An enormous impact - despite Corona

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On this year’s cover: Researchers from Empa and ETH Zurich have been able

On this year’s cover: Researchers from Empa and ETH Zurich have been able to produce a nanostructured material that functions as a luminous solar concentrator and can be applied to textiles. This will help, e.g. jackets to harvest solar energy, for instance to charge smartphones and the likes in your pocket.

Empa’s Annual Report 2020 leads you on a gripping journey through the world of research and innovation; you may be surprised at how broad the term "applied research" is defined at Empa.

Last year, hardly anything went as planned - and certainly nothing stayed the same: Right at the beginning Corona challenged us and kept us on our toes throughout the rest of the year. From the outset it was clear to us at Empa that we had to protect our employees in order to be able to carry out our tasks in the best and most efficient way. A complete shutdown as a result of the threat from the SARS-CoV-2 virus was never an option. Instead, we immediately introduced an effective protection concept and a comprehensive training for all our employees.

Initially, the numerous inquiries about protective masks were quite a challenge, as much was still unclear. Detailed test procedures that were quickly developed and transferred to private labs were the beginning, cooperations with numerous industry partners and within the framework of the COVID-19 Task Force the consistent next steps. Many Swiss companies develop innovations within EU- and projects, but also in direct collaboration with Empa. As a result, we were able, in 2020, to set a new record with respect to the number industry collaborations. Likewise, the number of scientific publications by our researchers has also risen to a new all-time high of over 850. Empa has thus fired up its "innovation engine" once again.

In this context, an increased focus on data science in deepening the atomic understanding of materials, as well as in the area of machine learning and digital twins, has opened up further important dimensions for us. Well over 20 percent of our researchers are working on concepts like these - and are attracting increasing interest from our external partners.

Unfortunately, we had to cancel our open lab days to celebrate Empa’s 140th anniversary last year; however, we were able to successfully finish a long-cherished book project: "Beyond Materials - A brief history of Empa" vividly illustrates our transition to a modern, top-notch research institute, but at the same time is a kind of stopover on the way to the future.

A future that we have developed and defined in our Development Plan for the next four years together with our numerous key players. In addition to research into sustainable, resilient materials and technologies with a human-centric focus, this includes the development of a forward-looking Empa campus in Dübendorf with ’net zero’ CO2 emissions as a lighthouse project for the climate and energy transition. This year, the first stage will start with a new laboratory and a multifunctional building. So that we can continue to advance our technologies with the next generation of Empa researchers - at full speed and for the benefit of Switzerland.