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UNSOLVeD: Exposing the big unknowns of modern scientific research

English title UNSOLVeD: Exposing the big unknowns of modern scientific research
Applicant Monin Alexander
Number 164791
Funding scheme Agora
Research institution Laboratoire de physique des particules et de cosmologie EPFL - SB - ITP - LPPC
Institution of higher education EPF Lausanne - EPFL
Main discipline Theoretical Physics
Start/End 01.02.2016 - 31.03.2021
Approved amount 178'520.00
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All Disciplines (6)

Theoretical Physics
Other disciplines of Physics
Particle Physics
Condensed Matter Physics
Astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Sciences

Keywords (13)

networks; mathematics; biophysics; theoretical physics; science; modern challenges; unsolved questions; unsolved; outreach; new perspective on science; physics; systematic approach ; internet

Lay Summary (Italian)

Lay summary
Sappiamo ciò che sappiamo, ma non sappiamo ciò che non sappiamo. E la ragione (tra le tante) é che la divulgazione scientifica si concentra soprattutto sulle scoperte di successo della scienza, quelle che hanno avuto tutto il tempo di essere digerite dalla comunità e possono così entrare a far parte della conoscenza popolare. UNSOLVeD mira invece a rivelare ciò che non sappiamo, ciò che tiene gli scienziati svegli la notte, rivela le loro debolezze. 
Il nostro progetto si concentra sulla fisica teorica ed ha come scopo quello di riunire i quesiti essenziali e più importanti a lungo termine e riproporli esponendoli in una risorsa completa che può essere facilmente compresa da tutti, ma al contempo offrire un nuovo punto di vista a chi uno specifico background scientifico già lo possiede. 
L’elemento saliente del progetto UNSOLVeD consiste in un catalogo on-line ( che organizza i vari problemi a seconda delle loro relazioni reciproche e, per ogni argomento, propone tre diversi punti di vista: un video, un testo e un disegno.
I video sono costituiti da interviste con ricercatori di punta che lavorano sui temi affrontati da UNSOLVeD, che ne motivatano l’importanza. Inoltre il video è reso comprensibile grazie ad animazioni e commenti. Il testo invece inserisce la questione in un contesto più generale creando relazione tra i differenti temi del progetto. Infine il disegno, composto in collaborazione con studenti liceali (loro stessi parte del gruppo target), propone un aspetto comunicativo differente, che situa una determinata tematica nel contesto della fisica in generale, permettendo di andare oltre una comunicazione di tipo lineare (come invece fanno il testo o il video) e facilita la messa in evidenza delle relazioni interdisciplinari.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 23.08.2016

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Francesco Riva Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
149729 La physique en dehors du modèle standard et l'univers primitif 01.10.2013 Project funding
148051 Spontaneous Conformal Symmetry Breaking and Hierarchy Problem 01.09.2014 Ambizione
160814 Particle Physics with high-quality data from the CERN LHC 01.10.2015 Sinergia


We know what we know, but we don’t know what we don’t know. And one reason (among many) is that scientific outreach typically concentrates on the successful discoveries of science, that have had the time to be digested by the community and can now be part of popular knowledge. This is not surprising given how modern science is vast and fragmented: every classical discipline has split into many highly specialized directions. As a consequence it is difficult to give a simplified global picture of state-of-the-art research.Surprisingly, however, many lines of research have a goal in common, so that the ultimate targets of scien- tific research are not so many, after all. For this reason, this project, instead of emphasizing unquestionable achievement of science, aims at presenting it from this different perspective, revealing what we don’t know, the things that keep scientists awake at night, their weaknesses. We want to expose unsolved problems, gather the essential and most relevant long-term questions that drive science and present them in a self-contained resource that puts them into global perspective, and that can be readily understood by everybody, but that can also offer something new to those with a specific background.The importance of this point of view is unquestionable: a prospect on the future of research is necessary for teenagers to chose their careers[1], for taxpayers and politicians to know what they are investing in, and even for young academics, to appreciate a global picture of topics they are less familiar with. Moreover, showing a scientists’ weaknesses, will bring them closer to the public and will help in the communication process.Theoretical physics is representative of a topic whose last 100 years of progress have not made it into general public knowledge, although superstring or quantum field theories are sometimes mentioned in science fiction movies. Yet, theoretical physics is mostly about posing the right questions and, moreover, it encompasses a wide variety of topics, including cosmology, particle physics, superconductors, physics of DNA and many more. For this reason, the UNSOLVeD project focuses on the topics addressed by physics, not much as a discipline, but more as a way of systematically doing science.A new perspective on science requires an innovative communication strategy, so that we have chosen to put emphasis on the global picture. UNSOLVeD will identify, through a collaboration with the leading researchers in the field, the most important open questions in physics, which will be processed into sketches and video- interviews with animations that will explain them in more detail, using the power of illustration. All topics will be organized in an online interactive platform, characterized by an atlas of the physical universe that provides a global picture of natural processes, in which each topic will find its own place.The project culminates with an exhibition with the twofold goal of launching the web-page and bringing the project to those harder to reach. The exhibition will be based on the same content and organization as the web resource, and it will be available in three different formats: 1) a cheap virtual resource that can be accessible and downloaded even by distant or developing countries, 2) a basic touring show that will visit several high-schools from Ticino to Vaud and will allow an exchange of opinions between academics and adolescents, and 3) a more ambitious program, in collaboration with the Geneva School of Art and Design, suitable for larger exhibition halls and universities.A crucial aspect of the project is that, instead of exploiting professional designers, it relies on the contri- bution from young students from arts high-schools, themselves belonging to our target group. It is in this way, through the collaboration of young academics and the target group itself, that the project intends to reach the appropriate balance of scientific content and communicability. A preliminary version of the project, prepared using low-budget means, is available .With the SNF grant, we intend to transform this into a high-quality and user-friendly web-platform, where high-quality videos and sketches create a stimulating environments for discussions, to be held in an associated blog and forum.[1] Switzerland suffers from a particularly serious shortage of young personnel qualified in MINT (Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Engineering and Technology) subjects; see main text and references therein.