19th Dies Academicus. Frontiers: from the universe to the university
Institutional Communication Service
18 April 2015
The 19th Dies Academicus of the Università della Svizzera italiana took place in Lugano on April 18th 2015. The ceremony was the perfect opportunity to listen to speeches by Stéphane Rossini, President of the National Council and Fabiola Gianotti, Italian physicist, next Director General of CERN and manager of one of the two projects that led to the discovery of the Higgs boson. The ceremony was a journey from the universe remote frontiers to the university and the reorganization of the Swiss academic system, with a careful eye on the true value of research and the importance of humanities in higher education.
The history of the universe shows that frontiers are often a fertile ground for discovery, claims USI’s President Piero Martinoli. Frontiers represent boundaries and the tension of those willing to cross them and so does the University: a place of challenges and energy, a borderline between today and tomorrow, an open gate to the unknown. After the reorganisation of the Swiss academic world with swissuniversities (universities, Federal Institutes and ASP under one roof), it is important for universities to aim at a free and unpredictable research, steering clear from the idea of carrying out projects to earn a profit rather than researching beauty and the truth.
The frontiers are also a place of exchange and encounter. With that in mind, Martinoli reminded the audience that it is important for the university to take a stand in order to avoid the isolation of all Switzerland-based research after the initiative against mass immigration. Switzerland and Ticino need to keep true to their identity while facilitating debate and exchange. They also need to steer clear from those who preach a continuous isolationism but also from an internationalism that takes away the country’s identity.
In the end, the frontier is also the land of pioneers, and it is with this pioneering spirit that USI is investing in new fields of knowledge like “data science” (with the new Interdisciplinary Institute of Data Science) and is working towards the establishment of a Faculty of Biomedical Sciences thanks to a cooperation with ETH Zurich.
Stéphane Rossini, President of the National Council of Switzerland, underlined how the mission of universities is to bring innovation and critical thinking into the society and avoid all research that does not have the public interest at heart. Rossini also recalled the precarious situation of many researchers and expressed the hope for the creation of a “researcher statute” in Switzerland.
Fabiola Gianotti spoke about the road that led to the discovery of a new particle compatible with the Higgs Boson (the international experiment at CERN named ATLAS). A discovery that together with the experiment CMS represents a crucial step in understanding the structure and evolution of the universe. Gianotti also talked about the implications that such discovery has in our daily lives.
Michele Lanza illustrated how, contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of poetry hidden in informatics: software developers are in fact creative architects rather than simple engineers. This approach guides USI’s Faculty of Informatics and its research in the field of software. A research that aims at the development of new concepts with the goal of making software design more efficient.
During the conferral of Awards, the Academy of Architecture assigned the Honorary Doctorate to geographer Franco Farinelli, professor at the University of Bologna for “his studies devoted to the theory and history of geography and to the creation of the modern concept of landscape”. The Faculty of Economics assigned the Honorary Doctorate to Jean-Pierre Danthine, Professor at the University of Lausanne and current Vice President of the Swiss National Bank for “his important contribution to the study of interactions between macroeconomics and finance. The Faculty of Informatics the Honorary Doctorate to Gilles Brassard, Professor at Université de Montréal for “his important contribution in cryptography, in particular for his role in the development of quantum cryptography”.
The Credit Swiss Award for best teaching has been assigned to Franz Graf, Professor at the Academy of Architecture.
From the left: François Degeorge (Dean of the Faculty of Economics), Jean-Pierre Danthine, Fabiola Gianotti, Gilles Brassard, Franco Farinelli, Piero Martinoli, Franz Graf