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Learning and Digital Sciences PhDs

New Frontiers PhD projects aim to contribute to the solutions to global challenges through novel research investigations. They contribute to mobilizing the collective intelligence towards solutions to societal goals, such as those set forth by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The original contribution of the work addresses questions that are relevant in a research context.  The PhD supervisor, Thesis Advisory Commitee, dissertation reviewers, and defense jury provide the guidance and details on acceptable content and format of the dissertation.

Featured New Frontiers projects:

Definition of research projects

The research project can be described by addressing the following sets of questions. Students are expected to address these questions at the beginning of their studies and to constantly reformulate the answers as their projects develop over the three years.

On the subject matter

  • What problem or challenge will this research address?
  • Does the subject matter itself differ from that of traditional scientific research? If so, how?

On the knowledge sought

  • What kinds of knowledge and understanding will this research uncover?
  • How will this knowledge contribute to the collective intelligence and contribute to the solutions to global challenges?
  • How does this knowledge relate to more conventional types of academic knowledge?

On the research method

  • What research methods and techniques are appropriate to conduct this research?
  • How are these methods compare to the methods and techniques in the formal sciences, natural sciences, social sciences and/or humanities?

Research methods

Unlike traditional research in natural sciences, the problems addressed by New Frontiers student researchers can not necessarily be isolated from the environment and interference it may cause. The problem is not broken down into several isolated parts and the notion of a “control” may be irrelevant. On the contrary, New Frontiers research often takes into account the context and environment in which the subject matter is situated. Accounting for context raises additional complexity that may not be addressed solely by traditional methods. Thus, student researchers create and employ the appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods  (e.g. experimental, ethnographic, hermeneutic, design-based, etc.) that reveal and articulate the tacit and explicit knowledge that is situated and embodied in the research outcome and/or processes.

Documentation of research process and results

The PhD research processes and outcomes should be documented and disseminated in an appropriate manner to the research community and the wider public. While, the doctoral school does not require a determined number of publications to authorize the defense, it recommends that students are involved in three publications. See the FdV Guidelines for details.

For students who have components of their thesis work in a discipline where peer-refereed publishing is not common (e.g. Art, Design), the doctoral school recommends that the students disseminate their work in venue appropriate for their field. These venues may include international conferences, interactive demonstrations, exhibitions, etc. Similar to the process of peer-revision, it is expected that experts in the field will provide feedback on the research questions, methods, and outcomes through these alternative modes of dissemination, thereby reviewing and evaluating the work.

Additionally, students are expected to document their research progress in written Thesis Advisory Committee reports and present the state of their research to their TAC committee annually. The final outcomes and process are documented and presented in the final PhD dissertation and defense. While other media is permitted to accompany the dissertation, a written document is mandatory for completion of the PhD.

 Featured New Frontiers Projects

These projects often sit at the interface of art & design, digital technology, education, and science, however this is not strictly mandatory. Past projects have involved learning with games, teaching through research, communication technologies, participatory science, art/design as a means to communicate science, etc.

Aurelien Peilloux
Former New Frontiers Student

Graduated January 2016

Quest of a film director into the dialogic relationship of “art and science”:  From idea-feeling in the creative process to an aesthetic approach for knowledge

Aurelien - science et art

This PhD has been made within the research- creation framework, which means it combines two dimensions : an analytical research one with an artistic practice one (movie making). Therefore, the production of this work consists in both the writing of a manuscript and the production of four movies that refer to each others, discuss together and form a consistent whole. Indeed, they all attempt to respond to the problem raised by this work, namely the invention of hybrid objects between art and science. This question has been developed in two directions. On one hand, the shooting of movies where the staging was inspired by scientific concepts. On the other hand, a study of the creative process from a hybrid methodology, where a scientific approach was combined with a reflection based on my own practice as a movie director. However, these two approaches are fundamentally opposed. The first one is objective, deterministic, and relies on the separation between the thinking subject and the analysed object, while the other one relies on a global understanding by the subject which annihilates the distance between him and the object.

My experience as a movie director made me conscious that the aesthetic form was similar to the process during which it elaborates. I have therefore preferred the second approach and I chose to investigate the creative process from my own experience. Again, the result of this reflection is twofold. On the scientific front, I propose an approach of the creative process based on the properties of the aesthetic form. This approach emphasises the gesture rather than the result, the research process than the production. The stake is pedagogical. It reminds the researcher that he is part of the world he describes. That the knowledge is above all alive, sensitive, perceived and not only rational. Therefore, it invites the researcher to become fully aware of all the ethical issues his research may raise. On the artistic front, two movies were made in order to illustrate this issue.

