Maurice Cosandey, who served as EPFL president from 1963 to 1978, celebrates his 100th birthday today. He is revered as the driving force behind EPFL’s transformation into a federal institute - and he’s still concerned about the future of our planet.
The three presidents who followed in Maurice Cosandey’s footsteps all agree that he was a "visionary." In fact, words of praise for the founder of today’s EPFL are not lacking: generous, modest and extremely curious are among them (see our video homage). Cosandey, who headed the school from 1963 to 1978, turns 100 today. He may get around in a wheelchair nowadays, but his mind is ever agile. And he maintains strong ties to EPFL, never missing the school’s Master’s degree graduation ceremony.
Despite suffering from macular degeneration, he continues to read voraciously with the aid of a reading device. He also ponders what the future holds for his seven - soon to be eight - great-grandchildren. "I’m 100 years old and I wonder: what will the planet be like in 2100? Will humans have managed to slow climate change by then or not? To achieve that, I think that people will really have to come together. They will need a sense of common purpose to maintain diversity and even expand it even further. Will that be possible? It’s hard to say. In the 1930s, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin envisioned a world in which humanity had a conscience. That has long been my dream."
A career devoted to science
Maurice Cosandey’s family was from Sassel, in the northern Vaud region of La Broye, but he was born in Lausanne. He went to the local scientific high school and then studied at Lausanne’s polytechnic school, graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 1940. In 1944, he was hired by Zwahlen & Mayr, a metallic construction company, where he worked for 20 years. In 1963, he was appointed president of the Lausanne University Polytechnic School (EPUL), where he had been teaching as a professor of metallic and wood construction for the previous 12 years. Cosandey was the driving force behind the school’s transformation from a cantonal to a federal institute, as EPUL became EPFL on 1 January 1969. Also during his tenure, the campus was moved from the center of Lausanne to its current site in 1977, and several fields of study were added: mathematics (1969), materials science (1974) and microengineering (1978). When Cosandey left EPFL, it was to become the president of the ETH Board, a position he held from 1978 to 1987.