Swiss Nanoscience Institute: Striving To Train Talented Young Scientists Who Have A Broad Understanding Of The Nanoworld

By Christian Schoenenberger, Professor and Director
Christian Schoenenberger,Professor and Director

Christian Schoenenberger

Professor and Director

Established with the mission to train talented young scientists who have a broad understanding of the nanoworld and can become bridge builders for many different interdisciplinary approaches ­ in academia as well as in industry, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute (SNI) at the University of Basel is a center of excellence for nanosciences and nanotechnology. Founded in 2006 on the initiative of the Swiss Canton of Aargau and the University of Basel, the institute was brought to existence to promote research and education in the nanosciences and nanotechnology in Northwestern Switzerland.

Recognized for their bachelor's and master's program in nanosciences and a PhD school which provides interdisciplinary training for young nanoscientists, the SNI provides a solid basic education in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics to students on the bachelor's program before they can choose their fields of interest where they get insights into research activities of the network. Master's and PhD students focus on their specific projects but are still exposed to topics outside their own fields so that they continue to get an interdisciplinary education. One of the SNI's key objective is to conduct world-leading basic research and to actively support knowhow and technology transfer to industrial companies. The Swiss Nanoscience Institute also supports companies with various services like imaging on the nanoscale and more.

"At the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the number of bachelor's students per semester ranges between 20 and 40 students. The small number allows a familiar atmosphere, an unique support culture among the students and optimal supervision by professors and scientific staff. Per year, only 7-8 PhD students get the excellent chance to join the SNI PhD School. They are widely integrated into the activities that address cutting-edge scientific topics in nanoscience and nanotechnology, embedded in classical disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology, medicine and engineering. They work on different topics in the nanosciences and in various research groups led by leading scientists in their fields. Interdisciplinary courses like the winter school and specifically designed programs like rhetoric course support the personal development of the students and enhance the interdisciplinary scientific exchange", shares Christian Schoenenberger, Professor and Director of the Swiss Nanoscience Institute.

Opening New Opportunities for International Students
The Northwestern Switzerland and the Basel region share borders with France and Germany and due to a large number of global life sciences
companies, the area is very international, hence, English is spoken everywhere so communication is quite easy. The master's program of the SNI curriculum is also held in English. International students who have enjoyed an interdisciplinary education in the natural sciences, get a chance to experience the open-minded, world leading research groups at the University of Basel and its partners if they join the masters's curriculum.

“The SNI and the University of Basel support the development of ideas for start-up companies and support students to succeed if they are planning to become founders of a start-up”

The PhD students can also apply once a year for projects that were selected by an interdisciplinary committee of external and internal senior scientists. The chosen candidates from all over the world work on a diverse range of projects, for example on quantum computing, spintronics, molecular electronics, graphene, quantum sensing, nanocontainers for medical applications, single-cell proteomics, nanofluidic devices, and many more. PhD students are supervised by two principal investigators who are leading scientists in their fields. These students are not only exposed to their own scientific field and working group but also get to know their peer PhD students who are working on different topics via specifically designed courses and activities.

International students who want to think outside the box and want to learn more than their specific topic will enjoy the open, diverse atmosphere at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. If students perform according to the regulations of the University of Basel, they get paid over a period of four years. Interested students not only get an overview of basic research projects that are supported by the SNI but also get an insight into applied research projects in cooperation with industrial companies. The SNI and the University of Basel also support the development of ideas for start-up companies and support students to succeed if they are planning to become founders of a start-up.

Emphasising on Hands-on Education and Early Research Experience
With the SNI offering a bachelor's and a master's program as well as a PhD School, the courses that students select depend on the specific area they are active in. The focus on specific fields of interest follows for higher semesters in the bachelor's program. While extra emphasis is given to providing hands-on education and early research experience in research groups in the last year of the bachelor's program, the college also supports students in building their own network and to get insights into applied projects in industry.

The SNI is a network of members who come from different academic institutions. This network includes the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biomedicine and the Biozentrum at the University of Basel, as well as research groups from the Schools of Life
Sciences and Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) in Muttenz and Windisch, the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich in Basel (D-BSSE), the CSEM (Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique).

Principle investigators who lead SNI PhD projects are renowned scientists in their fields who belong to one of the institutions mentioned above. Together with their lab members they introduce new students to the scientific world so that they get what is needed for a scientific career. Adding to this, the SNI staff, external experts as well as the University of Basel offer courses for PhD students that enhance their personal development. SNI offers courses on topics like rhetoric skills, identification of personal skills, introduction to agile working, scientific writing, innovation course and much more.

Within the SNI network, PhD students are prepared to present and discuss their scientific work as they have to give presentations at internal conferences like the winter school or the annual event where scientists from the whole network meet. PhD students get the chance to practice presentation skills in the informal familiar atmosphere before they go to international conference.

Striding towards Future
Set up in 2012, the SNI PhD school was brought in existence in order to enhance the education of excellent young nanoscientists. These learners have today published their results in renowned scientific journals like Nature and Science and SNI regards this as the best reputation of excellent research. Students who finished their thesis at the SNI PhD School found jobs at global companies like Roche Pharmaceutical or Novartis and in academic institutions like Harvard University, ETH Zürich or Stanford University ­ also an good example of excellency.

To the future students, Christian Schoenenberger, says, “We would advise future students to check out new PhD positions in September in our website. Each year, around 7-8 new projects are introduced for the students and to be prepared, the learners can ask their professors for a recommendation letter in advance and have an up-to-dated CV ready that shows their excellency. Also, we advertise these open positions in the SNI PhD School on our social media channels on Twitter and LinkedIn. Nationality does not play a role when candidates are selected but their ambition, knowhow and experience”.

Christian Schoenenberger, Professor and Director
Christian Schonenberger is a professor in experimental condensed matter physics at the University of Basel, where he leads the nanoelectronics group. His research interest is in unraveling fundamental aspects of charge transport in nanodevices by conducting novel experiments.
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