Célya Gruson-Daniel
2014 New Frontiers Student

Mapping the Open Science Movement : Characteristics and impact on the research system

The Open Science (OS) movement explores new practices and methods of production, diffusion and use of knowledge. It consists of a variety of initiatives (Open Access, Open Data, Open Labs) aiming at a more open, transparent and collaborative scientific process both in and outside academic research (Citizen Science). This movement seems to emerge from Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and peer-to-peer modes of organisation.
Given the rising criticism about the tendency to merchandise knowledge in research system, the OS movement is gaining more and more momentum.
Our aim is to describe the OS and examine its evolution and impact on the research system, through different viewpoints: economical, legal, and institutional ?The study of the OS movement, its characteristics, communication processes and the mapping of the institutional and individual actors linked to this movement can help to highlight controversies with the mainstream research system.
To answer this, we will use a set of observations : interviews and data collected from the web (scientific publications, blogs, social networks). Our case studies will be new research spaces (open labs) and OS communities that aim to foster interactions between academia and the other actors such as entrepreneurs, citizens, namely in the field of life Science.
I expect this research will give practical elements and tools to understand the evolution of the Science practices and paradigm with OS.

Raphael Goujet
2014 New Frontiers Student

Discovering, Learning and Doing Synthetic Biology Research through a Video Game


Crowdsourcing was revealed as a major tool for research and popularization by the game FoldIt in 2010. Multiple projects of this type have since emerged, but none of them is a fun learning game that allows people who have no knowledge in a field to, after some time, be able to do research. This project intends prove that such games can be developed, by focusing on synthetic biology. This emerging field is perfect in that regard as its mechanics can be easily translated into game mechanics, as plenty of content is available and as research is very active. The plan is to (1) make such a game, (2) build a community around it to develop and sustain it, and (3) integrate the game in MOOCs and academic courses to assess its efficiency. There is already a stub of synthetic biology learning game being developed at the CRI : Hero.Coli. It was developed by a complete team of game developers – game designers, coders an artists – helped by biologists. It achieved some successes: it participated in the FOSDEM conference, it was awarded the “Best Design” and “Audience’s Choice” prizes at the iGAM4ER competition. It lacks key features, like an efficient tutorial and community tools. But it is being prepared for expansions. Ultimately, the Hero.Coli project will investigate the use of video games as a vulgarization, educational and research tool. It will also share its experience with other similar projects, with the help of partners that have already contacted the team.

Marguerite Benony
2015 New Frontiers Student

The lab 3.0, citizen science and trans-disciplinary research, what is future of research?


In the era of dematerialization, simultaneity and immediacy, the integration of technology in the processes of creation and communication is expanding: digital technologies contribute in creating new personal and social worlds, immersive environments in which the concepts of time, space, and place are being reconfigured.
In some aspects, the laboratory can be considered as partially dematerialized as more and more data is obtained from devices scattered in the real world. This mutation induced among other, a proximity to some citizens who for various reasons (amateur practices, associations and political commitments, personal skills, educational concerns) are eager to take part in scientific discoveries.
Citizen science practices are no longer isolated experiments but they are becoming an important phenomenon to form new interfaces between science and society. Some experiences are even relocated in public spaces, organized with digital platforms, broadly welcoming the participation of non-scientists. If the social effects of this participation are studied by branches of sociology, the impact of citizen science practices on laboratory organization principles has been left behind.

Therefor we propose to explore new configurations for research practices relative to the spaces, tools, and resources dedicated to the researchers, in a perspective of innovation and co-construction between science and society. Such research has great potential for different reasons: innovation as it should emerge from the laboratories simultaneously concerns public policies, the economic activity, citizens, non-professional and non-experts of science.

Hippolyte Gros
2015 New Frontiers Student

Learning and teaching through a better understanding of semantic congruence mechanisms

In order to face the major challenge of mathematical education, we propose a new way to describe the information of a problem, based on three interconnected levels: (i) the mathematical semantics of the problem, (ii) the different algorithms that can be implemented on the problem, (iii) the semantic knowledge one has of the elements of the world figuring in the problem. We hypothesize that the ability to use a solving strategy on a new situation is dependent on the congruence between the semantic knowledge one has of the elements of the problem and the formal mathematical structure. We will test this hypothesis and identify the exact conditions of transfer and generalization between problems. Subsequently, we will develop new methods of learning designed to provide the learner with the appropriate examples in order to overcome the initial limit imposed by this semantic congruence. We will implement these methods on a pilot numerical environment destined both to train the teachers to detect the role of semantic congruence, and to help them teach their students to go beyond it.