The new Bernoulli Center for Fundamental Studies opened its doors in September. Housed in the GA building on EPFL’s Lausanne campus, the Center is headed by Prof. Emmanuel Abbé, holder of EPFL’s Chair of Mathematical Data Science, and aims to foster excellence and promote research in the fundamental sciences. “The most important scientific discoveries can be traced back to breakthroughs in the fundamental sciences,” says Prof. Abbé. “And these breakthroughs often lie at the crossroads of several different disciplines. That’s why it’s so important to nurture a synergistic ecosystem in the fundamental sciences right here on EPFL campus.”
An expanded management team
Until now, the Bernoulli Center supported research mainly in mathematics and related applications. But today, not only does it have a broader remit encompassing computer science and theoretical physics, it also has an expanded management team with professors from several EPFL schools and institutes. In addition to the director, the Center is now led by Maryna Viazovska and Philippe Michel (both from the Institute of Mathematics in EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences), Ola Svensson (from the Institute of Computer and Communication Sciences in EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences), and João Penedones (from the Institute of Physics in EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences).
M. Viazovska, P. Michel, E. Abbé, O. Svensson, J. Penedones © 2021 EPFL / Alain Herzog
Promoting the fundamental sciences
“Our efforts to foster excellence and promote research in the fundamental sciences will take place on three main levels,” says Prof. Abbé. “First, on an international level, through high-caliber semester-long programs, visiting professorships, Bernoulli Fellowships for high-potential young scientists, and a network of organizations worldwide with which we plan to hold hybrid events. This will require expanding and renovating our facilities, the work on which is already under way. Second, at the EPFL level, by providing a forum for scientists from all fundamental disciplines to meet on campus and explore research synergies. We also intend to include classes given by guest professors in our students’ curricula. And finally, at the high-school level, where we will promote studies in the fundamental sciences by supporting talented Swiss high-school students through on-site activities. For example, guests at our Center will give classes that are open to the public in order to put high-school students in direct contact with practicing scientists and, hopefully, inspire them to follow in the scientists’ footsteps.”
Prof. Abbé also stresses the importance of diversity. “We need to do more to encourage under-represented groups, like women, to pursue careers in the fundamental sciences. To that end, we will work closely with EPFL’s Associate Vice Presidency for Student Affairs and Outreach,” he says.
Bringing scientists together to spur innovation
“We wanted to create a place on campus where fundamental scientists can meet and forge ties across academic levels and disciplines, in an effort to come up with innovative ideas. Some of the most revolutionary scientific ideas came about in these kinds of environments. For example, connections between number theory and nuclear physics emerged at a tea time at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, or the elliptic-curve cryptography born out of discussions from Bell Labs visitors,” says Prof. Abbé. “The new Center has already made waves on campus. So far, over 50 scientists have joined us from different EPFL schools. There’s clearly an interest in creating this kind of forum. The Center will also be an opportunity for EPFL to play a leading role in the fundamental sciences in Europe, reinforce joint initiatives and enhance campus life in general.”