Jahresbericht 2017 für

SPG/SSP/SPS: Schweizerische Physikalische Gesellschaft

Präsident/Präsidentin: PD Dr. Hans Peter Beck

Von: PD Dr. Hans Peter Beck, hans.peter.beck@cern.ch


The Swiss Physical Society unites people interested in physics who are active in teaching, didactics, research, development in all branches in industry, at schools, in universities, and research laboratories and is actively organizing and in participating in a variety of projects and events. The following highlights are standing out:

The annual meeting 2017 was held at the CERN and at the Centre International de Congrès (CICG) in Geneva 21-25August 2017. Organized jointly with the Austrian Physical Society (ÖPG) and the Swiss Society for Astrophysics and Astronomy (SSAA), and with participation of the Swiss Institute of Particle Physics (CHIPP) and NCCR MARVEL (Computational Design and Discovery of Novel Materials), a rich and diverse program could be organized at a fascinating location. With over 520 participants and about 370 contributions (approx. 280 orals and 90 posters), the annual meeting 2017 shows a record high that offered ample of opportunities to all participants exchanging ideas within and beyond their own specific fields.

The CERN directorate welcomed the participants at the opening session, with the director General Fabiola Gianotti, highlighting the CERN infrastructure, research program, and the diversity of people from across the globe conducting research at CERN with a common goal achieving an understanding the heart of matter and the origin of the Universe. Martin Steinacher, CERN director of finance and human resources, and Frédérick Bordry CERN director of accelerators and technology, presented in detail the mission of CERN, its current and envisaged future projects. Manfred Krammer, head of CERN’s experimental physics department, introduced the rich physics program conducted at CERN, with its flagship program, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its large-scale experiments (ALICE, ATLAS, CMS, and LHCb), and going further into many other facilities accelerator and non-accelerator based at low, medium and high energies and the international collaboration with participation in experiments based in Japan, the United States, and elsewhere.

Naturally, with CERN being host of the annual meeting, particle physics was a dominant topic at the opening day of the annual meeting; but only on the opening day! The remaining days added a rich wealth of fields with invited plenary speakers at the morning sessions and specialized topical sessions, with invited and contributed talks, occupying the afternoons. These domain sessions offer a great opportunity for young PhD students and young PostDocs to perform their presentation outside their institute and thus, the annual meeting is also playing an important role where young physicist can exercise their skills in communicating, presenting and defending their work. To further underline this educational role, a poster prize is offered as a good stimulus to promote quality in results and efficient communication.

Two evening lectures, open to the public, gave great insights of the fundamental research and their impact in society. Matthew Philipp McCullough presented “A Higgs-Eye View of the Cosmos” at CERN, and Thierry Courvoisier, president of Swiss and European Academies, spoke in French on “De la place de la Science dans la Société” at the CICG, highlighting that knowledge also implies responsibility to the society and the need of communication.

The full programme of the Annual Meeting can be found in the Issue No 51 of the SPG Mitteilungen (http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/) and interactively on the indico conference server, where many of the slides shown can be downloaded (https://indico.cern.ch/event/611331/timetable/#all.detailed). A summary of the full event, with articles of the invited plenary speakers can be found in Issue 52.

The Swiss Physical Society is supporting young physicists via the Young Physicists Forum (YPF). YPF could foster links across all student’s associations at Swiss universities and is organizing a yearly young physicists forum event. In 2017, the topic chosen was ‘Computational Physics’ and was organized 22-23 April at ETHZ and University of Zürich, with participants from all over Switzerland and the help of SPS.

The SPS was again involved in the Swiss Physic Olympiad SwissPhO by awarding 2 special prizes to the two best students. The final round of the SwissPhO took place on 25 and 26 March in Aarau at the Neue Kantonsschule. The five gold medalists form the Swiss team at the International Physics Olympiad 2017 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The two best gold medalists were awarded with the special prize for the best junior physicist offered by SPS. At the International Physics Olympiad, the Swiss team performed well, with two bronze medals won, and three honorable mentions received!

Another continuous endeavor of the SPS is to improve the contact between teachers and organizers of training courses for secondary school teachers. The CRP (Commission Romande de Physique), the French speaking daughter association of the Verein Schweizerischer Mathematik- und Physiklehrkräfte VSMP (société suisse des professeurs de mathématique et de physique SSPMP, Società Svizzera degli Insegnanti di Matematica e Fisica SSIMF). SPS and VSMP have an agreement allowing the double membership SPS-VSMP at a reduced annual fee.

“Physik im Advent”, http://www.physik-im-advent.de,  is an online physics Advent calendar, presenting 24 small, simple experiments and physics riddles to young pupils and anyone interested during advent period every December. Over 30’000 pupils registered to the competition in 2017 and many more downloaded these simple experiments and riddles for their own curiosity without actively participating in the competition, leading to way above one million individual visitors of the web page. The SPS is promoting and sponsoring Physik im Advent in Switzerland.

