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NOMIS, ETH Zurich launch fellowship program at new Origin and Prevalence of Life research centre

In conjunction with the opening of the new Centre for Origin and Prevalence of Life at ETH Zurich, the NOMIS Foundation and ETH have launched the NOMIS Foundation–ETH Fellowship Program. The program is enabling exceptional early-career researchers to explore fundamental questions about life, make connections, take risks and build bridges across the boundaries of disciplines. The new centre was announced by ETH on Sept. 2:

In search of the origin of life

ETH Zurich is opening a new research and teaching centre with a focus on exploring the origin and prevalence of life on Earth and beyond. Under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Didier Queloz, more than 40 research groups from five departments will address the big questions posed by humankind.

ETH researchers are tackling one of mankind’s big questions: Where does life on our planet come from? (Illustration: Adobe Stock)

How did life on Earth begin? How did it develop and proliferate? Is there life on other planets? Major advances have been made in recent years across multiple disciplines in search of the answers to these questions. For example, we have already identified more than 5,000 exoplanets – the first of which were discovered by Nobel Laureates Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz some 30 years ago. The James Webb Telescope gives us an unprecedented insight into our universe’s past, while important findings have also been made in the field of molecular biology and in other life sciences. Despite having diverse scientific perspectives, researchers agree that to get to the bottom of life’s greatest mysteries, they need to build bridges between disciplines.

“That is precisely our goal,” stresses Queloz, who will head up the new Centre for Origin and Prevalence of Life that opened its doors at ETH Zurich today. More than 40 research groups from five departments will work together with their counterparts across the world to investigate the mysteries of the origins of life on and beyond the Earth.

Four main research areas

The Centre will focus on four main research areas:
1) Which chemical and physical processes made the formation of living organisms possible?
2) Which other planets may host life?
3) How do planetary environmental conditions develop that are hospitable to life, and how does this life change a planet’s characteristics?
4) What other forms of life could exist?

Biologists, chemists, earth scientists, physicists and environmental systems scientists will be investigating these questions in interdisciplinary projects. “When I visited various ETH departments after taking up my post four years ago, I realised that many research groups have one thing in common: the great desire to get to the bottom of the origin of life. I am really pleased that our new centre will now make this possible,” comments ETH Zurich President Joël Mesot.

New professorships, teaching and fellowship programmes

Numerous research collaborations with international institutions and new teaching programmes are to be established, as well as up to six new professorships at ETH Zurich. These professors will join the existing faculty and will primarily focus on research topics relevant for the Centre.

“But first we will start with the launch of an innovative fellowship programme,” says Queloz. The NOMIS Foundation–ETH Fellowship Program is designed to give young scientists the opportunity to conduct research on the origin of life in this unique environment. “To answer humankind’s fundamental questions, interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches and outside-​the-box thinking are essential. But this can be risky or even impossible, especially for early-​career researchers. Through the new NOMIS–ETH Fellowship Program, we hope to enable these young scientists to make connections, to take risks and to build bridges across the boundaries of disciplines,” explains Markus Reinhard, managing director of the NOMIS Foundation.

Continue reading this ETH Zurich press release

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NZZ: Die ETH Zürich eröffnet ein Zentrum, das den Ursprung des Lebens ergründen soll


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