Category Archives: PSC Science-Policy Fellowship

Summary from Response Thematic Event: Sustainable Energy System – Who Will Lead the Way?

In this public event of the Response Doctoral Program, organized by the Energy System Science Center, GreenBuzz and Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center at Siemens in Zug one question was in the focus: how do we get to a sustainable energy system?

For sustainable energy systems the innovative technologies are existing, but we have to combine them in the most sustainable way to decarbonize our future. The questions are what business model change, political regulations and societal adaptation are needed and inevitable and helped us to answer the questions “What steps we should take?”, and “Who will lead the way?”

9 Response doctoral students presented and discussed their research to representatives from the energy sector, companies and the public. They presented their research on green energy models, biofuels, semiconductor efficiency, managing hydropower dams, carbon capture and storage or the future of electrical transport.

From the keynotes:

Kristina Orehounig, Empa draw attention to the housing infrastructure that needs to be cooled in summer and heated in winter due to climate change. For this CO2 emission-low systems need to be combinations of multiple renewable supply technologies in small decentralized networks in neighbourhoods.

Kaja Hollstein, Swissgrid pointed out challenges in the future when the grid system is operated with renewables. In winter demand for heating is highest while supply by photovoltaic drops in several countries at the same time. In this case there will be no import market that can balance the shortages of energy.

Ilonka Zapke, Siemens showed the Wunsiedel blueprint for our energy future. Energy comes from renewables and is stored in one of the largest batteries worldwide. Battery storage might be one solution to energy shortages in the grid system.

Voices of the doctoral students on the event:

Different people have different perspectives on the same research problem. I think it will help me to formulate my research targets through the societal aspect as well.

Participants were asking about the implications of the findings [for society] and about additional aspects that could be included.

More on the research of Arnau Aliana | Manuel Belanche | Linda Brodnicke | Sudesh Dahal | Susanne Rhein | Katrin Sievert | Bessie Noll | Dabwiso Sakala | Fei Wu

This event is part of RESPONSE Doctoral Programme (DP) «RESPONSE – to society and policy needs through plant, food and energy sciences» is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 847585.

Could “advanced” nuclear technologies support low-carbon energy strategies?

Response Doctoral Programme

“No” says Bessie Noll et al. (2021) in a synthesis paper as renewable energy technologies have significant advantage over current non-traditional nuclear reactor designs.

Taking insight foremost from a 2021 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) on “advanced” nuclear reactors, their synthesis examines three non-traditional nuclear reactor designs based on three UCS defined evaluation criterion—safety and security risk, sustainability, and nuclear proliferation potential—as well as one additional criterion added newly, “economics”.  Proclaimed advantages of non-traditional over traditional reactors are also included in an “Expectation vs. Reality” rapid-fire comparison.

Some of the arguments:

  • Technologically immature non-traditional reactors have to compete with renewable energy technologies which are already today drastically cheaper on a $/kWh basis and have much steeper learning curves.
  • Even with optimistic assumptions for deployment timelines, non-traditional reactors will likely be outcompeted in deployment by renewables and grid-scale battery storage (in some cases, they already are)—relatively more mature technologies that are readily being deployed today
  • It is highly unlikely that non-traditional reactors will be able to ramp-up construction fast enough to stay in-line with climate targets.
  • Nuclear reactors built in a modular fashion are not spared the curse of high capital cost and long construction times in practice.
  • Non-traditional reactors introduce new safety issues that will require extensive testing and analysis. The technology itself is too early in its development stage to be certain of all possible safety issues.

Citation: Bessie Noll, Tonja Iten, Fabian Lüscher (2021). A SYNTHESIZED ANALYSIS OF THE STATE OF THE “ADVANCED” US NUCLEAR INDUSTRY. Schweizerische Energiestiftung:

Bessie Noll is currently a fellow in the RESPONSE Doctoral Programme (DP) «RESPONSE – to society and policy needs through plant, food and energy sciences» funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 847585.

Other insights on the role of nuclear power and the ongoing transformation towards renewables in Japan can be found in her blog contribution: “When institutional incumbents hinder energy transitions: Japan’s energy story”, Energy Blog @ ETH Zurich, ETH Zurich, March 29, 2021,

Her research project on the energy transition in the transport sector – assessing the impact of European and national policies on future drive technology mixes, energy use, and emission pathways — at ETH Zurich is together with Prof. Tobias Schmidt, Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences at the Energy Politics Groups and in collaboration with the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES), Switzerland.


