Research institutes | PSI, WSL, Empa & Eawag

The ETH Domain’s four research institutes conduct basic and applied research in their respective fields, provide scientific and technical services and thus work on sustainable solutions to central issues from society, the economy and science. They are at the service of the two Federal Institutes of Technology for teaching and research according to their possibilities.

Basic and advanced training

The four research institutes educate students and specialists in their scientific and technical fields, offer courses of their own and participate in the teaching of other academic institutions, particularly in the education of doctoral students. In addition, the research institutes offer advanced training, particularly for specialists who deal with questions from their respective fields in everyday working life in private companies or public institutions.

Knowledge and technology transfer

For this purpose, they cooperate closely with the Federal Institutes of Technology and other Swiss and foreign education and research institutions. Moreover, a constant knowledge and technology transfer takes place through joint projects with partners from industry or from the Confederation, from cantons and municipalities.

The Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) is the largest research centre for natural sciences and engineering in Switzerland. It carries out top-level research in the fields of matter and materials, energy and the environment, as well as humanity and health. By carrying out fundamental and applied research, the PSI has been working on sustainable solutions for central questions arising within society, the economy and science since 1988.

The PSI operates large-scale research installations that are unique in Switzerland – and in some cases in the world – such as the Swiss Spallation Neutron Source SINQ, the Swiss Light Source SLS, the Swiss Muon Source SμS and the X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL. Each year, over 2,500 researchers from Switzerland and all over the world come to perform experiments at the PSI. In addition to its research, the PSI operates the only installation in Switzerland for the treatment of specific types of cancer using protons.

Of the 2,100 or so staff members of the PSI, over 780 are scientists. The education of young people is a central concern of the PSI: around one quarter of the staff are postdocs, doctoral students or trainees.

Schoolchildren discover a fascination with natural sciences in the iLab school laboratory, and professionals receive initial and further training at the PSI training centre. The psi forum visitor centre welcomes over 10,000 visitors a year, giving them an insight into research at the PSI.

  PSITo the website

WSL investigates changes to the terrestrial environment and the use and protection of natural habitats and cultural landscapes. It monitors the condition and development of forests, landscapes, biodiversity, natural hazards, and of snow and ice, and develops sustainable solutions for socially relevant problems – in collaboration with its partners from academia and society.

Almost 60 percent of the 560 or so employees in Birmensdorf, Davos, Lausanne, Cadenazzo and Sion are scientists, including almost 70 doctoral students and 50 postdocs. The workforce also includes about 170 technical staff and 60 administrative staff plus 14 trainees and interns. About a quarter of the employees work at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos.

Disciplinary research is the cornerstone of WSL. In order to answer urgent questions facing society, the WSL portfolio also includes fixed-term, interdisciplinary research programmes. While one such programme – on the consequences of the energy revolution for the environment – was recently completed, another on extremes – set to become the “new normal” in the near future – and one on the impact of climate change on natural disasters in the Alpine region are in preparation.

 WSLTo the website
 SLFTo the website

Empa is the interdisciplinary research institute of the ETH Domain for materials science and technology. The researchers at Empa find solutions for industry and society in the fields of nanoscale materials, energy technologies, sustainable building technologies and new types of production technologies, plus bio- and medical technologies.

Working with industry partners and via spin-offs, Empa transforms its research results into marketable innovations, helping to make the Swiss economy more innovative and more competitive. Moreover, it creates a scientific basis for the sustainable development of society.

Empa provides authorities and other public- sector bodies with data resources for their policy-making decisions, and it carries out studies on behalf of federal government agencies. There are currently about 1,000 staff including 38 professors, as well as over 220 doctoral students and 40 apprentices working at Empa. In addition, there are over 140 Bachelor’s and Master’s students and interns, as well as numerous projects with researchers from industry and around 260 projects funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), Innosuisse and the EU Framework Programmes.

 Empa To the website

Eawag is one of the world’s leading water research institutes. Its success is based on the combination of research, teaching, training and consulting that it has provided for over 80 years. The combination of natural sciences, engineering and social sciences enables comprehensive research of water in relatively untouched rivers and lakes, right through to fully automated waste water management systems.

The research activities are focused on how to strike a balance between humanity’s use of water and the preservation of robust aquatic ecosystems. Thirty-four professors, almost 200 scientists and more than 150 doctoral students meet at Eawag in a unique research environment to investigate questions that lead to new scientific findings and solutions for the fundamental challenges facing society.

Its interdisciplinary nature and knowledge transfer with authorities and interest groups from business and society play an important role in this. The 5,200-plus teaching hours at Swiss universities and the supervision of over 160 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree theses every year are contributing towards the education of young specialists in the Swiss water sector.

Teaching at Eawag goes beyond the ETH Domain and is based on research conducted in-house. It covers specific areas of specialisation and considers various uses of water and their impact on ecosystems. In addition to academic teaching, Eawag is committed to the continuing education of practitioners and vocational training.

 Eawag To the website
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