SAAN public lecture in Melbourne: Switzerland – A Paradise for Research?

The Swiss Australian Academic Network (SAAN) identified a unique opportunity to invite Prof Ed Palmer to deliver a public lecture in Melbourne during his visit to Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne as the guest of the Australian Society of Immunology. Prof Palmer is best known for his seminal contributions his group at University of Basel has made to our understanding of self-tolerance that allows our immune system to differentiate between pathogens and foreign cells, and those that make up the organs of the own body. To maximize exposure of this lecture, the event was held on November 20 at the Royal Society of Victoria in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD and also included as speakers Drs Markus German and Daniel Häusermann, two resident scientists from Switzerland.

In his keynote address “Switzerland – A Paradise for Research?”, Prof Palmer used the example of the academic institutions in which his own career was fostered to illustrate the differences of approaches by (medical) science funding agencies to support research in Switzerland and Australia. He also contrasted the attitude of the research environment frequently encountered in the world’s few top tier Universities with the more collegial and supportive environments common to the next level of Research Institutes. Prof Palmer’s insightful analysis painted a complimentary picture of the often more generous funding opportunities available to (established) researchers in Switzerland, with the greater willingness of Institutions and funding agencies to support high risk research in Australia. There was a general recognition among the audience that this information is of great relevance when tailoring future funding applications for collaborative research efforts involving scientists from both countries.

Dr Germann, a postdoctoral SNSF recipient, provided the audience with a first-hand account of the challenge of deciding on a host laboratory in Australia given the high density of world leading research groups comprehensively covering most areas of biomedical research in Australia. His forthcoming transfer to the EPFL in Lausanne will provide a strong link for SAAN to further strengthen bilateral exchange with scientists in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

In his presentation Dr Häusermann, the nuclear physicist in charge of the biomedical beam line at the Australian synchrotron, expressed his delight about the most recent transfer of this world-class facility from a Victoria state-funded operation to being run by ANSTO, the Federally funded Australian Nuclear Research and Development organization. This important step ensures long-term viability of a unique resource for the ultrastructural analysis of living organisms that is centrally located among Melbourne’s leading Universities and Research Institutes. Customized on-site housing facilities for animals enables complex monitoring throughout long-term experiments that is currently not possible in most other synchrotron facilities around the globe.

This SAAN lecture event, made possible in part through the ongoing financial support of SAAN by Novartis, Roche and Nestlé as well as The Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI, attracted an audience in excess of 80 with a large proportion comprising early career postdoctoral researchers as well as many of Melbourne’s leading scientists. The evening was opened by Prof Ernst, President of SAAN and in his closing remarks Prof Medcalf, secretary of SAAN, acknowledged the evening’s attendance of Switzerland’s Honorary Consul for Melbourne, Ms Erika Kimpton.