Conclusions from 11 years of PSC-Mercator Fellowship Program

Download evaluation report: PDF

The Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center finished 11 years of successful cooperation with the Mercator Foundation Switzerland. 8 fellows finished their theses and generated welcome inputs for policymaking in biodiversity, land use and agriculture, climate change in the alpine areas, applying a new barcoding tool to trace illegal logging of rosewood or international emission policies linked to deforestation. 

In spring 2021 the PSC has set out to evaluate its long-term efforts in the PSC-Mercator Fellowship Program. PSC now published a best-practice report addressing two main questions: (i) How effective has been the competence-oriented transdisciplinary teaching? (ii) What worked well and what can be improved? The aim was to identify: (i) the impact of the PSC graduate fellowship programs, and (ii) the implementation measures that may improve future programs.

Recommendations 2021-2024:

Capacity building    Offer training in transdisciplinary methods and tools for PIs, too (Fishbowl, PSC Retreat, 2021). Consider cross-departmental research and training programs that increase visibility and transdisciplinary research capacity (Interview 1, 2021).

Best practices and failing stories    Provide “hands-on” examples of successful PhD projects to motivate students to experiment with transdisciplinary research. Stories of failures early on in the training process are also a useful resource (Interviews 1 & 2, 2021). Include formats for peer-learning at the very beginning of the fellowship program (Student, PSC Retreat, 2021).

Commitment and engagement    Design the program together with the PI for him/her to fully commit to it from the beginning (Interviews 1 & 3, 2021). Transdisciplinary programs rely individual commitment and build    on such relationships (Interviews 1 & 2, 2021). “Partners should define their responsibilities at the beginning of the project by mutual agreement” (Interview 2, 2021).

In-house advisor    Allow time and resources for an “in-house advisor”. His/her role is to accompany the scientific and policy processes, while “helping the parties in their integrative efforts and mentoring.    During the research process, this advisor will ensure that the participatory process is fair” (Interview 2, 2021).

Long-term institutional support    Emphasize the need for continuous institutional support and reasonable time frames in view of coordinating and accompanying required for transdisciplinary processes.


 Dahinden, M., Vienni Baptista, B., Paschke, M. (2022). Going transdisciplinary. How to implement impactful transdisciplinary research and education programs in plant sciences. Evaluation Report. Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center:

Umweltbedingte Geschlechtsumwandlung in Papaya als transdiziplinäres Forschungsprojekt

Tiago Meier

Wer kennt sie nicht, die birnenähnliche Form, die gelborange Farbe und den süssen Geschmack – alles Markenzeichen der Papayafrucht. Tiago Meier, Doktorand am Institut für Pflanzen- und Mikrobiologie in der Gruppe von Prof. Dr. Ueli Grossniklaus hat sich auf die Spuren der Papayafrucht begeben. Er ist zum Ursprung der Pflanze nach Mexico, ins Reich der Maya , gereist und ist auf Hinweise gestossen, die auf eine frühe Kultivierung der Papayapflanze deuten. Die Maya wählten Papayapflanzen mit für sie vorteilhaften Eigenschaften aus, nämlich zwitterige Pflanzen, die sich selbst befruchten können. Die Spanier verteilten die Papaya in ihrem Kolonialreich, wodurch sie zu einer wichtigen wurde. Jedoch hat das sich veränderndes Klima auf unserem Planeten auch Folgen für die Papaya. Eine durch Umwelteinflüsse verursachte Geschlechtsumwandlung von Zwittern zu Männchen führt zu Sterilität und beeinträchtigt dadurch die Papayaproduktion.

Tiago untersucht die Blütenentwicklung der Pflanze, um das Problem der Geschlechtsumwandlung besser zu verstehen und um zu möglichen Lösungen beizutragen.

Continue reading Umweltbedingte Geschlechtsumwandlung in Papaya als transdiziplinäres Forschungsprojekt

Die ökologischen und ökonomischen Konsequenzen des Klimawandels in den Alpen

Maria Vorkauf, Universität Basel

Oberhalb der natürlichen Baumgrenze schreitet der Klimawandel besonders schnell voran. Wie schnell zeigen die Ergebnisse meiner Forschungsarbeit: Zwischen den Jahren 1985 und 2019 rückte das Datum der Schneeschmelze mit 2.8 Tagen pro Jahrzehnt vor und mit ungebremsten Treibhausgasemissionen wird sich dieser Prozess beschleunigen. Bis zum Ende des 21. Jahrhunderts wird die Vegetationsperiode für alpine Pflanzen rund einen Monat früher beginnen.

