Visit of the President of the Republic of Korea to ETH Zurich

The 19 January visit of Yoon Suk Yeol, President of the Republic of Korea, to ETH Zurich focused on Quantum Science.
Yoon Suk Yeal and Günther Dissertori shaking hands. (Photograph: Alessandro Della Bella / ETH Zurich)

President of the Republic of Korea Yoon Suk Yeol took advantage of his visit to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos to make a detour to ETH Zurich to exchange views with quantum scientists. The visiting delegation included seven South Korean ministers.

ETH Zurich Rector Günther Dissertori welcomed the distinguished guests. He accompanied them to the ETH Library Archive to view documents and artefacts that had belonged to Albert Einstein and other scientists who had worked at ETH Zurich.

In his official welcome address in the historic Pallmann room, Rector Dissertori expressed his delight with the delegation’s interest in the field of quantum physics. Quantum science and technology is also an area of research in which ETH Zurich is particularly prominent.

In his speech, Yoon Suk Yeol emphasised how pleased he was to be a guest at such a renowned university that had produced 22 Nobel Prize laureates. He said he was convinced that the university had advanced humanity not only with its solutions to specific challenges, but also with its findings in fundamental research.

“Quantum science will revolutionise industry in the future,” said the South Korean president, “and with it, our future lives.” He went on to say that this field of research required both a long-term perspective and long-term investment. Quantum technology is of strategic importance to the South Korean government, which is why insights into the field are so valuable. 

Quantum science at ETH Zurich

Andreas Wallraff, Founding Director of the ETH Quantum Center at ETH Zurich, provided the illustrious guests with a brief insight into quantum science at ETH Zurich, showing them how broadly the university is positioned in this field. He explained how the Quantum Center, for example, comprises over 700 scientists from 34 research groups who are based in six different departments at the university and the Paul Scherrer Institute. He went on to report on how diversity in research is one of ETH Zurich’s outstanding strengths in this field, and that the factors underlying the university’s success in quantum research are its early recognition of the potential of quantum science and its promotion as a field of research with a long-term perspective. He added that the government’s funding programmes constitute a second factor that provides an additional boost to quantum research in Switzerland.

This allows ETH Zurich to attract highly respected and networked researchers of international standing, as well as outstanding students interested in the field. The Quantum Engineering programme, in which 40 students enrol each year, has also been a contributing factor.

National and international cooperation

The discussion that followed addressed the question of how universities, government agencies, and the private sector could promote quantum science. ETH Zurich professors Klaus Ensslin and Jonathan Home, as well as Director of IBM Research Zurich Alessandro Curioni, and Ambassador Jacques Ducrest from the State Secretariat for Education, Research, and Innovation participated in the discussion.

They emphasised how quantum science, being one of the most complex technologies, requires a long-term perspective and how a great deal of expertise is needed on the part of both universities and industry. They said that this was why the cooperation between IBM and ETH Zurich, for example, has been so fruitful, and underlined how South Korea has excellent prerequisites given its universities and semiconductor industry.

Yoon Suk Yeol expressed his appreciation for the inspiring insights and emphasised his interest in further exchanges with ETH Zurich, which he described as a premier institution in the field. He ended his speech with an appeal, “Share your knowledge and share your experience, so that we can further develop this technology together.”

ETH Zurich and the Republic of Korea

ETH Zurich maintains close relations with the Republic of Korea, both through its Leading House Asia mandate and its strong collaboration with all the country’s major universities and research institutions. It also engages in intensive cooperation in the fields of information technology and electrical engineering as well as mechanical and process engineering with Seoul National University, which is its main cooperation partner. KAIST, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and the Korean Energy Agency have concluded agreements with ETH Zurich. The President of KAIST is also a member of the GULF (Global University Leaders Forum at WEF) community along with ETH Zurich.

ETH Zurich employs two professors of Korean descent: Professor Tae-Lim Choi (Polymer Chemistry, D-MATL) and Professor Taekwang Jang (Integrated Systems, D-ITET). In addition, around 50 scientific staff and some 60 Korean students work or study at ETH Zurich.