Published: 25.10.12

Branco Weiss’ last gift

Swiss entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Branco Weiss, who died in 2010, bequeathed an estimated 100 million Swiss francs to Society in Science – The Branco Weiss Fellowship. This donation secures the future of the fellowship, which belongs to ETH Zurich and supports young researchers throughout the world.

MM / Roman Klingler
Branco Weiss lived with the attitude that belonging to the elite means not only to be privileged, but also to bear a big responsibility towards society. (Photograph: Rainer Spitzberger / Society in Science)
Branco Weiss lived with the attitude that belonging to the elite means not only to be privileged, but also to bear a big responsibility towards society. (Photograph: Rainer Spitzberger / Society in Science) (large view)

In his will, Dr. Branco Weiss increased a donation to Society in Science – The Branco Weiss Fellowship that he made during his lifetime. Branco Weiss founded the fellowship in 2002 to support researchers all over the world shortly after completing their PhD, and in 2010, the last year of his life, he transferred it entirely to ETH Zurich taking effect January 1, 2011. The bequest, estimated to be around 100 million Swiss francs, will ensure that the fellowship can continue and expand.

Branco Weiss was associated with ETH Zurich throughout his life. He graduated in chemical engineering in 1951, and later gave courses in entrepreneurship and technology strategy in the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering. In 1998, ETH awarded him an honorary doctor’s degree. Branco Weiss was also a major donor to ETH, for example sponsoring the Branco Weiss Information Science Laboratory that was inaugurated in 2008 on the ETH Science City campus.

Supporting courageous thinkers

Society in Science – The Branco Weiss Fellowship offers a generous personal grant of up to five years for researchers shortly after their PhD. The program supports projects throughout the world: fellows can come from anywhere, and are able to conduct their research at any institution. Applicants need to provide evidence of outstanding scientific achievement, outline a compelling research project at the interface between science and society, and be prepared to look beyond their own scientific horizon.

Professor Ralph Eichler, president of ETH Zurich, says: “Branco Weiss’s donation opens up new dimensions for the promotion of young researchers. What is even more important to us than the amount is the tremendous power we gain from this fellowship. Society in Science is a unique organization that allows us to test new research fields and meet young, highly talented researchers with a limited institutional downside risk. The fellows get an opportunity to pursue their research ideas and benefit from a maximum of academic freedom.”

Looking into the future

Professor Peter Chen, Director of Society in Science, also emphasizes the strategic importance of the fellowship: “Branco Weiss has given us the chance to look into the future. The fellowship gives ETH a strategic scouting instrument for promising research areas that no other university has. Like most innovations, Society in Science began with the vision of one man. Today, the fellowship enhances ETH Zurich’s international visibility as a place where excellence is recognized and promoted. Society in Science should not only support individuals in their endeavor to build something new in their own careers; we should bring together a critical mass of these young, innovative thinkers so that, as they grow and move into positions of responsibility, they know where, and from whom, they can find expertise outside of their own specializations.”

The goals and basic terms of the fellowships are defined in the endowment contract of 2010. As also stipulated in the contract, the fellowship is managed by a directorate of two: Prof. Peter Chen, former Vice President of Research at ETH Zurich, as operational director, and Prof. Heidi Wunderli-Allenspach, who was Rector of ETH until August 2012 and who succeeds Branco Weiss in a role comparable to that of the chair of a board of directors.

A growing number of fellows

In its first ten years of existence, the Society in Science program has already supported 36 researchers, 21 of whom are currently fellows. In 2012, a total of 434 junior researchers applied for a fellowship, with eight subsequently chosen as fellows. Since 2011 it has belonged to ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich). Professor Peter Chen and Professor Heidi Wunderli-Allenspach direct the fellowship program. Applications for the 2013 fellowship are invited with a deadline of February 1, 2013. For more information visit:

Links and References

Reader comments: