During the first week of March, the CHARMING consortium attended the 3rd Network-Wide Event in Darmstadt, Germany, organized by the beneficiary Merck. This intense week, (and when I say intense, I mean it! We were busy for more than 55 hours), was divided into three main sessions: network meetings, midterm check from the Research Executive Agency (REA) at the European Commission, and trainings: technical and soft-skills. (SGF, Darmstadt, 26.03.2020)
Starting the event, all Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) presented their research progress of the last six months, followed by Q&A sessions from the team. Each Work Package also met separately to discuss mainly the collaborative interactions of each research group, while maintaining a clear focus on specifying individual research questions.
As the second part of the event included a midterm check by Project Officer Mrs. Mercedes Leguey-Jimenez from the REA, each ESR had prepared a poster presenting the foreseen research, current work, trainings, and secondments explaining and describing our daily activities of the past 15 months. Some of these poster presentations included dynamic elements such as Augmented Reality applications that Work Package 2 is working on, or the Virtual Reality demonstration of Work Package 3 prototype. Also, for the surprise of Project Officer Leguey-Jimenez, Philippe Chan (one of our researchers) developed his poster completely in Virtual Reality applying innovation directly! For this, Mrs. Leguey-Jimenez wore the VR headset and walked through a virtual room, while Philippe guided the session explaining which interactions and information were possible to use and find. This was the first time for the Project Officer to use Virtual Reality, and it was an impressive experience!
The second half of the event was completely focused on trainings. As part of the technical trainings the researchers visited the Kompetenzzentrum Virtual Engineering Rhein-Neckar  in Mannheim Hochschule. We were able to experience immersive technologies such as a five-wall CAVE  and a PowerWall, technologies that many of us have not experienced before.
On the CAVE, after wearing the appropriate shoes and 3D glasses, the team experienced a John Deere tractor design, which is used to prepare the work and design of the complete tractor before sending it to production or constructing an expensive prototype. In the CAVE, engineers, operators and students can visualize complex interactions in a more effective way, for example, while discussing modifications on the plant engineering design. Figure 1 shows the Charming Team inside the CAVE while the instructor controls the simulation, with the right set of glasses the visualization of the experience is realistic and immersive.
Figure 1- Charming team inside the CAVE
As mentioned, the other “new” immersive technology experienced was the Powerwall, in which the team visualized chemical process content, such as simulations of flow inside a heat exchanger. This technology is helping students to understand for example what a perforated plate inside a distillation column looks like or how the flow and heat transfer phenomena work inside equipment, a very useful tool that complements the traditional training. (Figure 2)
Figure 2– Charming team experiencing the Powerwall
On Thursday and Friday, it was planned to visit the Darmstadt Site of Merck, but due to precautionary measures to control the coronavirus, this onsite event was canceled and all trainings were successfully transferred to the hotel where the team was. We specially want to thank all the instructors that made our trainings possible.
The technical trainings included a live-experimental lecture on Electrostatic Charges & Explosion Protection in the Process Industry, a Simulator training for Process Control System Operation and an Introduction to the Chemical Operator Education System in Germany followed by a round table discussion with first-, second- and third-year apprentices from Merck. These talks were highly relevant for us because, for example, process safety is one of the main content Work Package 3 is including in their prototypes, as many times it is conditioned to realistic capabilities of the trainings, meaning it wouldn’t be possible to create a big dangerous spillage of chemicals on the plant for the trainer to practice how to clean it. Exactly here is where Virtual Reality comes to the rescue with digital trainings of dangerous situations. The experimental lecture provided several great examples of how electrostatic charges can create explosions on a chemical plant, and how the operators have to be trained to prevent these events (Figure 3).
Also, the discussion with Merck apprentices was an important opportunity for the ESRs to ask questions directly to the future users of our prototype, it helped to understand what the challenges of nowadays trainings are and what should be included to achieve the goal of making trainings more efficient and engaging. For us, the developers of the new immersive experience, this information is crucial to develop a successful prototype.
The ESRs also experienced Merck Safety Escape Room, a serious game that was designed by the Occupational Safety & Hygiene department in which the students took part in an incident-investigation-team to find out why a painter was found lying unconsciously at the bottom of a tank pit. The ESRs were divided into two teams, having 60 minutes to answer how this could happen and classify the incident, and escape the room! The challenging tasks were completed by both teams, formed by interdisciplinary professionals, which made it even more challenging as our educationalist and game designers, for example, have never seen a risk matrix before! In Figure 4 you can see the team trying to solve a clue collaboratively. It was a great experience and an example of how an immersive experience with game elements can help motivate and engage participants. More information about our experience can be found in episode 3 of CHARMING Podcast: Escape Rooms as Immersive Learning Environments.
Figure 3- Experimental lecture on Electrostatic Charges & Explosion Protection in the Process Industry
Figure 4- Charming Team solving clues in the Escape Room
But not only technical trainings were part of the week, as mentioned it also included soft-skills trainings such as Leadership & Collaboration in a Global Organization, Why Diversity & Inclusion Really Matters, Learning in a Global Organization, Leadership of the future – expectations towards new generation leaders. These talks gave us a wider view of how global companies handle situations such us learning and collaboration when there is a need to integrate activities with employees living in many different parts of the world. One specific discussion about how Merck is looking for curious candidates was very enriching for our participants of Work Package 1, as one of their goals is to help stimulate curiosity in kids. Feedback on what companies look for is crucial information for the teachers who are forming future scientists.
Finally, the week closed with some fresh air guided tour to Mathildenhöhe, an international multi-divisional house of fine and applied arts that are on the way to UNESCO world heritage in Darmstadt. Activities like this or even coffee breaks and lunches help us reconnect in person with our colleague researchers, to build and strengthen relationships and to feel part of a team with a common goal, which ironically enough is always a boost of motivation to keep finding solutions to motivate kids, students and industry professionals into chemistry and chemical engineering.
Figure 5- Charming tour to Mathildenhöhe
 Cave Automatic Virtual Environment
 „A fictitious problem has to be jointly solved by all participants, who will be led stepwise to the correct solution by a chain of questions and answers“, Merck.