Natural science and technology

Why Conducting transdisciplinary research ?

Formal modelling or laboratory experimentation in the natural sciences and technology is often conducted in the “ivory” tower mode of modern science. Even though the subject matter might be related to societal issues, the research is not embedded in a transdisciplinary process and fails to deal with social actors’ choices for technological improvements, when they are faced with complex value laden social choices.

What is a typical example of transdisciplinary research in natural sciences and technology ?

Solar Living Lab

The Solar Living Lab in Palermo, Italy, is a real-world pilot built at University, co-designed with the local stakeholders (Di Bono et al., 2018) and based on the technology of concentrated sunlight (“solar concentrating collectors”) (Montenon et al., 2016). The living lab enables research on this promising solar energy technology in a real-world setting where societal constraints such as architectural/urban guidelines, choice of energy contracting and organisation of training into this new technology need to be integrated.

What tools were used ?

Comparative analysis of available tehnologies

Firstly, the project made a diagnosis of existing solar technologies, which could show a high potential in terms of impact on local communities. The survey started by analysing innovative concentrating solar technologies in Casaccia (Rome) and Portici (Naples).

Design thinking

The process leading to the set‐up of the Solar Living Lab started in 2011 by gathering a thematic network of competence (from universities and research centres, municipalities, SMEs and large companies from the energy supply chain, science communication associations, local development agencies, software and automation developers, engineering and construction companies) around design thinking for a new energy transition arena. The co‐design process for the implementation of the Living Lab has been developed through four main pillars:

  • vision at the political and administrative level and participation to maximise local value creation and community empowerment;
  • knowledge management and design thinking, through analysis of data and promotion of idea‐ generation initiatives;
  • demonstration of appropriate technologies in relevant, open environments;
  • models attracting investors and partners, project financing and crowdfunding.


At the Solar Living Lab infrastructure, in an area granted by the University of Palermo (Italy), two technologies have been implemented: a polygenerative plant using Linear Fresnel Reflectors (LFR) and a hybrid photovoltaic/thermal high concentrating system (HCPV/T).


The demonstrative plant as a whole is an open and accessible infrastructure for practitioners, researchers, students, companies, and welcomes contributions to its further technical, economic and social development, thanks to its favourable location in front of the University business incubator.

References to this section