R&D in the curriculum: Physics at ETH

Nieuws | de redactie
24 september 2008 | At ETH physics has always been regarded as one of the prominent subjects. Famous alumni are Röntgen, Einstein and one of the founders of CERN, Paul Scherer. What makes Physics at ETH special? Prof. dr Friso van der Veen, head of the Research Department of Synchrotron Radiation and Nanotechnology: “A big difference compared to other universities I know, is that students at ETH are demanded to work twice as hard, even in summer. There is no selection process for admission as bachelor, but for master there is.

A lot of international students come to us to follow their Masters here. ETH is a big brain importer!”The ETH physics department is subdivided into 8 separate institutes: the institutes of Astronomy, for Quantum Electronics, for Particle Physics, for Theoretical Physics, of Neuroinformatics, the Laboratory for Neutron Scattering, for Solid State Physics and the Swiss Light Source at the Paul Scherrer Institute( PSI). PSI is an internationally renowned research institute, connected to ETH, for the natural and engineering sciences. It is one of the world’s leading user laboratories for the national and international scientific community.

Spin off’s as inspiration

The physics department has a long tradition of introducing the most current fields of research into its curriculum. Students enjoy a solid foundation in the bachelor courses that seamlessly connects to hands-on contact with research performed at the Department of Physics at the master stage. The curriculum of Physics at ETH is closely tied to Mathematics as well as to Computational Science and Engineering. This close connection becomes apparent in their common studies administration and in the possibility to easily change between these subjects in the first year of the curricula. Though most undergraduate programs are taught in German, most graduate programs are available in English.

“The brain-import role is true for research as well”, van der Veen continues. “ETH is one of the few European universities that is able to ‘buy’ well known American scientists.” Though van der Veen still speaks highly of his time as researcher at the University of Amsterdam, he didn’t hesitate to accept the job offer from ETH eight years ago. “The infrastructure and big research facilities at ETH are excellent. And there is a lot of money available for research! There is so much potential over here. Look at the amazing amount of 21 spin-off companies at ETH, which were registered last year. Very inspiring.”


One current field of research at the Department of Physics involves the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN – the world’s largest experiment and one in which ETH Zurich is participating – which was set in motion on September 10th. ETH students could follow the action on large screens or through a live video stream on their personal computer, while ETH experts were commentating the event. Another research project is the polyproject Quantum Science and Technology, an interdisciplinary project involving professors of the Physics department as well as Chemistry, Computer Science and Information Technology and Electrical Engineering professors. According to ETH ‘this project is about creating systems and components for controlling, manipulating and ultimately using novel physical quantum effects. The long-term objective is to drive quantum research forward, technologically and conceptually, to such an extent that it becomes possible to build quantum computers. Scientists hope that such machines would open up entirely new options for information processing.

All of the almost 900 ETH physics students study at Campus Hönggerberg, which is located about seven kilometres north-west of the centre, on a hill on the edge of the city. The main campus, ETH Centre Campus, is located in the heart of Zurich, not far from Zurich’s main station and The University of Zurich. By 2011, the Hönggerberg site is to be turned into a high-tech campus which will be called Science City. The new city district for a “Thinkers’ Culture” will also incorporate a new sports centre, a guesthouse, restaurants, student apartments and a learning and conference centre.

To find out more about ETH and how the Department of Physics collaborates with CERN, read the interview ScienceGuide had with rector Prof. Heidi Wunderli- Allenspach. For more information about ETH Zurich read the profile we have made.

Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief
ScienceGuide is bij wet verplicht je toestemming te vragen voor het gebruik van cookies.
Lees hier over ons cookiebeleid en klik op OK om akkoord te gaan