Have you always secretly wanted to be a goldminer? Want to capture carbon and combine it with oxygen? Now you can: in Antwerp, Mechelen, Mortsel, Mol or even Paris, Copenhagen or Oss in the Netherlands. With ResourCity, VITO has developed a unique app that lets you capture chemical elements in your neighbourhood and carry out fun and educational experiments on them. With the ResourCity app, VITO aims to raise young people’s awareness of the importance of sustainable development while at the same time getting them involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics).

VITO launched its ResourCity app at the SuperNova technology festival in Antwerp in September 2018. The app allows users to hunt down numerous chemical elements that can be found in their city or neighbourhood. ‘We were looking for a very tangible and accessible way to explain the circular economy, in which materials and natural resources are reused as often and as effectively as possible’, explains VITO’s Philip Marynissen. ‘Our aim was to make young people aware of the need for a circular economy, as well as to demonstrate the initiatives already being carried out in this area in an urban context.’

Passing on complex knowledge

The development and launch of the app were a big success. Marynissen continues: ‘By the end of SuperNova we had more than a thousand downloads and we were “trending” among the educational games in the app stores’. ‘We also learned from the enthusiasm of students, teachers, tourist services and numerous parties within the STEM profession that ResourCity is a promising science communication platform. A platform that effectively communicates complex chemistry and sustainability knowledge via attractive gameplay’, according to Marynissen.

One year on, the positive response to the app has led to a focus on further development and dissemination. Marynissen: ‘Further successful development and roll-out is dependent on a high degree of cooperation with the target group and with STEM stakeholders.’ This cooperation is in full swing and has, amongst other things, inspired Technopolis to present ResourCity at a special conference for science centres in Copenhagen. The Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (KNCV) is also promoting ResourCity in the Netherlands. The international attention is attracting interest from cities around the world. Marynissen: ‘However, our primary aim is to reach as many young people in Flanders as possible by converting other central cities into a genuine ResourCity.’

Further expansion as a learning tool

The fact that the United Nations has proclaimed 2019 the international year of chemistry to mark the 150th anniversary of the periodic table of chemical elements has given ResourCity an additional boost. It also helps, of course, that sustainability is featuring higher and higher on cities’ agendas. However, the growing number of high-quality STEM initiatives is playing the most important role in the further expansion of ResourCity as a learning tool. What started as an idea for the SuperNova tech festival has become a promising product with which VITO hopes to fulfil its heightened science communication ambitions.