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Rubrik: Campus Life

Annual Media Conference of ETH Zurich
ETH Zurich plans further growth

Published: 31.05.2007 06:00
Modified: 30.05.2007 22:49
ETH Zurich is growing continuously, is in good shape scientifically and is this country’s leading institution of higher education. It plans to expand in the future from this good starting point, mainly with regard to quality. This was shown by the annual progress report which the Executive Board presented to the public on Tuesday 15 May 2007.

Peter Rüegg

ETH Zurich can look back on a successful year: there were further increases in student and doctoral student numbers. The Bologna Reform is largely complete, and technology transfer via company formations and patent applications is also better than in previous years. That was the Executive Board’s positive note at the Annual Media Conference on Tuesday 15 May 2007.

Gaining a doctor’s degree sooner

There were 13,412 enrolled students at ETH Zurich at the start of the 2006/2007 winter semester, about 2,800 of them doctoral students, of which in turn 770 were newly registered. That is a new record, and according to Rector and President pro tempore Konrad Osterwalder it is proof of the great attractiveness and reputation of ETH Zurich. After the completion of the Bologna Reform the range of study programmes is attractive: students can now choose from 24 Bachelor and 26 Master programmes. Osterwalder told the media yesterday that the establishment of ETH Zurich graduate schools is now imminent, which should make ETH Zurich even more attractive for doctoral students. The novel feature is that talented young people can start a doctoral programme even before completing their Master programme. They can pursue their academic or professional career quicker on this “fast track”. Thanks to the schools, doctoral students can receive tailor-made support, and there is networking between students from different disciplines.

Konrad Osterwalder described the numerous professorship appointments he had been able to make during his six month tenure of office so far as President pro tempore, now numbering 19, as impressive proof of the vitality of the schools. Five nominations are about to take place. In addition eleven negotiations are in progress and applications for 20 professorships have been invited.

Future executive talent is the main concern

The Rector said the search for suitable management staff for the Executive Board – appointments to the offices of President and Rector will be needed simultaneously – and budgeting were the main worries. He said the funding mechanisms must not be allowed to develop to the disadvantage of ETH Zurich. In addition ETH Zurich must have a certain degree of autonomy, and politics, which he said had a large influence, must not be allowed to interfere in its business operations. However, according to Osterwalder “The public and the politicians want us, and ETH Zurich cannot exist without political will.”

Well placed internationally

The Rector stressed that ETH Zurich can be proud of its international image. He said ETH Zurich remains in the lead nationally, is in fifth place in Europe according to the Shanghai Ranking, and ranks 27th in the world. ETH Zurich still trains the most first-rate professionals for industry and commerce, since 29 percent of the top managers in Swiss business enterprises have an ETH Zurich degree.

New umbrella campaign: ETH Zurich, Finger on the Pulse - Technology and Health

Although 83 percent of the public in German-speaking Switzerland have heard of ETH Zurich, hardly anyone can say what research is actually done at ETH Zurich. Few associate the higher education institution with engineering science, while the long tradition of medical research at ETH Zurich is unknown. However, ETH Zurich research covers a spectrum extending from the development of medical imaging processes to the development of vaccines, diagnostics or active ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry. That is why ETH Zurich has begun the information campaign called “ETH Zurich, Finger on the Pulse - Technology and Health” to make the public aware of the medically-orientated research at ETH Zurich and to convey a picture of how the engineering stronghold has shaped and will continue to shape modern medicine. The next issue of “ETH Globe” is entirely devoted to this subject. A series of events will also be held in the context of this campaign, for example Science City Rendezvous or a Researcher’s Night.

Rector and President pro tem. Konrad Osterwalder, VP Research Dimos Poulikakos, VP Planning and Logistics Gerhard Schmitt, and Ralph Müller, Professor for Bioengineering, at the Annual Media Conference on Tuesday 15 May 2007.

Gerhard Schmitt, Vice President Planning and Logistics, said ETH Zurich had been able to gain a better foothold in the past few years both regionally and locally despite a strong international presence. He said that an important project was the “Zurich Science Region” which ETH Zurich was implementing together with the canton, the city, the University and the University Hospital. Schmitt regards the “Science City” project as important for a secure foothold in the region. He describes Science City as a meeting point for science, industry and the public. He also says that in setting up the “Life Science Platform”, ETH Zurich is accepting the challenges facing the health system in an ageing society. Another milestone in Science City is the construction of the new Sport Center, which will be inaugurated next year. It is intended to provide an excellent infrastructure not just for the motion sciences and sports sciences but also for students, staff and the inhabitants of the neighbouring residential districts. In addition ETH Zurich is leading the development of a new global standard for building sustainable university campuses. Schmitt stressed that “Several hundred new university campuses are planned throughout the world.” He said it was important to define sustainability standards at the outset. Through its strategy, ETH Zurich will itself halve Science City’s CO2 emissions in the next ten years.

More patents and spin-offs again

Dimos Poulikakos, Vice-president Research, said ETH Zurich was known throughout the world for its outstanding research, and was the only continental European establishment among the world’s ten best research universities. It could also be proud of its place in an international comparison in technology transfer. Last year 87 inventions and 84 patents were developed at ETH Zurich. Poulikakos includes among the important inventions a new diagnosis method to detect anthrax pathogens.

ETH Zurich also gave birth to sixteen spin-off companies, 7 more than in the previous year. There are already 13 of them in the current year. The ETH Zurich spin-off company Flisom AG was also the first Swiss company to receive the “Technology Pioneer” award at the World Economic Forum. Flisom manufactures solar cells on a flexible plastic film and holds the world record for efficiency in converting solar energy to electrical energy.

Interdisciplinary projects encouraged

However it is clear that researchers must network with one another to an ever greater extent to enable them to master the challenges of major research projects. For example ETH Zurich has founded eight competence centres in the past three years and participates in other competence centres of the ETH Zurich domain or together with other universities. One of these ETH Zurich competence centres is the Bioengineering Cluster (BEC) involving 39 ETH Zurich professorships. The centre is headed by Professor Ralph Müller, who presented the BEC and its activities at the media conference as an example of interdisciplinary research.

In the context of an interdisciplinary and inter-university project, his group has successfully obtained bone stem cells from adults and re-introduced them to grow new bones. Müller demonstrated impressively how bone cells accumulate and organise themselves on a support material over the course of several weeks. This procedure enables a sufficient quantity of tailor-made bone tissue to be prepared. However, this project is possible only through collaboration between various disciplines in both the natural and engineering sciences. The industry is interested in the method because both they and the researchers hope for a reduction in animal experiments when testing new medicines against osteoporosis and other bone diseases.

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