Scientific research

collegium Helveticum

Sponsorship area


Sponsorship amount

CHF 300,000 per year

Sponsorship term

2008 - 2010


The project originated at the Collegium Helveticum, an institution jointly supported by the University of Zurich and the ETH Zürich.

The Collegium, which is regarded as a laboratory for a trans-disciplinary approach, cultivates and fosters the exchange between the natural sciences, technology, the humanities, art, and medicine.

The problem of pertinent knowledge

Nowadays, human beings are at the centre of many research projects. Scientists from every discipline are working to gain new knowledge about the human body.

Cancer registries, data collection, drug developments, imaging techniques and other scientific techniques used in biology, medicine, pharmacology and also the social sciences contribute to the acquisition of scientific knowledge.

The requirement that these findings are both important for society and economically exploitable at the same time has been increasingly voiced in recent years.

Social context

Interestingly, scientific research is also inevitably influenced by certain images and assumptions about what human beings are supposed to be like and how they are supposed to function.

This project explores such definite but often unstated ideas, both enabling and sometimes inhibiting scientific progress.

The research is based on the assumption that different scientific techniques create human beings - and what seems to define each of us in our essence.

The interdisciplinary project comparatively approaches four scientific fields and integrates the partial analyses to form an overall concept, against the background of which scientific procedures and the social consequences of research can be better understood.

Project conclusion 2011

The Collegium Helveticum (Prof. Dr. Gerd Folkers and Dipl. natw. Martin Boyer, Dr. Rainer Egloff, Dr. Priska Gisler, Dr. Beatrix Rubin) completed the science research project funded by the Hirschmann Foundation for three years in June 2011.

The focus was on the interdisciplinary question of how socially relevant human knowledge is generated.

The final publication, Volume 7, was published by Edition Collegium Helveticum in June 2011:

The Human Model. Contouring the Human in the Sciences. Edited by Rainer Egloff, Priska Gisler and Beatrix Rubin.

Edition Collegium Helveticum 7. Zurich Chronos 2011, ISBN 978-3-0340-1075-7.

Four case studies

The research team examined the position of human rights in the scientific process in four case studies:

  • The case study on unmet medical-pharmaceutical needs approaches human beings molecularly categorised and constructed in the life sciences (Gerd Folkers and Martin Boyer).
  • The case study on brain research presumes to see a neuronally constructed human being in scientific processing (Beatrix Rubin).
  • The case study on the development and focus of biobanks and collections of biological material is dedicated to the experimentally processed human being and the attempt to capture it as completely as possible (Priska Gisler).
  • The case study on personality studies approaches the culturally constructed human being as they are formed into a person (Rainer Egloff). 

Trans-Disciplinary Research

From the point of view of the research team at the Collegium Helveticum, in trans-disciplinary projects a few experts should meet in a small circle and present their theses to a round of non-experts and, through their questions and counter-theses, receive new ideas for a completely different way of thinking and researching in their own field.

Within the individual disciplines, the important problems are recognised less quickly or not at all, because increasing specialisation rewards incremental improvement of what has already been worked on rather than completely new thinking about problems with research funds and jobs.