Our top ten news articles from 2021
We published nearly 300 news articles on EPFL’s homepage in 2021, detailing the latest developments in science, academics, student life, startups and EPFL in general. However, these articles provide only a glimpse of the many exciting things going on at our School in research, education and innovation. Here’s a summary of the ten most-read news stories from 2021.
1. Bringing home the gold, from Japan to Portugal
The news that clearly shone the brightest in 2021 was the gold medal won by Anna Kiesenhofer, an EPFL postdoc in mathematics, at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Austrian-born Kiesenhofer came in first in the road cycling competition – not bad for her first-ever Olympics! Other student victories included the EPFL Rocket Team’s top finish at the European Rocketry Challenge in Ponte de Sor, Portugal, and the gold medal and best documentation award won by an EPFL team at the iGEM international synthetic biology competition.
2. A highly potent antibody against SARS-CoV-2
Scientists at EPFL’s Laboratory of Virology and Genetics and at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) have discovered a highly potent monoclonal antibody that targets the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and is effective at neutralizing all variants of concern identified to date. The antibody blocks the spike protein from binding to cells expressing the ACE2 receptor, which is the receptor the virus uses to enter and infect lung cells. Clinical trials of the drug should begin in late 2022.
3. Spotlight on a 60-year-old Russian mystery
Researchers from EPFL’s Snow and Avalanche Simulation Laboratory and ETH Zurich have conducted an original study that puts forth a plausible explanation for the mysterious 1959 death of nine hikers in the Ural Mountains. The tragic Dyatlov Pass Incident, as it came to be called, has spawned a number of theories, from murderous Yeti to secret military experiments. These Swiss scientists provide strong quantitative evidence that the avalanche theory is plausible.
4. Manipulating Twitter trends
New research by EPFL’s Distributed Information Systems Laboratory, using Twitter data from Turkey, has found a vulnerability in the algorithm that generates Twitter trending topics: it doesn’t take deletions into account. This allows attackers to push the trends they want to the top of Twitter’s list and then delete their tweets containing those trends shortly afterwards.
5. New immunotherapy activates inside tumors
Scientists at EPFL’s Laboratory of Biomaterials for Immunoengineering have developed a chemical method for targeting the effects of cancer-fighting immunotherapy drugs on tumor tissue, making the drugs less toxic to the rest of the human body.
6. EPFL startup takes off
EPFL spin-off Nexthink, the leader in digital employee experience (DEX) management software, became the latest Swiss unicorn in 2021 after its valuation topped $1 billion. Three other EPFL startups – Sophia Genetics, Astrocast and Onward Medical – went public this year.
7. New dye shakes up solar cells
EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces has developed a new dye for solar cells that enables high power-conversion efficiency while being simple and cheap to make. The dye works exceptionally well under low-light conditions, which is key for self- and low-powered devices.
8. Revolutionizing language analysis with a new program
One of the biggest challenges in data science is analyzing vast sets of information. Jonathan Besomi, an EPFL Master’s student in data science, has developed a program called Texthero that greatly simplifies the task of analyzing textual data. This open-source software program, written in the Python programming language, has won over developers around the world. It was developed in association with EPFL’s College of Management of Technology.
9. Machine learning helps trace the origins of classical music
Scientists at EPFL’s Digital and Cognitive Musicology Lab, part of the College of Humanities, used an unsupervised machine learning model to “listen to” and categorize more than 13,000 pieces of Western classical music, revealing how musical concepts such as minor and major have changed throughout history.
10. EPFL opens new R&D centers
The Dubochet Center for Imaging, a joint research facility run by EPFL, the University of Lausanne and the University of Geneva (and named after the Vaud-based winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry), opened its doors in 2021. Other ribbon cuttings this year include the Center for Quantum Science and Engineering, which runs programs for education, innovation and cross-disciplinary research, and the Bernoulli Center for Fundamental Studies, which promotes research and fosters excellence in the fundamental sciences. EPFL also set up a center of excellence in imaging in 2021 that brings together experts from nearly 100 different EPFL labs in five schools, and we introduced our first joint PhD program with ETH Zurich, in the learning sciences.