These four researchers head up the new center: Roland Riek, Didier Queloz, Cara Magnabosco, and Sascha Quanz (from left).
Many scientists at ETH Zurich are interested in how life originated on our planet. The president of the Technical University, Joel Messot (58), noticed this immediately when he took office four years ago. “I am very happy that we can now pursue these and other questions about the universe with the new research center,” he says.
The Center for the Origin and Diffusion of Life opened Friday under the direction of Didier Queloz (56), a Nobel Prize winner in Geneva and professor of astrophysics. It is located both on the ETH campuses in Zurich city center and in Hönggerberg. In the coming years, it will be investigated how life developed on Earth and whether there are also living creatures on other planets.
“It’s a very ambitious mission.”
More than 40 research groups from five departments at ETH Zurich will work with scientists from around the world. “It’s a very ambitious task, but I’m sure we can do it together,” Queloz says. Modern science is now able to do this. “But to be successful, we have to build bridges with other disciplines,” Queloz continues. The strength of the research center is that astrologers, biologists, physicists and chemists, among others, can share their knowledge.
A member of the management team is geologist Kara Magnapusco (33). She is particularly interested in how life originated on our planet. “To find out, we study organisms in places on our planet where extreme conditions prevail: very high temperatures, very cold or deep in the earth,” she says.
Life outside the solar system
While Magnabosco deals with materials found on Earth, astrophysicist Sascha Quanz (43) is fascinated by life a few billion kilometers from our planet. “My goal is to find life outside the solar system,” he says. “We now know about 5,000 exoplanets. But we don’t yet know if they have an atmosphere and if life is possible there.”
For this reason, new tools must be built that can provide answers. “We’re planning for a massive telescope that’s even bigger than the James Webb Space Telescope, which has a diameter of 6.5 meters,” says Cowans. It should be completed by the end of 2030.
Funding program for young researchers
In addition to cooperating with international institutions, six new professors and various educational programs will be established as part of the research centre, according to an ETH Zurich statement. The center also gives young researchers the opportunity to research the origins of life and expand their networks. Starting in October, young talents from all over the world can apply for a scholarship.
The center is funded by funding from the school’s management, departments, participating research groups, and the Paul Scherer Institute (PSI). The budget for the first six years is 9 million Swiss francs.
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