School of Life Sciences 20th anniversary: Science in the spotlight

Andrew Oates, dean of SV, gives the inaugural speech of the LSS. © 2022 EPFL

Andrew Oates, dean of SV, gives the inaugural speech of the LSS. © 2022 EPFL

EPFL's School of Life Sciences celebrated its two decades with a rich and diverse scientific conference. Between 7 and 9 September, over five hundred people came to the Rolex Learning Center for the Life Science Symposium, to hear and meet international researchers at the forefront of their fields across the life sciences.

If EPFL's School of Life Sciences (SV) was a tree, it would have had to defy the laws of biology to grow its current network of roots and branches around such a solid trunk in just twenty years. This is the botanical metaphor that Andrew Oates, Dean of SV, chose to describe the school's 20th anniversary celebrations.

The seed was planted in 2002 by Patrick Aebischer, former president of EPFL, in the garden of a technical university, with no guarantee of success. "It's good to see that this School still exists, twenty years later!" he cheered at a packed audience at the Rolex Learning Center on Wednesday, September 7, for the opening of the three-day symposium. His enthusiasm was matched by EPFL’s current President Martin Vetterli, who saluted the vision of his predecessor, and Michael Hengartner, President of the ETH Board, for whom the tree has everything it needs to keep growing and blossoming.

The tree’s fruits are hundreds of students, alumni, professors, and start-ups, and the tree itself has adapted perfectly to the ecosystem of a technical university like EPFL. It now holds a prominent place in the cluster of excellence in the life sciences that is growing around the Lake Geneva area. To honor it, a very rich scientific program brought together researchers from all over the world, at the cutting edge of fields as varied as cell biology, bioengineering, cancer genomics, embryogenesis, and neuroscience. All the speakers and their exciting talks are available on the LSS website.

Among the highlights of the event, Martine Clozel, executive VP of Idorsia, praised the rich relationship between the SV faculty and industry; pediatrician Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization, delivered a keynote speech on science and society. The conference also included a lighter take with Stanford engineer Jorge Cham, the world-renowned cartoonist behind PhD comics, who spoke on “The Power of Procrastination.”

The School of Life Sciences looks forward to the next two decades, which promise to be rich in opportunities offered by multidisciplinarity in the life sciences, bioengineering, and the impact of our work on society.