New Paths in Fundraising

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Innovation: Sina Abdolhosseinzadeh explains his project to former Empa Director
Innovation: Sina Abdolhosseinzadeh explains his project to former Empa Director Gian-Luca Bona: He wants to produce low-cost sensors for medical technology using a special printer. Image: Empa

Many potentially groundbreaking ideas are born in the minds of researchers at Empa - not all of them can be implemented, and for some there is simply no funding. The Empa Zukunftsfonds is intended to close this gap in the future; through professional fundraising, the Zukunftsfonds supports exciting research projects that have not yet received funding elsewhere, as well as particularly promising talents. The Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation is now supporting such a fellowship for young researchers for the first time with 270,000 Swiss francs.

Empa is one of Switzerland’s key drivers of innovation; application-oriented, practical, focused on the prime challenges of our time. In more than 400 ongoing research projects with several hundred partners from all over the world, researchers are developing innovative materials, technologies and concepts to enable the energy transition, advance a circular economy or bring personalized medical applications into everyday practice.

To keep this innovation engine running, it needs to be kept lubricated - with scholarships, grants, donations and other types of financial support. After all, cutting-edge research does not come for free. Although Empa, as a research institute of the ETH Domain, is solidly funded by the federal government, there are always projects that are ahead of their time - in other words, that have enormous potential if they are successful, but cannot be financed by conventional means. Or, on the other hand, enormously talented young researchers whose further scientific careers are supported.

In order to have greater room for maneuver in cases such as these, Empa’s Directorate decided some time ago to set up a professional fundraising: the Empa Zukunftsfonds. "We want to make it possible for private donors to support projects or "bright minds" in topics that are close to their hearts, such as sustainability or medicine - and thus help us directly shape our future in a livable and sustainable way," says preceding Empa CEO Gian-Luca Bona. The Empa Zukunftsfonds offers various thematic funds that enable private donors to support a specific purpose: There are currently research funds for sustainability, health, energy and nanotechnology, as well as a fund for the promotion of young scientists.

The Empa Zukunftsfonds is Empa’s fundraising and donation tool and currently comprises five thematic funds: four research funds for the areas of energy, health, sustainability and nanotechnology, and one fund for talent development. Each of these funds has a clearly defined application and award process. Empa prepares annual accounts for each fund and discloses them to donors; donations to the Empa Zukunftsfonds are tax-deductible. The Zukunftsfonds team consists of Gabriele Dobenecker and Martin Gubser. In recent years, Gubser has headed fundraising for the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation and the UZH Foundation, the University of Zurich’s foundation. Gabriele Dobenecker has many years of experience in maintaining contacts with Empa’s partners in industry and business. Further information:

Empa Fellowships for outstanding talents For the latter, the Empa Zukunftsfonds recently received a significant donation: Last November, the Board of Trustees of the Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation decided to fully fund a two-year Empa Young Scientist Fellowship at St. Gallen with 270,000 Swiss francs. The St. Gallen-based foundation was established in 1981 by the German-Swiss entrepreneurial couple Ria and Arthur Dietschweiler, and since then has supported charitable, pioneering projects in the fields of education, culture and social affairs. The Empa Young Scientist Fellowship is a funding instrument for exceptionally talented young scientists. The fellow receives financial support to set up and carry out an independent research project over a period of two years. The duration of two years is deliberately kept short, as the Fellowship is intended as a kick-start for an international scientific career, and not as an entry into a career at Empa. The Fellowship is awarded through a competitive process to ensure that the applicants with the highest potential are selected.

The selection process for the 2022 awardee has just started. So who will enjoy the Fellowship of the Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation is not yet known. However, a first Empa Young Scientist Fellowship has already been running since October 2021: Sina Abdolhosseinzadeh completed his PhD thesis last year and has since been working in Empa’s Functional Polymers lab. His project: to develop intelligent and at the same time inexpensive sensors for medical technology.

Low-cost diagnostic instruments that can be produced in large numbers are an important prerequisite for an affordable healthcare system. While chemical sensors show promise for detecting a wide range of diseases, from cancer to viral infections, producing them cost-effectively is tricky. One industrial-scale production method for such devices would be printing. However, functional inks are currently in short supply; moreover, the construction of most conventional biosensors makes it impossible to use existing printing methods. In his research project, Abdolhosseinzadeh plans to build on the results of his PhD thesis and attempt to develop a universal sensor platform that solves these problems and is compatible with existing technology.

Gian-Luca Bona considers the funding that could already be raised an encouraging start - and hopes that these initial successes will soon be followed by others: "The support from the Ria & Arthur Dietschweiler Foundation, but also the grant from the Werner Siemens Foundation for our research in the field of novel architectures for quantum computers are an incentive for us to pursue this path further and, together with our sponsors, continue to launch groundbreaking innovations in future in order to be able to solve the urgent challenges facing our society."