Welcome and Farewell for Singapore-ETH Centre

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Singapore-ETH Centre bids a fond farewell to its current director, Gerhard Schmitt, Architect and Professor Emeritus for Information Architecture at ETH Zurich, who steps down from his post at the end of the year. The Centre also announces his successor, Gisbert Schneider, Professor for Computer-Assisted Drug Design.

For ten years the Singapore-ETH Centre (SEC) has served as the university’s research hub in Asia. A bold initiative established with Singapore’s National Research Foundation as part of the CREATE campus, the SEC continues to bring together international research partners to foster innovative solutions for global issues. Instrumental in the development of the Centre in 2010, Gerhard Schmitt advanced the Executive Board’s vision to realize challenge-oriented research programmes related to sustainability, urbanisation, decarbonisation, resilience, health, and food. At the same time, according to Schmitt, the insightful board knew that studying those challenges in locations where they are most pressing would produce results that positively impact development in Europe and in Switzerland.

Singapore prompts best teaching experience

Schmitt served two non-consecutive terms as the SEC Director. In his first term, he launched the Future Cities Laboratory that has given ETH Zurich a name throughout Asia for its research on urban environments. Specifically the lab focuses on how we can make cities more sustainable by understanding the urban metabolism, including the stocks and flows of people, water, materials, energy, information, and finances. "One of my best teaching experiences came from the research conducted at the SEC and implemented into a four-part Massive Open Online Course series on Future Cities. More than 170,000 students inscribed - many of whom contributed to our PhDs’ research data and who I later met in the course of my speaking engagements around the world," says Schmitt, looking back on his work.

Achieving more together

In 2017, Schmitt returned for a second 3-year term in which he and his ETH colleagues secured the funding for the Centre’s Future Resilient Systems, Future Health Technologies, and Cooling Singapore programmes. As he passes the baton on to his successor, Gisbert Schneider, Schmitt expressed his confidence in the SEC programmes and the model under which they operate saying, "If the SEC has proved anything it is this...when we focus on relevant societal issues together, we are able to do much more than as individuals, universities, or countries."

Future-oriented new lead

On 1 January 2021, Gisbert Schneider, a full professor at ETH Zurich for Computer-Aided Drug Design, will take up the directorship of the Singapore-ETH Centre. Jol Mesot, President of ETH Zurich commented, "It is with immense respect and gratitude for his work that we bid farewell to the founding director Gerhard Schmitt. At the same time, I am very happy that we have found in Gisbert Schneider the right qualifications and perspective to take over the leadership of the Singapore-ETH Centre."

Schneider calls Zurich his adopted home with its juxtaposition of high tech city life and the wilds of nature at his doorstep. He studied biochemistry, medicine and computer science in Berlin. His post-doctoral research took him around the world. Before becoming a professor, he worked in the pharmaceutical industry. As the founder of the future-oriented ETH RETHINK ("and do") tank, that deploys AI design processes in scientific fields, Schneider is poised to lead the future-oriented research centre. "I thrive at the interface of environments. Where east meets west, I find we have an exceptional opportunity to learn and I am convinced that new insights will emerge," he says.

Different and yet the same

Switzerland and Singapore may appear to be different nations, but both are knowledge-based economies. The thematic orientation of the SEC programs brings strategic advantages not only to Singapore, but also to Switzerland and global society. Gerhard Schmitt has been a wonderful ETH ambassador, building trust and connection to Singapore. Gisbert Schneider brings both an academic and an industrial perspective and at the same time has the basis for leveraging new technologies to promote basic research," comments Detlef Gnther, Vice President for Research and a member of the SEC Governing Board.

Listening and learning

Schneider acknowledges with gratitude the investment of Singapore government and industry funding that provides the primary support for the research programmes at the SEC. "It is a privilege to lead this unique Centre into the future," he says. As his first official act as the new Director, Schneider plans to listen, to learn, and to meet and speak with stakeholders. Only then will he engage in joint discussion and decisions on how to evolve the existing programmes and seize new opportunities.

Marianne Lucien