Effective communication within and across the various sections of our society is assured by publication of the highly-appreciated bulletin, the “SPS Mitteilungen” (or “Communications de la SSP”; http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/ ), and by deferring regularly up-to-date information and news over the SPS Web portal. The Mitteilungen appear three times per year, disseminating information about the activities of the society and the executive board, giving reports on the on-going projects and reviewing scientific progress in a variety of areas of physics with rubrics like progress in physics, milestones in physics, physics anecdotes, plenary talks, physics and society and history of physics.

The electronic Newsletter became fully functional in 2017 and we could successfully find the needed effort to regularly send out a new version at ca. one month’s interval to all SPS members and interested persons where an electronic address is known. This allows SPS to be closer to our members, inform on actual events, prizes, conferences.

Whilst SPS is a member organization of the Swiss Academy of Science SCNAT and part of the platform Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics MAP, we also maintain strong links with the Swiss Academy of Engineering Science SATW. The many activities of the Swiss Physical Society, like those summarized above, could only be carried through thanks to the continuous organizational and financial support of SCNAT. The Society made best use of the allocated funds but still had to close its budget with a small negative balance in 2017.


The SPS publishes its Bulletin (SPG Mitteilungen, Communications de la SSP) three times per year, which is the most important SPS publication to disseminate information about on-going activities within the society and to review scientific progress in various areas. Thanks to the initiative of the scientific editor Bernhard Braunecker and to the many contributors within our society, high-class articles are published in the specific rubrics of “Progress in Physics”, “Milestones in Physics”, “Plenary talks”, “Physics Anecdotes”, “Physics and Society”, as well as “History of Physics”. A paper copy of the Bulletin is distributed to all individual members and associate members. Furthermore, open access to this publication is also granted after a few weeks curtesy delay to the entire Swiss scientific community via the SPS homepage under http://www.sps.ch/de/artikel/communications.

The SPS also issues an electronic Newsletter that effectively came to operation in the beginning of 2017. With the first few Newsletters being established in a more or less ad-hoc effort, Céline Lichtensteiger from University of Geneva could be found to take up the editorial responsibility to issue a new Newsletter at ca. six weeks intervals, covering topics relevant to Swiss physicists and to all interested in physics. News items inform about actualities in research, on prize winners, on conferences, symposia and workshops that are of interest to a broad audience among SPS members.

Tagungen / Kurse

As already summarized above, the most important event organized by the SPS is its annual meeting. In total over 520 physicists and students of the Swiss and Austrian Physical Societies gathered in this 2017 Joint Annual Meeting, with about 360 coming from Switzerland, more than 100 from Austria and the rest from other countries, and a total of about 370 contributions (approx. 280 orals and 90 posters). The additional presence of CHIPP (Swiss Institute of Particle Physics) in this year's meeting also was evidently catalyzed by the location of the meeting at CERN. We had as well the presence of SSAA (Swiss Society for Astrophysics and Astronomy) and of NCCR MARVEL, which all helped making this meeting a great success. There were 11 plenary talks, 2 evening public lectures with one at CERN and one at CICG. Since experimental physics needs technologies, we had, as usual, also a scientific exhibition with 14 companies presenting their products for laboratories and libraries. At the General Assembly of the Society Hans Peter Beck was elected as President and the outgoing president, Minh Quang Tran, continues his term as vice-president, Andreas Fuhrer and Thilo Stöferele were elected as Heads of Physics in Industry. (See: Communications Issue 53, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/).

Internationale Aktivitäten

The SPS has tight links to the European Physical Society (EPS). M. Q. Tran was elected as Member of the Executive Committee of the EPS. In this function, he is in charge of relation with Russian, Spanish and Swiss Member Societies and with the Joint European Solar Physics Division and the Energy Group. H.P. Beck is the Swiss Delegate at the EPS Council.

To foster communication among physicists within all of Europe, SPS is distributing to its members together with its own bulletin the magazine «europhysicsnews» of the European Physical Society (EPS).

M.Q. Tran is delegate of SPS and SCNAT to IUPAP and has been elected Chair of the C16 Commission (Plasma Physics) and has been nominated Associate Member of the C14 Commission (Particle Accelerator) of IUPAP in its General Assembly meeting, 11-13 October 2017 in São Paulo, Brazil.