Welche ökonomischen Folgen hat der Klimawandel?

Aufgrund der Klimaszenarien für die Schweiz habe ich für das Skigebiet «Andermatt+Sedrun+Disentis» analysiert, wie sich die Verfügbarkeit von Schnee während des 21. Jahrhunderts verändern wird. Ein besonderer Fokus lag auf der Menge an Wasser, die das Skigebiet in Zukunft aufwenden muss, um rentabel zu bleiben.

Continue reading Die ökologischen und ökonomischen Konsequenzen des Klimawandels in den Alpen

Wie werden sich die Skigebiete in der Schweiz in der Zukunft entwickeln?

Das Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center veranstaltete einen öffentlichen „Round Table“ am 03.02.2021. Zusammen mit Maria Vorkauf, Fellow im PSC-Mercator Doktoratsprogramm.

Aufgrund des Klimawandels ist generell mit steigenden Temperaturen, mehr Niederschlag im Winter, weniger im Sommer und weniger Neuschneetagen im Flachland und in den Alpen zu rechnen. Bei ungebremsten Emissionen wird bis zum Ende des Jahrhunderts in tieferen Lagen (unter 1800-2000 m.M) die Schneesichherheit nicht mehr gegeben sein.

Zusammenfassung der Diskussionen.

Zur Videoaufzeichnung mit Vorkauf, Maria; Abegg, Bruno; Egger, Thomas; Previsic, Boris; Hechenblaikner, Lois; Graf, Marie-Claire; Wilczek, Lena
Continue reading Wie werden sich die Skigebiete in der Schweiz in der Zukunft entwickeln?

The Value of Species Diversity in Grasslands

By Sergei Schaub


Grasslands cover a large portion of the global land area and are essential for global food security and the agricultural economy. Grasslands provide many ecosystem services in addition to forage production, such as biodiversity, pollination, carbon sequestration, and outdoor recreation. Changes in agricultural production, biodiversity loss, and climate change (and with it, for example, increased droughts) are putting increasing pressure on grasslands and grassland-based production. This increasing pressure requires farmers to make adjustments.

Farmers have several instruments at their disposal to adapt their grasslands, including the choice of (plant) species diversity. Species diversity can increase yields and grassland stability, as well as species diversity can reduce the adverse effects of weather extremes (e.g., droughts). A key challenge is to quantify these species diversity benefits for farmers economically. These realities gave rise to the central question of my dissertation: ‘What is the value of species diversity for farmers in grasslands?’

What evidence is useful for policymaking?

In my thesis1, I showed that species diversity can increase yields while it did overall not negatively affect forage quality, both in intensively managed grasslands and managed semi-natural grasslands. Thus, species diversity can increase revenues from milk production. Additionally, I found that species diversity can reduce production risk in intensively managed grasslands. These benefits of species diversity were also present under climate change conditions, i.e., increasing drought probability. Therefore, my thesis results show that species diversity can be an economically relevant production factor and that the increasing species diversity in grasslands can contribute to sustainable intensification of grassland-based production.

Continue reading The Value of Species Diversity in Grasslands


Call 4 for PhD applications within the RESPONSE Doctoral Programme «to society and policy needs through plant, food and energy sciences»

RESPONSE DP is offering 6 early-stage researcher’s positions for 36 months (100%) at the interface of science and policy, as well as science and innovation at one of the three world-leading academic host organization – ETH Zurich.

RESPONSE DP will train ESRs to reflect on their role as scientists in society, contributing with evidence to policymaking and to build capacities to address global challenges in the areas of sustainable food systems, sustainable energy systems and sustainable land use decisions.

For more information about RESPONSE, open positions and further steps (i.e. submit your application), have a look at:

ETH Zurich and University of Zurich are dedicated to promoting the role of women in science, and, therefore, explicitly invites women to apply.

Maintaining Plant Biodiversity in Cities

Using Urban Design for a Better Green Infrastructure in Zurich

By Kevin Vega

What evidence was useful for policymaking?

Understanding the effects of urban design on plant species composition in cities is essential to maintaining biodiversity overall, promoting urban resilience in the face of climate change, and improving life quality for a city’s residents. Functional ecosystems can benefit pollinators, reduce urban flooding, and improve air quality –all while looking aesthetically pleasing.

Continue reading Maintaining Plant Biodiversity in Cities