Institute celebrates 150 years of science

Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology has seen 21 Nobel laureates work or study within its walls. ETHZ

Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology has officially launched its 150th anniversary celebrations, marking the start of a whole series of events.

This content was published on April 21, 2005 minutes

Swiss President Samuel Schmid, who attended the launch, took the opportunity to remind the nation’s scientists of their ethical responsibility and warned them to remain "humble".

Speaking in Zurich on Thursday, Schmid called the institute "perhaps the most pioneering project of 19th century Switzerland."

He also thanked the university’s professors and students for their high scientific standards, which were needed by Switzerland and the world to solve many "problems."

The president called on the institute’s researchers to pay extra attention to ethical issues raised by modern science.

"These are fundamental questions because they concern creation itself," he added.

"Men will never be able to bend Nature to their own will," he said. "Superior scientific minds admit that there is a greater plan at work."

"Anyone who wants to play God will not only fail miserably, but will be acting irresponsibly."

The president called for science, which did not dictate rules or declare itself "infallible", but remained open to dialogue and criticism.

The institute is marking its 150th anniversary with a series of events. It has already been presenting itself across the country with a roadshow in an effort to sell its courses to potential students and explain its role to the public.

Fight for students

Meinrad Eberle, who has been overseeing preparations for the anniversary, told swissinfo recently that the institute had a fight on its hands for new students.

"There is a trend towards softer disciplines," he said. "We feel, though, there is a need for scientific education, and we have to explain that our graduates have better job prospects than others."

Eberle admits that the roadshow, and to a larger extent the anniversary celebrations, are also about marketing the institute’s brand name and maintaining its status.

"When you are number one, you have to fight to keep that position," said Eberle. "If you think being at the top of the ladder is enough to sell yourself, you soon slip down the rankings and somebody else will take your place."

The Zurich institute is Switzerland’s highest-ranked university, coming in 27th in a global table by China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Along with its sister school in Lausanne, it is hoping to break into the top ranks.


Zurich’s population is invited to join in the celebrations. A whole series of scientific and cultural events called "World of Knowledge" will take place in the Platzspitz park near the city’s main station.

The "Welcome Tommorrow" musical will open for a week on June 25, while the more adventurous can explore the mysteries of the universe during a special physics night on June 17.

The institute will also be taking a hard look at its future with its series of "Vision" meetings and workshops at the end of the year. According to the institute’s president, Olaf Kübler, the results will be used for long-term strategic planning.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Swiss government created the first Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in 1855.
18'000 people from Switzerland and abroad are currently studying, working or conducting research at the institute.
No less than 21 Nobel Prize winners have studied or taught at the institute, including Albert Einstein, Wilhelm Röntgen, Wolfgang Pauli or more recently Richard Ernst and Kurt Wüthrich.

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