The building “Bastions” of the University of Geneva was selected by EPS as an “EPS Historic site”. In this building, two famous Swiss scientists performed crucial advancements in theoretical and experimental physics: Ch. E. Guye and E.C.G. Stueckelberg. The inauguration of the plaque commemorating this event took place on March 29th 2017. University officials, SPS and EPS boards members, together with some noteworthy guests (most of them Stueckelberg’s former students, collaborators or just admirers), happily enjoyed the speeches and admired the plate. (See: Communications Issue 52, p 31, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/).

The site of IBM Rüschlikon was also selected as an EPS historic site for its countless scientific innovations, most notably the scanning tunnelling microscope and high temperature superconductivity. The unveiling of the plaque for the IBM Rüschlikon site took place on 26 September with the president, the vice-president, and other members of the board present. The plaque was unveiled in front of attendees including several distinguished guests: Rüdiger Voss, EPS President and K. Alex Müller, Nobel Laureate and retired IBM scientist. (See: Communications Issue 53, p53, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/).

The SPS has developed links with the SFP, Société Française de Physique, in the aim of exploring synergies and activities crossing boarder. The SPS and the SFP signed a contract to establish a joint prize named the Charpak–Ritz prize. This prize is given alternately one year to a French physicist (in odd year) and to a Swiss Physicist (even year). The laureate will be selected from a list of three candidates nominated by one Society and selected by the Prize Committee of the other Society. The applications from the SFP were received in 2016 and the winner, Carlos Sirtori was selected in 2017 by the SPS Prize Committee and he has received the award at the Annual Meeting 2017 at CERN, accompanied by the president of SFP, A. Fontaine. We continued to participate in French national Olympiads. Another line of activity is the shared organization of courses or seminars with participation of both countries. (See: Communications Issue 53, p 9, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/)

SPS maintains strong links with the Austrian Physical Society (ÖPG), which is manifested by the bi-annual organization of joint annual meetings, alternatively taking place either at a Swiss or an Austrian venue. The joint meeting 2017 took place at CERN and is described above. The next SPS-ÖPG joint meeting will also take place in Switzerland and is scheduled 26-30 August 2019 in Zürich. Exceptionally, the joint meeting will be organized twice in a row in Switzerland, to correct for the twice in a row organized joint meetings in Austria (2013 Linz, 2015 Vienna), which was a wish of our Austrian colleagues and the 200 years anniversary of TU Vienna, the venue of the joint annual meeting.


The SPS is awarding prizes to young talents in five domains of physics. The SPS Award committee, presided in 2017 by Louis Schlapbach, had the great pleasure to select the SPS award winners 2017 from many submitted works of excellent scientific quality. The SPS 2017 Prize in General Physics by ABB is shared by Sinead M. Griffin and Patrick Hofer. Griffin for her extraordinary PhD work in computational physics bridging cosmology with condensed matter physics, and Hofer for his excellent PhD thesis entitled "Dynamic Mesoscopic Conductors: Single Electron Sources, Full Counting Statistics, and Thermal Machines", an original and internationally visible contribution to modern quantum physics. The SPS 2017 Prize in Condensed Matter Physics by IBM is awarded to Nan Xu for his extraordinary postdoctoral work in experimental observation of Weyl semi-metals and topological Kondo insulators, two novel topological phases in condensed matter. The SPS 2017 Prize in Applied Physics is awarded to Waiz Karim for his PhD thesis entitled "Metal nanostructures and their catalytic properties using top-down nanofabrication and single particle spectroscopy". The SPS 2017 Prize related to Metrology by METAS is awarded to Fabian Natterer for his extraordinary postdoctoral work on the ultimate limits of the classical approach to high density magnetic storage media by a magnetically bistable Holmium atom. The SPS 2017 Prize in Computational Physics by COMSOL is awarded to Evert van Nieuwenburg for his PhD work entitled "Topology and Localization out of Equilibrium" in theoretical condensed matter physics. With his background in both computer science and theoretical physics, he introduced concepts from machine learning as very powerful methods in the toolbox of condensed matter physicists. (See: Communications Issue 53, p 6, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/)

The EPL Journal offered again this year three prizes for the best posters at the Joint Annual Meeting in Geneva to Christoph Murer, Martin Bawart and Abhishek Sharma. They have shown that such prizes are a strong driver in promoting quality in poster presentation and content and offer a good tool in not only awarding young physicists but for promoting and fostering the quality of their skills. (See: Communications Issue 53, p 10, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/)

The Swiss Physical Society is supporting young physicists via the Young Physicists Forum (YPF), which is a commission of the SPS created in 2012. The goal of the Forum is to encourage communication among the various physics student societies together with senior physicists, member of the SPS, as well as creating a platform to discuss topics of common interest and organize a variety of events such as seminars and visits. In the meantime, YPF could foster links across all student’s associations at Swiss universities and is organizing a yearly young physicists forum event. In 2017, the topic chosen was ‘Computational Physics’ and was organized 22-23 April at ETHZ and University of Zürich, with participants from all over Switzerland and the help of SPS. More at https://www.young-physicists.ch/.

