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Nobel winner Queloz to head new research centre in Zurich

Didier Queloz as seen at the University of Geneva in 2019 Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Swiss Nobel Laureate Didier Queloz is moving to the top-ranked Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich to help establish a new centre looking at the origins of life.

This content was published on May 21, 2021 - 16:58
Keystone-SDA/ETH Zurich/SWI swissinfo.ch/ilj

The 2019 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics will be designated director of the new ETH Center for the Origin and Prevalence of Life, the ETH Zurich announcedExternal link on Friday.

Queloz will leave his alma mater, the University of Geneva, in September. He will then divide his time between the ETH Zurich, and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, where he has held a professorship since 2013. Cambridge scientists are already working on the fundamental questions of life through the “Initiative for Planetary Science and Life in the Universe”.

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Perfect timing

In an interview published on the ETH Zurich website, Queloz said that the reason for his more was very simple: the project was fantastic and the timing “perfect”. Rapid progress relevant to this topic has been made in recent years in various fields, including his own, astronomy, he explained.

The new centre will have the involvement of professors from five departments including chemistry and biology, which Queloz hopes will bring in new ideas. The astrophysicist said that this fits in with a new community currently forming at large universities around the world, such as Harvard and Caltech, where researchers “from very different fields aim to work together in solving a fundamental problem”.

ETH Zurich president Joel Mesot said in an interview with the Le Temps newspaperExternal link on Friday that although he would not call the Queloz move a coup, “it’s a way of positioning ourselves to strengthen the position of Swiss and European research”. He said he hoped that the project would become both a national and international cooperation focal point.

Nobel Prize

Queloz and his former professor Michel Mayor were jointly awarded the 2019 Nobel PrizeExternal link in Physics together with Canadian-American cosmologist James Peebles for their work in furthering our understanding of the universe.

Mayor and Queloz were recognised for their discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star in 1995.

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