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swissnex Network – from the first science attaché in Washington to swissnex Brazil in Rio de Janeiro

swissnex > About > History

Brief history of the swissnex network

Formation and development of the Swiss science attachés network

In the years following the Second World War, the United States was seen as a model for many states in the promotion of research and development of new technologies. In light of the above, the first science attaché was hired on the initiative of the Swiss ambassador in Washington in 1958. His main tasks included reporting on technological developments and on the promotion of young scientists by the US government. Staying in touch with Swiss scientists living in the US regarding their possible return to Switzerland was already an important concern at the time. The positive experiences in Washington led to the creation in 1969 of two other posts for science attachés in Moscow and Tokyo.

In the 1990s, owing to the increasing mobility of researchers and the European integration process, the number of science attachés grew into a network. In 1990, a science attaché was dispatched to the Swiss mission in Brussels for the first time. In 1994, career diplomats in Seoul and Bonn carried out the tasks of a science attaché on a part-time basis. And then three years later, SERI’s predecessor, the Swiss Science Agency (SSA), dispatched a science attachés to the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, in 1998, the Council of States adopted a postulate instructing the Federal Council to forge ahead with the development of a network of science attachés to ensure the international competitiveness of Swiss science and innovation knowledge.

The foundation of swissnex

Against this background, the two science attachés in the United States developed a novel concept of a platform aiming to promote the exchange of knowledge, bring together Swiss and American researchers and entrepreneurs, and to convey the openness and modernity of Switzerland as a centre of knowledge and innovation. The intention was to place the platform in a leading research and innovation cluster and not in a leading capital. Boston, which is home to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), seemed like the right location. The idea was translated into concrete terms when the Lombard Odier Foundation agreed to donate USD 2 million to purchase real estate in Boston, with the proviso that the donation had to be refunded within ten years once the project was discontinued. This led to the opening of the SHARE – Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education – in autumn 2000.

First swissnex building in Boston, before and after the conversion.

The support of additional private sponsors made it possible to open a new location in Silicon Valley, San Francisco in 2003, and another one in Singapore, a year later. In the following years, swissnex locations were opened in Shanghai, China (2008), Bangalore, India (2010/11) and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2014). The three first locations initially had different names, but since 2008, all the sites share the same brand name swissnex. In 2015, after 10 years of activity, it was decided to transform swissnex Singapore into a Science and Technology Office within the Swiss Embassy.

For more information on the history of the Swiss science counselors and the swissnex Network: