ETH Zurich

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Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich
ETH Zürich wordmark.svg
Established 1855
Type Public
Budget CHF1.56 billion (US$1.62 billion)[1]
President Lino Guzzella
Rector Sarah Springman
Administrative staff
10,851 (headcount 2014), 8,143 (full-time equivalents 2014)[1]
Students 18'616[1]
Location Zürich, Switzerland
47°22′35″N 8°32′53″E / 47.37639°N 8.54806°E / 47.37639; 8.54806Coordinates: 47°22′35″N 8°32′53″E / 47.37639°N 8.54806°E / 47.37639; 8.54806
Campus Urban
Affiliations CESAER, EUA, GlobalTech, IARU, IDEA League
ETH Zürich is located in Switzerland
ETH Zürich
ETH Zürich
Location: ETH Zürich, Switzerland

ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, German: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich) is an engineering, science, technology, mathematics and management university in the city of Zürich, Switzerland. Like its sister institution EPFL, it is an integral part of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain (ETH Domain) that is directly subordinate to Switzerland's Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research.[2]

ETH Zürich is consistently ranked among the top universities in the world. It is currently ranked as 5th best university in the world in engineering, science and technology, just behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Cambridge University and National University of Singapore in the QS World University Rankings.[3]

Twenty-one Nobel Prizes have been awarded to students or professors of the Institute in the past, the most famous of whom is Albert Einstein in 1921, and the most recent is Richard F. Heck in 2010. It is a founding member of the IDEA League and the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) and a member of the CESAER network.

The school was founded by the Swiss Federal Government in 1854 with the stated mission to educate engineers and scientists, serve as a national center of excellence in science and technology and provide a hub for interaction between the scientific community and industry.[4]


Polytechnikum in 1865
ETH Zürich Zentrum

ETH was founded in 1854 by the Swiss Confederation[5] and began giving its first lectures in 1855 as a polytechnic institute (Eidgenössische Polytechnische Schule). It was initially composed of six faculties: architecture, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemistry, forestry, and an integrated department for the fields of mathematics, natural sciences, literature, and social and political sciences. It is locally still known as Poly, derived from the original name Eidgenössische polytechnische Schule,[6] which translates to "Federal polytechnic school".

ETH is a federal institute (i.e., under direct administration by the Swiss government), whereas the University of Zürich is a cantonal institution. The decision for a new federal university was heavily disputed at the time, because the liberals pressed for a "federal university", while the conservative forces wanted all universities to remain under cantonal control, worried that the liberals would gain more political power than they already had.[7] In the beginning, both universities were co-located in the buildings of the University of Zürich.

From 1905 to 1908, under the presidency of Jérôme Franel, the course program of ETH was restructured to that of a real university and ETH was granted the right to award doctorates. In 1909 the first doctorates were awarded. In 1911, it was given its current name, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule. In 1924, another reorganization structured the university in 12 departments. However, it now has 16 departments.

Interior skylights in the main building

ETH Zürich, the EPFL, and four associated research institutes form the "ETH Domain" with the aim of collaborating on scientific projects.[8]

Reputation and ranking[edit]

University rankings
Times[9] 9
QS[10] 9
Times[11] 4
QS[12] 5

ETH Zürich is ranked among the top universities in the world. Typically, popular rankings place the institution as the best university in continental Europe and ETH Zürich is consistently ranked among the top 1-5 universities in Europe, and among the top 3-10 best universities of the world.

Historically, ETH Zürich has achieved its reputation particularly in the fields of chemistry, mathematics and physics. There are 21 Nobel Laureates who are associated with ETH. The most recent Nobel Laureate is Richard F. Heck who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2010. Albert Einstein is perhaps its most famous alumnus.[13]

In 2015, the QS World University Rankings[14] placed ETH Zürich at 9th overall in the world and 5th in the world in Engineering, Science and Technology, just behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Cambridge University and National University of Singapore. ETH also ranked 6th in the world in Natural Sciences.

In 2015, Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranked ETH Zürich 9th overall in the world and 8th in the world in the field of Engineering & Technology, just behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Cambridge University, Imperial College London and Oxford University.[15]

In a comparison of Swiss universities by swissUP Ranking and in rankings published by CHE comparing the universities of German-speaking countries, ETH Zürich traditionally is ranked first in natural sciences, computer science and engineering sciences.