The SPS was again involved in the Swiss Physic Olympiad SwissPhO and the Swiss Young Physicists Tournament (SYPT) in their respective activities. The final round of the SwissPhO took place on 25 and 26 March in Aarau at the Neue Kantonsschule. The competition was held between 28 students from Switzerland and Liechtenstein after a first selection in different Swiss places. The event was yet another opportunity to strengthen contact with offspring and teachers in a nice and stimulating climate, and often represents the first successful contact of the SPS with future physicists. The five gold medalists form the Swiss team at the International Physics Olympiad 2017 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The two best gold medalists were awarded with the special prize for the best junior physicist offered by SPS. At the International Physics Olympiad, the Swiss team performed well, with two bronze medals won, and three honorable mentions received!

Forschungsunterstützende Informations- und Koordinationsaufgaben

SPS is in need of modernizing its infrastructure for online and print communication, its member management, and for organizing its conferences. This need is recognized already since a couple of years, and a dedicated communication working group, a commission from board members, has been put in place to work out a communication plan and a list of requirements upon which a company can start implementing a modernized system for managing the society. IDM-studios has been mandated for this work, for which no additional resources could be found, and which will cause a deficit in the SPS budget. Elements of this new infrastructure have already come into existence with the infrastructure to edit and send out the SPS Newsletter (see also here above). A new and revamped web-site will be inaugurated in 2018 and a fully electronic SPS member management system will be installed then after. We hope that with an attractive web-based member management system, we will facilitate SPS membership, with much reduced postal letters being sent for becoming a new member, for administering changes in member-data like e.g. address changes, in billing, etc. With these changes in place, we also hope for an increase in membership numbers in the years to come.


The Swiss Physical Society unites people with deep knowledge and understanding in physics research and development in all branches in industry, at schools, in universities, and research laboratories, who are at the forefront of new developments, that often lead to new tools and products interesting for industry, SMEs and that are every then and when leading to new start-up companies. In a letter to SATW and the SERI, this potential of early recognition coming out of the SPS was highlighted at the example of Quantum Computing, where new emerging markets are at the verge of becoming relevant. This has been acknowledged by the Secretary of State Mauro Dell’Ambrogio in a written statement. Discussions of SPS with SATW will further solidify the potential of early recognition that is based on physics research.


Ethics is at the heart of all human endeavor, and there is no exception for physics and the Swiss Physical Society. An article co-authored by the president, H.P. Beck, reflects on “Some Ethical Questions in Particle Physics”. The article concludes with: Scientists should respond to fears, worries and ambiguities of the public on the cost and results of their research in a proactive, honest, transparent and enlightening way. In this spirit reaching out to the broad public, to teachers, policy makers, science communicators, and in particular to the young generation is important to keep the light of science shining brightly in the world. (See: Communications Issue 52, p 39, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/)


This is also stated by the congress ‘We Scientists Shape Science’, organized by SCNAT in January 2017, and where the SPS was prominently represented: We, as the scientific community, have to keep science creative, healthy, ethical, efficient, open for many career paths and keep close contact with the society, who makes it possible. (See: Communications Issue 51, p 3, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/)


Also the March of Science, that was organized world-wide on 22 April 2017, reflects on ethical values that are fundamental basis of scientific research, where the then president and vice-president, M.Q. Tran and H.P. Beck, state: We perform our work, following our fundamental ethical rules: scientific facts and theories are the only driving forces. And further raise a deep concern: Scientific core values of basic research, of decision taking based on all facts and knowledge available, of open discussion and exchange of ideas, are at threat even in modern societies. A threat so strong that scientific ethical rules that all stringently impact on the social life, not only of scientists, but of society as a whole are endangered and pose not only perceived dangers but pose a real danger on the further prosperity of humankind in the generations to come. Thinking of climate change, energy research, health, food, clean water, etc., these dangers become evident. (See: Communications Issue 52, p 46, http://www.sps.ch/artikel/communications/)

Dialog mit der Gesellschaft

As stated in the previous section here above, conducting an open, transparent dialogue with society is a core value of scientific research, and is one of the fundamental mission statements of SPS.

In addition of organizing lectures, seminars, and congress events that are open to the public, in addition to conduct strong liaisons with schools and teachers in the form of the Physics Olympiad, the Swiss and International Physics Tournament, we have launched in project supported by SCNAT to study the impact physics has. A report titled “Physics and the Swiss Society” is being worked on throughout 2017, and a specialized company, IMSD based in Zürich and Lausanne, has been mandated to conduct a statistical analysis on which the impact of physics for the Swiss society can be stated on firm grounds.