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Two prizes for ETH Zurich spin-off company Arktis Radiation Detectors
Seeing through to success

Published: 28.06.2007 06:00
Modified: 27.06.2007 22:26
Isabelle Herold

The young entrepreneurs of the ETH Zurich spin-off company "Arktis Radiation Detectors"(1) were able to receive two prizes at the same time on Tuesday 19 June 2007: in the afternoon they gained second place in the Prix du Jeune Entrepreneur (Young Entrepreneur's Prize) awarded annually by the French Foreign Trade Councils in Switzerland, and in the early evening they were also honoured with the Pionierpreis Technopark awarded by the Zurich Cantonal Bank.

Fighting terrorism with science

Arktis Radiation Detectors works on the development of a radioactive substances detector designed to check for dangerous materials in bulk freight in containers, heavy goods vehicles or rail wagons. Although such detectors currently already exist, the founders of the company have spotted great potential for optimisation. Their research aims at making the measurements more precise, thus reducing the number of false alarms. This saves enormous amounts of time and money, and also increases security. The international container trade, which is currently experiencing an economic boom, could be misused by terrorists, which would have fatal consequences. Arktis plans to use its technology to put a stop to this danger. The young entrepreneurs are motivated not least by the wish to demonstrate how results that are extremely beneficial to society can emerge from fundamental research.

Three young people are behind the name Arktis Radiation Detectors: Giovanna Davatz and Rico Chandra, both ETH Zurich physicists at the Institute for Particle Physics, and the business economist Mario Vögeli. At present the latter is working on the formalities of the firm’s foundation, which should take place in the next few weeks.

Prize-winners twice over

Giovanna Davatz had the task of submitting the project and presenting it to the jury of the Prix du Jeune Entrepreneur early in June. She is the only team member who is still a student, and is about to complete her doctoral thesis at CERN. Because she was in Boston on the prize-giving day, taking part in a ten-day intensive course run by the Swiss Innovation Promotion Agency KTI, Rico Chandra accepted the prize in Bern on her behalf (Photo). The third partner in the company was also travelling on Arktis business: Mario Vögeli was in Zurich preparing for the handover of the ZCB Pionierpreis Technopark, which took place in the evening on the same day. This prize, sponsored every year by the Zurich Cantonal Bank, honours a technical project that is convincingly innovative and close to the market. The value of the prize, 31,415.92 Swiss francs, is the result of multiplying the number "Pi" by ten thousand.

However, the young company's list of prize successes is even longer: Arktis Radiation Detectors was the winner in the Venture business competition organised by ETH Zurich and the McKinsey Company in 2006. The prize money of 60,000 Swiss francs together with the repercussions of the competition gave the project its first decisive impetus. With support from both the KTI and ETH Zurich, the project's medium-term future is now also secure. Prototype detectors will be developed and studied during this time. According to Chandra, "The biggest challenge now is to prove that the technology doesn't just work in the laboratory."

Three other ETH Zurich teams competed to enter the final of the Prix du Jeune Entrepreneur: Martin Bartholet's "Celotron" (D-ITET), a company to develop drive systems rotating at ultra-high speed; Cédric Dockendorf's "Flextron" (D-MAVT), which manufactures RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags that can be printed out, and Stephan Wullschleger's "Djom Kossam" (D-AGRL), a small business in Mali to market the country's own milk.

Had the honour of receiving the certificate for second place in the Prix du Jeune Entrepreneur: ETH Zurich physicist Rico Chandra from the ETH Zurich spin-off company “Arktis Radiation Detectors”.

Peaktis at the top

The radiant winners of this year's Prix du Jeune Entrepreneur, in which 42 students took part, were Pascal Torregrossa and Nicolas Cambolin from ETH Lausanne. They work in the field of regenerative medicine and devote themselves to restoring injured tissues by using adult stem cells. In a first step via their "Peaktis" business they want to found a centre for the whole of Switzerland to provide services to hospitals and clinics, and later to develop their own products as well. The two successful young entrepreneurs are currently taking part in a course in the USA as part of their Executive MBA, but did not want to miss the opportunity to fly to Switzerland for this big day.

The Prix du Jeune Entrepreneur (Young Entrepreneur’s Prize)

The Prix du Jeune Entrepreneur was created in 2003 by the French Foreign Trade Councils in Switzerland. The competition's aim is to discover and encourage talented people and to establish contacts between French business enterprises and students at the leading Swiss institutions of higher education.

Four institutions of higher education currently take part in the competition: ETH Zurich, ETH Lausanne, the University of St. Gallen and the Lausanne Hotel School. In a first round each of the four higher education institutions taking part chooses a prize-winner from among the projects entered. These four finalists then make a presentation to the "Grand Jury" consisting of members of the foreign trade councils and of the higher education institutions. The winner receives a prize of 20,000 Swiss francs, the other three finalists an award of 5,000 Swiss francs each.

The next invitation to submit entries is in the autumn of 2007. Information: Dr. Regula Altmann-Jöhl, Tel. +41 (0) 44 632 20 85,

(1 Arktis Radiation Detectors: (

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