Hub of Natural Sciences


The Hub of Natural Sciences is one of the four main Research Hubs of the Institute for Environmental Sciences (ISE). The Hub brings together researchers from the Faculty of Science and the F.-A. Forel Department for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, who actively contribute to the Institute’s academic life.

Members of the Hub of Sciences are organized into ten research groups, conducting state-of-the-art research on four core themes:

  • biodiversity
  • climate
  • water
  • energy


Biodiversity research focuses on many aspects – from populations through communities to entire ecosystems. Research topics in biodiversity include:

  • Aquatic ecology and biology, which cover the structure of and changes in biological diversity in continental aquatic ecosystems.
  • Microbial ecology, which focuses on microbial biodiversity in lakes, with particular attention to the study of phytoplankton.
  • The impact of climate change on aquatic biodiversity in aquatic ecosystems.
  • The impact of chemical contamination on aquatic biodiversity in a river system/alluvial plain.


Climate research aims to define the rate of climate change and to assess the natural, economic and social consequences of such rapid changes at the regional scale.

Research topics in climatic change and climate impacts include:

  • Estimating climate trends at the European and Alpine scales.
  • Mathematical simulation of extreme weather and climate events.
  • The physical and economic impacts of climatic extremes on tourism, infrastructure and forests. 

  • Natural hazards triggered by climate change.
  • Shifts in water resources in mountain regions; assessing the impacts of a warmer climate on the quality of water in Swiss lakes.
  • Analysis of changes in water governance; analysis of the risks of future glacial activity for nuclear waste storage.


Water research aims to understand aquatic systems as a whole, to develop state-of-the-art-tools for the study of pollution-related risks and to conserve water as a natural resource.

Groups researching water include:

  • Environmental Biogeochemistry and Ecotoxicology, which aims to improve understanding of the basic processes that govern the behaviour of toxic trace elements and of nanoparticles in aquatic systems and their interactions with the various biotic and abiotic components of natural waters.
  • Environmental Microbiology: Evaluation of environmental impacts on aquatic systems in developing countries, using bacterial gene and physico-chemical approaches.
  • Marine and Lake Biogeochemistry, which aims to improve understanding of the dynamics of aquatic systems in order to provide forecasts of and appropriate solutions to conditions resulting from climate change.
  • Limnology and Environmental Geology addresses the interface between geology, geochemistry and environmental sciences, focusing mainly on issues related to aquatic environments and geology of the Anthropocene.
  • Environmental Physical Chemistry, which aims to understand and investigate the behaviour of pollutants introduced into aquatic systems by human activities, in order to evaluate their long-term impacts on biota and humans.
  • The Aquatic Physics group uses field measurements combined with systems analysis and modelling to explore important physical processes and their impacts on lakes and rivers.


Energy research aims to find alternatives to the use of fossil fuels, in particular by promoting energy efficiency. It applies an interdisciplinary approach, taking into account the technical aspects and the scientific factors involved in the supply and distribution of energy.

Energy research topics covered include:

  • Built environment
  • Energy supply and demand infrastructure; demand side management.
  • Industrial systems
  • Policy and economics
  • Innovative energy systems
  • Heat networks

On the basis of this expertise, the Hub of Sciences takes part in many international research programmes in the environmental sciences and offers a broad range of degrees and other learning programmes distinguished by their teaching excellence. The Hub promotes close educational and scientific collaboration within the ISE, through a cross-disciplinary approach. It puts particular emphasis on the Institute’s five cross-cutting themes: biodiversity, climate, water, energy, regions and cities.

In its teaching role, the Hub is one of the leading partners delivering the Masters in Environmental Sciences (MUSE) and the Specialization Certificate in the Assessment and Management of Geological and Climate-Related Risk (CERG-C). It also facilitates various lifelong learning programmes. The Hub also engages in outreach work, through its public conferences, exhibitions and discussions on major current issues.