Working with higher education institutions

‘We benefit from an extended network of industry partners’

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SwissNeutronics, a spin-off of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), specialises in the production of optical devices for neutron beams, which are used to study the structure of matter. The products of SwissNeutronics were developed and built by a team of around twenty employees and are delivered to major neutron-based research laboratories worldwide. Christian Schanzer, Chief Operating Officer of SwissNeutronics, shares his experience.

‘The requirements for neutron optics are increasing and are becoming more and more specific with the aim being to use neutron beams to improve the performance of scientific instruments. The infrastructure found at PSI is extremely useful in the development of such optics. In particular, using neutrons at PSI enables us to obtain direct evidence about new developments and the quality of our products. These results are unambiguously convincing for our clients. The geographical and cultural vicinity to the PSI has enabled us to establish a very solid and successful partnership.

Our work with the European Spallation Source (ESS), currently under construction in Sweden, allowed us to participate in international business events organised by Swiss ILO. This helped us to identify new business opportunities and provided us with the opportunity to discuss forthcoming projects with existing and new clients. We were therefore able to find out more about their specific requirements and to inform them of the latest advances that SwissNeutronics has achieved with neutron optics. This exchange of information is very helpful for us, allowing us to determine and adjust our activities both from an R&D and business standpoint. And finally, to extend our client base in Europe.

As the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble (France) operates the largest neutron guidance system, which is also frequently refurbished with the most modern guidance technology, it is a very important customer for us. We were happy to receive support from Swiss ILO during some tight negotiation meetings between ILL and SwissNeutronics. Swiss ILO checked for consistency in the ILL’s overall procurement flow and defended the SwissNeutronics offer with commercial and technological arguments.’

‘We benefit from an extended network of industry partners’

Swiss ILO is currently hosted by the EPFL's Swiss Plasma Center (SPC) and supported in particular by the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). What benefits does a public university and research institution have in maintaining close contact with an industrial liaison office? Prof. Christian Rüegg, member of the PSI Executive Committee, and Prof. Ambrogio Fasoli, Director of the SPC, both members of the Swiss ILO Executive Committee share their perspectives.

Prof. Christian Rüegg
Photo: ETHZ

How do you work with the Swiss ILO?
Prof. Christian Rüegg: As a concrete example, PSI is responsible for delivering the in-kind contribution that Switzerland makes to the European Spallation Source (ESS), which is currently under construction in Lund (Sweden). We are building instruments, designing electronics and writing software for this infrastructure project. Swiss ILO helps us to identify industry partners in Switzerland who can help to meet the ambitious scientific and technical goals set for these projects.

As academic and research institutions, how do you benefit from being a partner of Swiss ILO?
Prof. Christian Rüegg: We benefit from an extended network of industry partners, which help us to carry out our other projects at PSI. A good example would be the new instruments at our own Swiss Spallation Neutron Source (SINQ). We are often looking for very specialised products or advanced methods that require joint R&D. Swiss companies that understand the advantages and risks from previous collaborations with research institutes in and outside Switzerland are our optimal partners. We also benefit from Swiss ILO’s contacts across the Röstigraben and to other participating Swiss institutions with similar needs and technology agenda.

Prof. Ambrogio Fasoli
Photo: ETHZ

How do you work with the Swiss ILO?
Prof. Ambrogio Fasoli: The SPC is an active partner of the ITER project, which is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy. We work closely with Swiss ILO to facilitate the best possible access for Swiss industrial partners to the fusion procurement market, in particular, but not exclusively, for ITER. Discussions on the large and complex procurement packages for ITER are held with Swiss ILO to maintain a high level of awareness of the technical requirements and challenges, as well as to anticipate some of the important calls for tenders.

As academic and research institutions, how do you benefit from being a partner of Swiss ILO?
Prof. Ambrogio Fasoli: The SPC is able to cater to its own needs for industrial developments and procurements from the large and continuously updated database on industrial interests and capabilities in Switzerland. It also benefits from the contacts and personal acquaintances of Swiss ILO. Via interactions with Swiss ILO, the SPC management maintains a global vision of the involvement of the Swiss private sector in fusion activities. In a number of cases, Swiss ILO is also asked to act as a matchmaker between young scientists and engineers and Swiss companies, facilitating the job seeking exercise for our young researchers and thereby strengthening the link between industry and academia.

SERI News 5/19


Laurent Salzarulo, SERI
Scientific Advisor International Research Organisations