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Largest-ever donation made to Swiss university

Merkle's dontation will fund a new institute for nanomaterials

Swiss businessman Adolphe Merkle has donated SFr100 million ($89.5 million) to Fribourg University to encourage research and teaching.

The largest-ever private donation to a Swiss university will partly be used to set up an institute of nanomaterials.

The 83-year-old, who graduated from the university in the 1940s, said he wanted to "give something back to Fribourg".

The Adolphe Merkle Institute will be attached to the faculty of sciences at the university. It will invest its annual budget of some SFr5 million in interdisciplinary research into nanomaterials.

The institute will allow Fribourg University to build on its expertise in nanomaterials, a field which has been researched there since the 1980s.

The institute will consist of four research groups led by newly hired professors and will open early next year.

This is not Merkle's first donation to the university in this area of study. He already supports the Fribourg Center for Nanomaterials, created in 2006, which will work closely with the new institute.

The funding will be administered by the Adolphe Merkle Foundation. One of the other initiatives to be supported by the foundation will be a new chair of innovation management, which will teach students how to bring an idea to a commercial fruition.

Multilingualism

The foundation will also support the university's new institute of multilingualism.

Furthermore, it will fund a SFr500,000 prize every three years to be given to a person or organisation which makes an exceptional scientific, cultural, social or economic contribution.

Fribourg is Switzerland's only bilingual university with some 10,000 students and 200 professors. As much as 20 per cent of the student body comes from abroad. The university has undergone significant expansion, more than doubling its student body in the past 15 years.

Merkle explained his affection for the university. "Fribourg gave me a lot as a student. Equally as an entrepreneur, I chose to develop my business in Fribourg because the region offered me the scientific, economic and human environment that I needed."

He added: "The canton and the people of Fribourg have given me great support. Today I want to give them something back."

swissinfo

In brief

Adolphe Merkle was born in Düdingen, Fribourg in 1924. He founded Vibro-Meter in 1952, a company which produces electronic measuring instruments.

He ran the Fribourg-based company for almost 40 years before selling it in 1990.

Nanomaterials is the study of how materials behave when their dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale, i.e. very small. It can also refer to the materials themselves that are used in nanotechnology.

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