Everything that is thrilling, controversial, and fun about science and technology
ETH Zurich – Where the future begins! Our university for science and technology dates back to the year 1855, when the founders of modern-day Switzerland created it as a centre of innovation and knowledge. At ETH Zurich, students discover an ideal environment for independent thinking, researchers a climate which inspires top performance. Situated in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, ETH Zurich is pioneering effective solutions to the global challenges of today and tomorrow. ETH Zurich has an excellent reputation in scientific circles: 21 Nobel laureates have studied, taught or researched here, and ETH regularly ranks as one of the world’s top universities.
Lynn Kaack and David Dao on how to stop the global warming
Climate change hasn’t been hitting the headlines quite as much in recent months – but that’s not because the situation has improved. ETH Zurich researchers Lynn Kaack and David Dao spoke to the ETH Podcast back in March about how we can use AI to help in the fight against climate change. At that time, climate change was still one of the dominant topics in the media, thanks in part to Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement. Then came the virus, and everything else became irrelevant. The ETH Podcast also produced a special series on COVID-19, which pushed back the episode with Lynn Kaack and David Dao. We have now supplemented the pre-lockdown podcast with current statements from the two researchers. Because we wanted to know what had changed for them.
Lynn Kaack and David Dao on how to stop the global warming
Climate change hasn’t been hitting the headlines quite as much in recent months – but that’s not because the situation has improved. ETH Zurich researchers Lynn Kaack and David Dao spoke to the ETH Podcast back in March about how we can use AI to help in the fight against climate change. This episode of the ETH podcast is about Lynn Kaack’s and David Dao’s work on the energy transition and forests, their work with the organisation Climate Change AI, and their take on research, activism and policy. We pushed back the podcast that had been produced before the lockdown due to our special series on COVID-19 and it has now been supplemented with current statements from the two researchers. Because we wanted to know what had changed for them.
Interview with Detlef Günther, Vice President for Research at ETH Zurich
The coronavirus pandemic forced ETH Zurich to suspend almost all its experimental research in mid-March. This was a major challenge, especially for Detlef Günther, ETH’s Vice President for Research. "But now I see a little more light at the end of the tunnel," he says in the podcast. After all, experimental research is now being stepped up again, albeit with restrictions, as the strict rules on physical distancing and hygiene still apply. Full occupancy is therefore not possible in many laboratories. Despite the adverse circumstances, Günther also sees some positive consequences of the pandemic: it has brought together many disciplines that were previously not connected with each other. His hope is "If we preserve just 20 percent of this mentality, we will definitely bring ETH much further forward in solving future challenges". The podcast episode with Detlef Günther concludes ETH’s ten-part #COVID-19 special series. Of course, the coronavirus will keep the world busy for some time yet and the topic will certainly play a role in upcoming podcast episodes. However, it's also time for the ETH Podcast to find its way back to a normality where different topics have their place and are explored again in more detail.
Contact tracing and respecting privacy
Various contact-tracing apps are currently being developed worldwide to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Apps are seen as a necessary tool in the battle to contain coronavirus infections, but they also raise many ethical questions – not least of which is how to implement digital contact tracing in accordance with data protection. Effy Vayena, Professor of Bioethics, nevertheless remains optimistic that digital technologies can help reduce the speed at which the virus spreads. "We are currently dealing with a variety of technologies that are able to protect our privacy while still serving their purpose," she says.
The genome of the virus is the key
Tanja Stadler has been in the Swiss media quite a lot lately. As an Associate Professor in the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, she knows how to interpret data regarding the spread of the virus. On the ETH Podcast she explains how characterising the genomes of virus samples taken from different infected patients gives her insight into how fast the virus spreads. The data she is using comes from many nations around the globe. “It is remarkable how willingly researchers and authorities are sharing their data during this crisis,” she says.
Shifting from economic forecasting to scenario planning
The current situation presents an enormous challenge for economists like Jan-Egbert Sturm. The director of the KOF Swiss Economic Institute and his counterparts around the world are shifting from economic forecasting to scenario planning in a time of unprecedented change. “We are confronted with a situation where we can’t wait for a quarter to end. We have to work with weekly or even daily data,” says Sturm.
How a megacity became a giant research lab
Singapore is situated in Southeast Asia and has a strong connection to China. Nevertheless, the coronavirus epidemic in Singapore has been much weaker than in Europe so far. Gerhard Schmitt, Professor of Information Architecture and Director of the Singapore–ETH Centre, tells the ETH Podcast how the strong measures against COVID-19 have changed the city, which usually suffers under self-generated heat. Right now, air and street traffic have almost disappeared: “It’s as if a simulation has become reality.” This situation offers unique opportunities for Schmitt’s research.
How fitness and health go together
For most people, staying at home right now means a lot of sitting and staring at screens. Katrien de Bock, Professor of Exercise and Health, tries to stay active together with her family. Because every movement counts – especially for older people. This can also be a waltz in the living room. Studies clearly show that exercise not only strengthens the immune system, it also builds healthy muscle mass, which in turn helps us in case of illness. Unfortunately, you lose muscle mass much faster than you build it up!
“It is important to keep structure and routines”
Petra Schmid is currently working from home, where she is planning a new study on how feedback affects the motivation and focus of people working remotely. As an Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour with a background in psychology, she recommends a strict routine: getting up at the same time every day, getting dressed, taking breaks and making a to-do list every day to stay focused and efficient. In addition, she adds: “You should basically stop working in the evening, and make a new list of tasks you want to accomplish the next day.”
“Our schedule got way busier than before”
Andreas Wallraff is currently running the Quantum Device Lab from home. The Professor of Solid State Physics has a lot to organise and coordinate, now that his group is not allowed to enter the university buildings. “We’re working on results that we acquired earlier and writing up some papers. And we are planning for the future after this is resolved – hopefully soon,” he says. Even though his team has organised itself well, they are all looking forward to the day they can return to the labs. For more information on quantum engineering please also listen to our podcast no 14!