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Top scientist praises Swiss potential

Physicist Hermann Grunder moved to the US in 1967.


The head of one of the leading laboratories in the United States has predicted that Switzerland will become a major force in the field of nanotechnology.

Speaking to swissinfo, the director of Argonne National Laboratory, Hermann Grunder, said he was convinced the Swiss would do "great things".

Grunder, who was born and educated in Basel, is an internationally recognised physicist who emigrated to the US in 1967 and naturalised in 1978.

His comments coincided with a visit of Swiss scientists and businesspeople to Argonne's facilities near Chicago - part of a week-long US tour to foster nanotechnology ties.

Swiss genes

"Switzerland has an abundance of super-technicians," said Grunder. "These are the kind of clear-thinking, highly innovative people who can understand across the scientific fields and put into reality rather complex machinery with very high precision.

"Nanoscience and nanotechnology is almost made for Switzerland. I'm sure that they're going to make great things out of it."

Grunder continues to visit Switzerland regularly for both personal and professional reasons.

Although tempted to return home because of developments at Cern - the particle physics accelerator near Geneva - the opportunities, which came his way in America proved irresistible.

"I have no regrets," he said. "On a deeper level, you know with retrospect what you could have and should have done better. That's a certain perfectionism, which I think I got through my genes and as a Swiss, having grown up in Switzerland."

Converging science

One of the US Department of Energy's largest research centres with an annual operating budget of $465 million, Argonne's interests range from energy technology to high-speed computing.

What thrills Grunder about nanotechnology is the convergence of scientific disciplines.

"If you lived through a substantial part of the 20th century, you couldn't help but find that science got further and further apart in its own fields," he said.

"In nanoscience and as a consequence nanotechnology, biology, physics, chemistry are all coming together and that is very exciting from the point of view of simply understanding science."

Historical pattern

"As for where it can go, it has a scale and technological possibilities which will probably show applications in a relatively short time, promising an enhancement not only of our understanding but of our daily lives."

Grunder said it was not always easy to foretell the practical benefits which could emerge from research but that history showed a clear pattern. Fundamental knowledge of matter has led to useful technologies from medical X-rays to transistors and integrated circuits.

"Scientific research always leads to something but sometimes it can take a very long time and sometimes it may only be in deeper understanding of nature and a deeper appreciation of how Mother Nature is putting things together."

Grunder was formerly director of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia. Before that he held various posts at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and at the Department of Energy's Washington headquarters.

Besides his doctorate in experimental nuclear physics from the university of Basel, Grunder also holds a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.

by Vincent Landon

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