A land of culture

An invention can be protected by the law. Knowhow can be protected by a requirement for secrecy. But there is no law that can protect a local culture brimming with traditions and skills, such as the culture of high technology that spans the whole of Western Switzerland. What’s more, to conceal such technology from the outside world would be more an act of stupidity than a favour to the region. A skillful culture must be promoted. Loud and clear. And this is exactly the purpose of this magazine: to show the burgeoning branches of the high-tech tree in Western Switzerland and some of the fruit they are producing today. But rather than express constant admiration for the new branches that sprout continuously, let us begin by looking at the soil and the roots which nourish them. Western Switzerland sits in the centre of Europe, encompassed by the Jura Arc and the Alps. The region enjoys a varied climate that comes from a varied geography – lakes and flat open country, dense forests, wide pastures and harsh mountains. In the Jura, the climate was largely responsible for the development of the acclaimed Swiss watchmaking industry. Indeed, from the 18th century onwards, the wintry weather drove its inhabitants – craftsmen and farmers alike – into the warmth of small workshops where they created timepieces and mechanisms of the most beautiful and subtle complexity. So it is no surprise that many of today’s watch brands are the surnames of these-long forgotten watchmakers – craftsmen who were not only the forefathers of Western Switzerland watchmaking but also of yesterday’s microtechnology and today’s budding nanotechnology. The Age of Enlightenment also left its mark on the region by introducing the notion of freedom of thought and instilling wonder and inventiveness into science. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel The New Heloise, in which the philosopher explores the realms of autonomy and authenticity as moral values, the heroine lived only a few kilometres away from where the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne stands today. Rousseau also enjoyed many a happy stroll on Saint Peter’s Island – a peninsula in Lake Biel, itself a stone’s throw from where a number of large watchmaking firms are currently situated. In the field of science, nine volumes of Diderot and D’Alembert’s famous Encyclopedia were printed in Neuchâtel, and Switzerland has produced outstanding naturalists who sought to unravel some of nature’s many mysteries in the hope of bringing some improvement to the life of human beings. Charles Bonnet, for instance, took a deep interest in the worm’s natural faculty of reconstituting organs that it has lost. Horace Bénédicte de Saussure, Bonnet’s nephew, invented the “solar oven”, which has been described as the ancestor of solar panels. Could naturalists/natural philosophers be the tangible precursors of the intangible revolution of novel technologies?This world-famous centre of excellence and competence is centuries old. It is our duty to protect it. It is therefore our duty to foster it. And that is one of Micronarc’s missions.


By Vincent RivierPresident of Micronarc Steering committee• Micronarc was created by the governments of the seven cantons that constitute Western Switzerland (Berne, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Valais and Vaud) and is supported by the Swiss State Secretary of the Economy (SECO) to help develop and promote the region’s scientific, industrial and economic base in micro and nanotechnology.

By Vincent

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