In the survey CHE ExcellenceRanking on the quality of Western European graduate school programmes in the fields biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, ETH was assessed as one of the three institutions to have excellent graduate programmes in all considered fields, the other two being the Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge. ETH Zürich had an endowment of 1.56 billion CHF[1] (approx. 1.62 billion USD) in the year 2014 to support its cutting-edge research.

Admission and education[edit]

Students and locals in ETH front courtyard

For Swiss students, ETH is not selective in its undergraduate admission procedures. Like every public university in Switzerland, ETH is obliged to grant admission to every Swiss resident who took the Matura.[16] Applicants from foreign countries are required to take either the reduced entrance exam or the comprehensive entrance exam although some applicants from several European coutries are exempted from this rule. An applicant can be admitted to ETH even without any verifiable educational records by passing the comprehensive entrance exam.[17]

As at all universities in Switzerland, the academic year is divided into two semesters. Examinations are often held during examination sessions which are immediately before the beginning of the next semester (only a few select courses offer an exam immediately after the semester ends). After the first year of study, bachelor students must pass a block examination of all courses taken in the first year, called the Basisprüfung. If the weighted average score is not sufficient, a student is required to retake the entire Basisprüfung which usually means having to re-sit the whole first year. About 50% of the students fail the Basisprüfung on the first try and many of them choose to drop out of the course instead of repeating the Basisprüfung. The structure of examinations in higher academic years is similar to the Basisprüfung (Basis examination), but with a higher success rate. The regular time to reach graduation is six semesters for the Bachelor of Science degree and three or four further semesters for the Master of Science degree. The final semester is dedicated to writing a thesis.

Education at ETH Zürich generally focuses more on theoretical aspects than application and most degree programs contain a high amount of mathematical training. The main language of instruction in undergraduate (Bachelor) studies is German and for admission a proof of sufficient knowledge of the German language is required for Bachelor students.[18] Most Master's programmes and doctoral studies are in English.


ETH Hönggerberg with the new HIT building

ETH Zürich has two campuses. The main building was constructed in the 1860s in the heart of the city. As the university grew, it spread into the surrounding quarters. As a result, the Zentrum campus consists of various buildings and institutions throughout Zürich and firmly integrates the ETH in the city. The main building stands directly across the street from the University of Zürich.

Because this geographic situation substantially hindered the expansion of ETH, a new campus was built from 1964 to 1976 on the Hönggerberg in the outskirts of the city. The last major expansion project of this new campus was completed in 2003; since then, the Hönggerberg location houses the departments of architecture, civil engineering, biology, chemistry, materials science and physics.

Main building[edit]

Main building as seen from Polyterrasse

The main building of ETH was built from 1861 to 1864 under Gustav Zeuner; the architect, however, was Gottfried Semper, who was a professor of architecture at ETH at the time and one of the most important architectural writers and theorists of the age. Semper worked in a neoclassical style that was unique to him. It emphasized bold and clear massings with a detailing, such as the rusticated ground level and giant order above, that derived in part from the work of Andrea Palladio and Donato Bramante. During the construction of the University of Zürich, the south wing of the building was allocated to the University until its own new main building was constructed (1912 – 1914). At about the same time, Semper's ETH building was enlarged and received its impressive cupola.

Science City[edit]

In the year of ETH Zürich's 150th anniversary, an extensive project called "Science City" for the Hönggerberg Campus was started with the goal to transform the campus into an attractive district based on the principle of sustainability.

ETH Hönggerberg from the south, looking at the five "fingers" of the HCI and behind the high HPP building.

In September 2014 a new project to connect Science City by train was published. [1]

Student life[edit]

ETH students were found to be the busiest students of all institutions of higher education in Switzerland.[19] The undergraduates' tight curriculum consists of as much as twice the number of lectures as comparable courses of other Swiss universities.[citation needed]

ETH has well over 100 student associations. Most notable is the VSETH (Verband der Studierenden an der ETH) which comprises all department associations. The associations regularly organize events with varying size and popularity. Events of the neighboring University of Zürich are well-attended by ETH students and vice versa. The VSETH organizes events of greater public attention, such as the Polyball, the Polyparty (does not exist any more) and the Erstsemestrigenfest, the first two housed in the main building of ETH. Sometimes, the annual Erstsemestrigenfest takes place at extraordinary locations, for example the Zürich Airport. All freshmen enjoy special treatment at that event.

