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

It 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 SwissFEL X-ray Free Electron Laser. 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 770 are scientists. The education of young persons is a central concern of the PSI: about one quarter of the staff are postdocs, doctoral students or trainees. Schoolchildren nurture 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 visitors centre welcomes over 10,000 visitors a year to inform them about research at the PSI.

  PSI To the website

The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) investigates changes to the terrestrial environment, and the use and protection of natural habitats and cultural landscapes. It monitors the condition and progress of landscape, forests, biodiversity, natural hazards and snow and ice, and develops sustainable solutions for socially relevant problems – in collaboration with its partners from academia and society.

Of the 500 or more employees in Birmensdorf, Davos, Lausanne, Cadenazzo and Sitten, almost half are scientists and more than 60 are doctoral students. The work force also includes about 150 technical staff and 50 administrative staff, 15 trainees, and apprentices. About a quarter of the employees are working at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos.

The SwissForestLab initiated by WSL is a network of researchers from various institutions and their test sites and facilities. Through the intensive use of synergies in Swiss forestry research, it promotes joint research work in order to gain a deeper understanding of the functioning, resilience and adaptability of the woodland ecosystem. It also increases the national and international visibility of Swiss forestry research.

  WSL To the website

Empa is the interdisciplinary research institute in the ETH Domain for materials science and technology. It finds solutions for industry and society in the fields of nanostructured materials and surfaces, environmental technologies, energy and sustainable technologies, as well as bio and medical technologies. 

Working with industry partners and via spin-offs, it 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 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 37 professors, as well as some 200 doctoral students and 40 trainees working at Empa. In addition, there are also about 200 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students and trainees here. Added to this, numerous projects with researchers from industry are always under way, as well as some 300 projects financed 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 and continuous education and advice 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. 30 professors, some 200 scientists and more than 140 doctoral students meet at Eawag in a unique research environment to investigate questions that lead to new scientific findings and solutions for the basic 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 4,000-plus teaching hours at Swiss universities and the supervision of 175 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 special topic areas 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