In autumn 2008, Project „Leonardo“was launched on the initiative of the senate and its long-standing chairman Prof. Dr. Max Kerner. After a trial phase of around two years, „Leonardo“ was initially assigned institutionally and organizationally to the Institute for Political Science (IPW). Since the winter semester 2010/11 it stood under the responsibility of Prof. Dr. Emmanuel Richter. In the summer semester 2020, the project has been assigned to the interdisciplinary Human Technology Center (HumTec) with Prof. Dr. Stefan Böschen as Rector’s Delegate. Lennart Göpfert (M. Sc.) and Sönke Hebing (M. Ed.) have been in charge of the management since the summer semester 2022, reinforced by Alina Cohnen (M. Ed.) since the summer semester 2023.
A great milestone in the project’s history was being awarded with the RWTH Teaching Award in the „Project“ category for „outstanding and exemplary achievements in teaching“ in 2017. In cooperation with the Charlemagne Prize Society, the project also offers the so-called „Leonardo“ Lecture, in which the prize winners address major social challenges on a broad horizon. Among the guests were the French President, Emmanuel Macron, Prof. Dr. Timothy Garton Ash, Prof. Dr. Dr. Udo Di Fabio and Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert.
Beyond the departmental boundaries, students in Project „Leonardo“should not only get to know different ways of thinking but also learn approaches of disciplines through joint, interdisciplinary work. In addition, they should also get into conversation with fellow students from other departments and fields of study at RWTH Aachen University and in this way experience the „universitas“ in its original meaning as a scientific community.
Project „Leonardo“ promotes the empowerment of students to use their subject-specific knowledge in a broader context to tackle global and societal challenges and thus to solve problems with responsibility. To this end, three fundamental principles apply:
– Interdisciplinarity is fundamental to solving future challenges.
– Integrating responsibility for science, research and teaching into the university discourse.
– Participation and co-creation of all students in order to solve global challenges.
In conveying this empowerment, the project is committed to the principle of excellent teaching: The students and their knowledge gain are at the centre of action.
In order to ensure interdisciplinarity, people from different departments at the university take joint responsibility for courses. It is particularly important that the different subject contents and cultures not only coexist but rather are constructively integrated into conversation.
Interdisciplinarity refers not only to the type of content students are confronted with, but also to the students’ experience in the exchange with other students and lecturers from other disciplines.
The responsibility of science is reflected in all courses. To this end, the work is always oriented towards a holistic as well as impartial consideration of relevant topics. Students are deliberately required to form well-founded opinions: fact-oriented and differentiated, based on the knowledge and competencies they learn during their studies.
The system of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is of particular importance here. Within this framework, global challenges are highlighted and all topics are aligned with the problems that are distinguished by the SDGs as relevant and in particular need of a solution.
The idea of participation concerning the content of the project means that there is a conscious decision not to presuppose specialist knowledge and prior knowledge. Courses should have as few barriers as possible. Where specialist knowledge or background is necessary to a certain extent in order to understand more complex contexts, this will be provided within the framework of the courses.
At the same time, participation also means the positive freedom to take part in „Leonardo“ courses: Even those who want to complete a degree program in the standard period of study and are socially involved should have the opportunity to engage with the content of the project as part of their studies.
A central characteristic of „Leonardo“ courses is that — usually two — lecturers from different scientific disciplines offer a course that focuses on social challenges aims to reach students of all faculties. The aim is to discuss a central topic in an interdisciplinary manner under academic supervision and to bring together both students and lecturers from different disciplines. Since winter semester 20/21, student initiatives also have the opportunity to offer a „Leonardo“ event in cooperation with a lecturer. So far, courses have been offered on topics such as energy, climate change, world population and health, flight and migration, culture, medical technology, Sustainable Development Goals, human-animal studies and fake news. You can find a complete list here.
The name of the project recalls the great artist, natural scientist and technician Leonardo da Vinci, the universal genius of the Renaissance, but at the same time refers to the philosopher Jürgen Mittelstraß, who coined the term „Leonardo-World“. This term characterizes our present as a combination of theoretical knowledge and technical skill. Thus, the Leonardo world is confronted with special challenges that can only be met by combining the different approaches and disciplines of the natural sciences, engineering, humanities and social sciences.
In its future concept „The Integrated Interdisciplinary University of Science and Technology. Knowledge. Impact. Networks.“ RWTH Aachen University has set itself precisely this task of interdisciplinary further development. The „Leonardo“ project sees itself as an essential building block in this development. That is why it was recently made a central pillar in the Human Technology Center, which sees itself as a platform for shaping an integrated interdisciplinary scientific culture at RWTH Aachen University.