The moderator of the Swiss Science Prizes 2023, the journalist Olivier Dessibourg, opened the ceremony with a quote from the walls of the Bern Town Hall: “Opening the past to the future”. In his own words, the awards “celebrate the past research” of the laureates and “support them in their future work”.
In his speech, the Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin noted it was important for academia to address the ethical, environmental, social, and cultural issues raised by progress in science and technology. Commending the presence of some twenty young scientists who had met the laureates Ted Turlings and Lesya Shchutska earlier, he urged the new generation to “hold a mirror up to us whenever you see us failing to worry sufficiently about the utility of research for humanity, that is, your own future”. The head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, he thanked the two laureates for what they “bring to science and the well-being of all”.
Deciphering plant language
Didier Queloz, the President of the Marcel Benoist Foundation, recalled that Marcel Benoist had showed his gratitude towards Switzerland, which had welcomed him from France, by bequeathing his fortune to the Confederation over a century ago. It was a “generous and visionary” message about the fundamental role played by science in our society, and it has been carried forward by the Prize he launched, the first to follow in the footsteps of a certain Alfred Nobel. Technological innovations are now “so present in our daily lives that we forget they were made possible only thanks to the meticulous, long, difficult – and still too often neglected – work of the women and men of science”.
Carlo Rivolta, the Chair of the Marcel Benoist Prize Selection Committee, highlighted the importance of the work of the laureate biologist Ted Turlings, especially his discovery of the volatile compounds emitted by plants in response to insect attacks, which represent “a kind of plant language whose complexity and sophistication never ceases to surprise us”. By shedding light on the hidden world of chemical communication between plants and animals, his pioneering work has opened new perspectives for more environmentally friendly agriculture.
Exploring uncharted territories
Yves Flückiger, the President of the Latsis Foundation, emphasised how the Foundation has supported research in Switzerland for nearly fifty years, convinced that “science provides the facts on which politics must forge its decisions” and that “fundamental research is the agent behind all disruptive innovation changing the world and contributing to the well-being of society”.
Olivier Schneider, a member of the National Research Council of the Swiss National Science Foundation which had proposed Lesya Shchutska for the 2023 Latsis Prize, remarked that she has “explored uncharted territories” in particle physics. He noted her work capacity, her “speed of analysis and her ability to make new connections immediately”.
A discussion with the two laureates followed the handing over of the awards and the signing of the Golden Book of the Marcel Benoist Foundation. The Ukrainian-born physicist Lesya Shchutska noted that major infrastructure such as CERN allows a large number of countries to join together around a common goal and attracts the best talent to Switzerland. The biologist Ted Turlings from the Netherlands emphasised how his early fundamental research work gradually led to increasingly applied projects, and that international collaborations – even with countries with different political positions – are necessary to face global challenges.
Exchanging with the youth
Young scientists who participated in the Science Olympiad and the national competition Science and Youth had the opportunity to meet the laureates during a workshop co-organised with the association Reatch. It was an opportunity to discuss scientific questions, academic careers and the role of science in society.
Ted Turlings, Marcel Benoist prizewinner 2023, his wife Betty Benrey, and Lesya Shchutska, Latsis prizewinner 2023 with their families