Research with an impact - thanks to focus and cooperation

Cover Image: Stretchable AC electroluminescent device for application in flexibl
Cover Image: Stretchable AC electroluminescent device for application in flexible electronics (e.g. flexible displays). Image: Empa
We hope to lead 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.

2022 was a year of many changes, around the globe, in Switzerland and at Empa. After 13 extremely successful years under the helm of Gian-Luca Bona, I took over the leadership of Empa in June with great enthusiasm and a zest for action, but also with a lot of respect. I was very pleased to experience a great deal of support from our stakeholders in industry, research, politics and administration as well as from our staff.

Empa has turned into a veritable hotbed of innovation for Swiss industry over the past decade. So we are not setting a radically new course, but instead will be working to achieve an even greater impact for our partners as well as for society as a whole with our outstanding research as "The Place where Innovation Starts".

One of our approaches to achieve this is through increased agility, which we in turn want to enhance by cross-linking our internal competencies considerably more across all organizational units, in order to more efficiently develop practical solutions to the challenges of our time. In future, we will thus focus on four Research Focus Areas: Nanoscale Materials and Technologies; Energy, Resources and Emissions; Built Environment; and Health and Performance.

Moreover, we will establish a dynamic hub structure in order to pool the expertise of our different laboratories on specific current topics such as post-lithium batteries or quantum materials. These hubs represent dynamic, flexible, adaptive "tag teams" that come together to address specific issues and will be discontinued once the goals have been achieved - only to reform again with a new configuration to tackle another problem.

All these measures have one goal: to address the complex challenges in a comprehensive, interand transdisciplinary way. One example is the field of energy: Our guiding principle here is to view the Earth’s atmosphere and its components, such as the greenhouse gas CO2, as a valuable source of raw materials. These need to be extracted and processed into products such as synthetic fuels or starting materials for the chemical industry. For one thing, this provides us with (storable and transportable) energy carriers, but also with products and materials for our daily lives.

Things get really exciting when the synthetic hydrocarbons produced in this way are broken down again into the energy carrier hydrogen (H2) and into (solid) carbon. Energy losses are the price for this, but the bottom line is that CO2 is removed permanently from the atmosphere and can be stored in the form of solid carbon for an unlimited period of time, for instance in building materials such as concrete and asphalt, where it can even replace any limited raw materials. This is a crucial step towards the decarbonization of our society, which we all can only achieve by joining our forces.

In addition to increased in-house collaboration, we also want to further strengthen the cooperation with our external partners, for example within the ETH Domain, through various Joint Initiatives, as well as among the four research institutes as part of the ENRICH initiative. Of course, we also want to boost cooperation beyond the academic sphere, especially when it comes to the practical implementation of our research. After all, given the complexity of the tasks at hand, even an outstanding research institution will eventually reach its limits. Together, however, we can keep pushing boundaries and find solutions for a sustainable and liveable future.