There are several student associations, most notable of those are the newly founded Entrepreneur Club Zurich and ETH Model United Nations. Both organisations enjoy high international standings and are regularly awarded for excellence in their field.[citation needed]

The Academic Sports Association of Zürich (ASVZ) offers more than 80 sports. The biggest annual sports event is the SOLA-Stafette (SOLA relay race) which consists of 14 sections over a total distance of 140 kilometers. More than 760 teams participated in the 2009 edition.[20] The 40th edition of the SOLA, held on May 4, 2013, had 900 enrolled teams, of which 893 started and 876 were classified.[21] In 2014 ASVZ celebrated their 75th anniversary.[22]


The annual Polyball is the most prestigious public event at ETH, with a long tradition since the 1880s. The end of November, the Polyball welcomes around 10,000 dancers, music-lovers and party animals in the extensively decorated main building of ETH. The Polyball is the biggest decorated ball in Europe.

The amicable rivalry between ETH and the neighbouring University of Zürich has been cultivated since 1951 (Uni-Poly). There has been an annual rowing match between teams from the two institutions on the river Limmat.

There are many regular symposia and conferences at ETH, most notably the annual Wolfgang Pauli Lectures, in honor of former ETH Professor Wolfgang Pauli. Distinct lecturers, among them 24 Nobel Laureates, have held lectures of the various fields of natural sciences at this conference since 1962.

Notable alumni and faculty[edit]

John von Neumann, graduated in chemical engineering, ETH Zürich 1925.[23]

The names listed below are taken from the official record compiled by the ETH. It includes only graduates of the ETH and professors who have been awarded the Nobel Prize for their achievements at ETH.[24]

Nobel Prize in Physics[edit]

Nobel Prize in Chemistry[edit]

Nobel Prize in Medicine[edit]

Other Nobel Laureates directly affiliated with the ETH[edit]

ETH Rectors[edit]

ETH Presidents[edit]

ETH Zürich has produced and attracted many famous scientists in its short history, including Albert Einstein. More than twenty Nobel laureates have either studied at ETH or were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work achieved at ETH. Other alumni include scientists who were distinguished with the highest honours in their respective fields, amongst them Fields Medal, Pritzker Prize and Turing Award winners. Academic achievements aside, ETH has been Alma Mater to many Olympic Medalists and world champions.


Main polytechnics in Europe[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "ETH Zurich, Annual Report 2014" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-07-24. 
  2. ^ "ETH Board - Governance ETH Domain". Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  3. ^ "QS World University Rankings". 
  4. ^ "Bericht über den Entwurf zu einem Reglemente für die Eidgenössische polytechnische Schule, 21.6.1854, in: Schweizerisches Bundesblatt 6 (1854) 39, Bd. 3, S. 163-182, Textauszug handelt von Bauschule und Ingenieurschule." (PDF). 
  5. ^ "Swiss knowledge society". 
  6. ^ "ETHistory 1855-2005". Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "ETH History 1855-2005". Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  8. ^ "ETH Domain". ETH Board. Retrieved 2015-02-23. 
  9. ^ "World University Rankings 2015-2016". Times Higher Education. 2015. Retrieved October 1, 2015. 
  10. ^ "QS World University Rankings® 2015/16". Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. 2015. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Top European universities". The Times Higher Education. 2012. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  12. ^ "QS World University Rankings". QS Quacquarelli Symonds Limited. 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2015. 
  13. ^ "ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879 – 1955)". 
  14. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2015/16". 
  15. ^ "ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  16. ^ "Admission to the first semester with a Swiss matriculation certificate ("Matura")". ETH Zurich. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "Admission to first semester without Swiss matriculation certificate". ETH Zurich. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "Language requirements". ETH Zurich. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  19. ^ "Willkommen auf" (German)[not in citation given]
  20. ^ SOLA-Stafette 2009
  21. ^ SOLA - Erfolgreiche Jubiläumsstafette
  22. ^ "ASVZ". Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  23. ^ Ed Regis (1992-11-08). "Johnny Jiggles the Planet". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-04. 
  24. ^ "Die ETH Zürich". Retrieved 19 July 2015. 

External links[edit]