A new interdisciplinary research fund worth over one million francs

© 2020 EPFL
© 2020 EPFL

EPFL has earmarked 1.2 million francs to support interdisciplinary research projects

Professor Anna Fontcuberta i Morral has spearheaded an initiative to encourage greater collaboration across EPFL schools and laboratories. She secured 1.2 million francs in funding from the Office of the President to support research projects that would otherwise never have seen the light of day. "At EPFL, we’re fortunate to be part of a community of leading and visionary scientists," says Fontcuberta i Morral. "The thinking behind this new fund is to get people working together and finding areas where their research interests overlap. An initiative like this can only strengthen the quality and impact of EPFL’s scientific output." Her idea proved an instant hit.

In December last year, a committee of EPFL professors received 22 proposals. Following a review by outside experts, just six made the grade. "We set a number of criteria, including two key tests," explains Fontcuberta i Morral. "First, the project had to include a significant element of risk - in other words, it had to be genuinely innovative. And second, the researchers involved mustn’t have collaborated with each other before. Work on the winning projects will start in the coming months and run for up to two years." Each winning proposal was awarded 200,000 francs in funding.

Common themes

Many of the proposals were in one of three areas: artificial intelligence, health technology or climate change. One of the projects that was awarded funding brings together researchers from the School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC) and the School of Life Sciences (SV). Under that project, Professors Alexandre Alahi, Grégoire Courtine and Jocelyne Bloch will work on developing an AI-based system that allows paraplegic patients to walk again. "There’s a lot to be said for teaming up with colleagues from other laboratories," says Alahi, an assistant professor at the Visual Intelligence for Transportation Laboratory (VITA). "What’s more, there’s a wealth of expertise here at EPFL that’s just waiting to be tapped." This initiative was such a success that it’s likely to be run again next year.