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50 million Swiss francs to Institute for Theoretical Studies

ETH Zurich to boost theoretical basic research

ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is setting up a new Institute for Theoretical Studies which will offer sabbatical placements to top academics from all over the world. This has been made possible thanks to two outstandingly generous donations made by ETH alumnus Max Rössler and the Walter Haefner Foundation, each of whom have pledged 25 million Swiss francs to ETH Zurich Foundation.

For as long as ETH Zurich has existed, it has upheld some of the greatest theoreticians amongst its ranks. Academics such as Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Hermann Weyl, Niklaus Wirth and many more have taught and researched in Zurich, broadening theoretical principles in the fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science, and thus contributing towards significant innovations. The importance of mathematics has continued to rise in a world shaped by technology and digitalisation. Manifold aspects of our daily routine are based on mathematical principles without us even knowing it. GPS technology which is integrated into every smartphone would be just as unthinkable without Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity as modern information technology would be without quantum mechanics or storage media like DVDs without the error correcting codes which are based on number theory.

The new Institute for Theoretical Studies (ETH-ITS) aims to advance this tradi-tion of establishing theories and reinforce ETH's academic base. ETH President Ralph Eichler has been planning for some time to create a centre for theoretical studies where the brightest minds can get together and engage. "With two generous donations, we can now turn our plans for ETH-ITS into reality," comments Ralph Eichler. "A warm thanks to Max Rössler and the Walter Haefner Founda-tion for their trust in ETH and their vision of its future."

A Permanent Meeting of World-class Minds

The new Institute for Theoretical Studies will invite top academics from the fields of mathematics, theoretical natural sciences and theoretical computer science to ETH Zurich and offer them a sabbatical placement for a period of up to one year. Between four and six Senior Fellows will be appointed to inspire ETH researchers and students, providing additional stimulation and enrichment to Zurich's higher education landscape. The fellows will come to ETH upon recommendation by an academic advisory council and will be able to carry out their research with the utmost level of freedom. Outstanding young academics may also apply to come to the ETH-ITS and work alongside the experienced Senior Fellows.

The Start of the Value Chain

For several years now ETH Zurich has been investing heavily in interdisciplinary research centres. Centres of competence have been set up for integrated risk management, a world food system, sustainable building and pharmaceutical technology, to name just a few. The aim of the these centres, some of which have been set up in close collaboration with private industry and other external partners, is to develop new approaches to tackle pressing societal challenges. According to ETH's President, however, the idea behind the new institute is at the start of the academic value chain. The fellows, says the President, will help the institute to enhance theoretical basic research at ETH.

Contribution to ETH and Beyond

The new institute will occupy a special position within the structure of ETH Zurich and will be under the direct control of the President. It willbe privately funded. The ETH Zurich Foundation found two benefactors who were inspired by the idea to set up the ETH-ITS: Max Rössler and Martin Haefner both studied mathematics at ETH and still enjoy close ties to their Alma Mater to this day.

"With its commitment to researchers of international acclaim, we would like to support ETH in its endeavour to continue setting new standards in theoretical basic research," said Martin Haefner, representing the Walter Haefner Founda-tion. Max Rössler added: "ETH left a lasting impression on me. I consider it a noble obligation to give something back to the university and to assist ETH in attracting the best talent and breaking new ground in fields such as basic research."

First Institute Director Appointed

The new institute will be located in the city centre. ETH-ITS operations will be managed by a Director who will receive the assistance of an Academic Advisory Council consisting of ETH representatives and external academics. Ralph Eichler has already appointed the first Director of the new ETH-ITS: Giovanni Felder, who has been Professor for Mathematics at ETH Zurich since 1996. The two donations have laid the foundation for a visionary idea which will enhance the international reputation of ETH Zurich as a place of free academic thought and will also have a positive impact in Switzerland, says ETH-ITS Director Giovanni Felder.


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