Empa’s Annual Report 2021 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.
After almost 13 years at the helm of Empa, this is my last editorial. I have had the privilege of serving as the CEO of a great institution with a unique culture, and of walking part of the way with it. I have always been impressed by the openness of our staff to tackle new challenges and to use their knowledge to break new ground. I have repeatedly been able to experience how new things have emerged through cooperation across different laboratories. After all, it is often at the interface between different disciplines that new things emerge. This agility is a hallmark of Empa’s culture and allows us to initiate new innovations in materials science and technology development, based on fundamental research. The following pages will give you an insight into the broad spectrum of research and knowledge and technology transfer at Empa.
The last two years have been dominated by the pandemic, which has triggered major changes - and will continue to challenge us. Local solutions and production are once again in demand as global supply chains collapse. In addition, geopolitical challenges are now greater than ever. Switzerland’s relationship with the EU has been severely tested, with a serious impact on science as well. Furthermore, the fault lines between Western democracies and autocratically dominated states like Russia and China, as well as in the Middle East, have increased dramatically. The attack on Ukraine has radically demonstrated that a new era has dawned, which Switzerland will also have to face and which will demand sacrifices from all of us. Independence from foreign fossil energy will cost Europe as a whole significantly and will thus also demand a great deal from Switzerland in its transition to a sustainable energy system. Changes in production technologies by additive manufacturing and digitalization will challenge us just as much. It is important to ensure that these developments are in line with our social priorities - for a Switzerland that is fit for the digital age and an economy, for which people are at the center. Data science allows intelligent control and secure monitoring of numerous production processes, for example via artificial intelligence and sensor networks. With 3D printing of new materials as well as machine learning in manufacturing processes and digital twins in system solutions, exciting new possibilities are opening up.
At first glance, this seems to make our world much more complex. But on closer inspection, this is a huge opportunity for all of us: for Empa as an interdisciplinary research institute, as well as for the highly diversified Swiss economy. Just as we are already conducting research across all our labs and disciplines and transferring the results to industry, concepts from one sector of industry will in future be quickly transferred to others. What is being developed today for solutions in the automotive industry may already inspire the medtech sector tomorrow.
I am convinced that Empa, as a driver of innovation, will continue to be of utmost importance to Switzerland’s ability to face the future in the years to come. The know-how and broad experience of our highly motivated staff will lead to new materials and technologies that will make a significant contribution to shaping our future in a livable and sustainable way.