Marie Meets Leonardo: A Perfect Match? | Leonardo

Marie Meets Leonardo: A Perfect Match?

By Patricia Bentson

Editorial by Sue Denham

In the competitive, dynamic world in which we live, technological and social innovation are seen as key to future economic success, and the European Horizon 2020 flagship program, Innovation Union, stresses the need for an education in innovation. But what educational strategies should we adopt in order to produce innovative researchers? Biological systems provide a striking contrast to current artificial systems in their capacity for adaptability, cognitive flexibility and innovation; thus, understanding the processes underlying the human capacity for creativity and innovation promises not only profound scientific insights and technological breakthroughs but also the basis for an innovative approach to research education. Humans, like other animals, actively explore their world; they respond to novel situations and problems by creating and evaluating potential solutions, they remember new information and ways to behave gained in this process, and exploit their knowledge in subsequent thoughts, actions and imaginative leaps. This creativity or innovation does not occur in a vacuum. What is critically important for social and technological progress is innovation within appropriate constraints, cognitive innovation.

The history of humanity is punctuated by those who exemplify these ideals; outstanding innovators who understood the potential profound social and technological impact of their work. One such person, Marie Skłodowska-Curie (the only woman to have won two Nobel prizes, and in different disciplines!), was extraordinarily innovative not only in her pioneering scientific work on radioactivity but also in understanding its broader value; her discovery that radiation killed tumour cells faster than healthy ones revolutionized cancer treatment, and in creating and helping to run the first mobile field X-ray units during the First World War she touched the lives of millions of people. The European Marie Curie program now provides generous funding to help researchers enrich their early research experience. Leonardo Da Vinci, with his astonishingly diverse range of interests was, as we all know, the archetypal polymath. An innovator without precedent, he understood only too well the wider potential for technological innovation inspired by his artistic and scientific discoveries. Leonardo/ISAST, in emulation of this Renaissance humanist ideal, seeks to facilitate the exchange of ideas between artists, scientists and technologists. So it seems apt that the Marie Curie program and the Leonardo organization should join forces in support of CogNovo, a new multinational doctoral training network in cognitive innovation, led by the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University.

CogNovo will provide a unique European research training platform in cognitive innovation, with substantial support and input from the private sector. In CogNovo the scientific challenges and training program are closely interwoven. The latest scientific insights into creativity will inform training initiatives designed to foster creative thinking and the generation of innovative solutions to problems. In turn, individual research projects will advance understanding of the basis for creativity in the brain, the emergence of creativity through social interactions and the construction of artificial systems capable of creativity. CogNovo offers a wide-ranging curriculum designed to nurture curiosity beyond conventional disciplinary boundaries, including rigorous Humanities training, with a particular focus on the human values important for sustainable innovation. In addition, more generic training aimed at strengthening an outward-looking contextualization of specific research discoveries will be provided by workshops in entrepreneurship and public engagement.

CogNovo is structured to foster the emergence of new ideas and questions. The expertise of the investigators and external partners spans a wide range of disciplines from the sciences, humanities and arts. Each of the individual research projects will be supervised by a multidisciplinary team of experts, offering research fellows the opportunity to integrate knowledge, methods and skills from multiple disciplines in order to formulate and explore truly interdisciplinary research questions. This juxtaposition of disciplines and research topics with overlapping strands will lead to interesting new insights that could not have been foreseen or conceived within single specific disciplinary contexts, and in this sense we expect CogNovo to be truly transdisciplinary.

CogNovo addresses the urgent need for an educational program that stimulates creativity and finds new ways to link scientific research in cognition with social and technological innovation. Over the next four years, we will join forces with 26 international partners, including Leonardo, in this exciting research training initiative. We hope to be able to share with the Leonardo community news of how this innovative approach can help to swell the ranks of future Maries and Leonardos.

Sue Denham
Leonardo Editorial Advisor
CogNovo Co-ordinator
Plymouth Cognition Institute Director

To learn more about CogNovo, see

Published in Leonardo 47:3 (2014)