each participating country – Spain, Italy, Finland and Denmark – has these three figures represented and specializes in a material. In the case of Spain, the university that represents us is the Tecnun in Navarra and we specialize in nanotechnology. We have joined the project with great enthusiasm: it is encouraging to think that we are facilitating understanding between universities, companies and industry.

How do you work?

Each of these countries works with its universities – Italy with Politecnico di Milano, Finland with the Aalto University of Espoo, and Denmark with the Copenhagen KEA – developing new knowledge transfer methodologies, and finally and if the context allows us to organize a joint workshop next year, here in Barcelona. The idea is that all students can come from, since the essence of the Erasmus+ programme – which is where we receive funding – is that these young people can travel around Europe to work and learn about innovation in materials.

Why is it important to link design and engineering from academic training?

Design is the vector capable of understanding the discourse of engineering, companies and universities. The designer is able to understand and imagine new products and spaces to finally introduce innovation into our society. Perhaps it is usually 25 years from the time an idea of technological innovation appears until it materializes and changes our lives. We believe that design is capable of accelerating this, and it is one of the things we do from the Materfad, as well as promoting responsibility.

Whose responsibility?

It is not so much whose but in what: we want to prevent materials from being mis-applied and more environmental problems are generated. We do not believe that there are bad materials or technology in themselves, but bad ways to apply them. At Materfad we make accompaniment in the transfer of knowledge and in the responsible application of these.

Is the Datemats project a commitment to sustainability?

And so much! One of the lines of the FAD is to address the environmental problem that we have at the global level. The impact on sustainability and participation in the circular economy are always priority issues. The Datemats project wants to influence young people who are forming today because they can think alternatives for tomorrow. We need to give the keys to knowledge in materials in universities, so that they understand that with the use of certain technologies we can save a lot of energy and waste in the treatment of a material, for example. Our scientific director, Robert Thompson, is in charge of transmitting this knowledge.

Is it using materials we already know in a new way or creating new materials that we don't know yet about?

What is important is to look at the materials with a new consciousness. Depending on how you laminate wood, for example, you can mold it like a fabric and make shoes. What we are interested in is using a material with unconventional resources, and this can be achieved with both known materials and materials that are yet to be created. Innovation is responsible for severing damage to the environment and for severing waste that we cannot return to the circular economy. We have a huge challenge globally, and we believe we can be part of the solution.

Through design?

Until now there was a tradition of thinking that the scientific world was the carrier of innovation. We want to bet on design, because innovation will come from this discipline as well. Material creation is not only done in scientific laboratories, but there are also designers who imagine them. If one of the key points is which materials we choose and how we use them, we want to be there, empowering the designer as a material creator and carrier of innovation.

In this sense, can the Datemats project set a precedent?

I think so, because all the projects that the EU decides to subsidise are somehow challenging. When we launched the Materfad 12 years ago, there were only four or five material centers around the world; there are now so many because the need to better control our relationship with materials and innovation has become apparent. In fact, there are often people who still don't understand what we're doing, since it's still a fairly recent discipline. So yes, we could say that we are leading an international materials innovation project.

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