University Research Priority Programs

In order to underpin its excellent position among the world’s leading research institutions, the University of Zurich has established its University Research Priority Programs (URPP). Rooted in the University’s official policy to strengthen scholarship, the URPP create and promote academic networks in selected areas of research. The interdisciplinary programs build on research expertise already present at the University and are instrumental in promoting the academic career of junior scholars. By establishing the URPP, the University of Zurich actively contributes to the advancement of knowledge in areas of research that benefit society.

The current URPP of the University of Zurich are:

Asia and Europe

Prof. Dr. Angelika Malinar, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Behr

The URPP Asia and Europe was established to promote understanding of the complex interrelationships between Asia and Europe in culture, law, religion and society. Building on the expertise from four faculties and fourteen disciplines, the URPP’s interdisciplinary structure fosters contemporary and innovative research. Research at the URPP Asia and Europe focuses on three thematically and methodologically diverse fields: Concepts and Taxonomies, Entangled Histories and Norms, and Social Order(s). Since 2009, the URPP Asia and Europe has also offered an interdisciplinary doctoral program, providing a vibrant academic environment for highly qualified young academics

Dynamics of Healthy Aging

Prof. Dr. Lutz Jäncke, Prof. Dr. Mike Martin

Exploring the potential of an aging society will prove vitally important in the coming years. Taking neurophysiological, neuroanatomical, psychological and medical foundations for the maintenance of health and quality of life into consideration, the URPP Dynamics of Healthy Aging examines how psychological health and the quality of life can be stabilized at low, intermediate and high levels of functioning from middle adulthood to advanced old age. The goal of the URPP is to gain better understanding of the dynamic processes that contribute to the maintenance and promotion of vital longevity through application-oriented, participatory and translational research.


Prof. Dr. Peter Schaber

Ethical issues are in the spotlight in many areas of society today. The URPP Ethics has been supporting both basic and applied ethical research projects since 2005. During the years 2005–2013, the focus of the URPP was a graduate program promoting young researchers from a variety of disciplines. From 2013 onward, research at the URPP Ethics will concentrate on questions of human dignity and global justice in three different projects

Evolution in Action: From Genomes to Ecosystems

Prof. Dr. Beat Keller, Prof. Dr. Ueli Grossniklaus

Today’s technology enables scientists to directly study the diversity, expression and regulation of complete genomes, and the resulting “genomic revolution” is changing evolutionary research at a dramatic pace. New tools for retrieving and analyzing data have developed so rapidly that they often exceed the capacities of individual laboratories, creating the need for innovative collaboration. The URPP Evolution in Action aims to integrate diverse research groups by focusing on a common research topic – diversification and adaptation – and by applying the novel technologies of the genomic revolution in both model and non-model systems. The URPP carries out projects on fundamental questions concerning the origin of new diversity as well as on applied aspects of evolutionary biology, such as the diversification of pathogens and the evolution of genes relevant to human diseases.

Financial Market Regulation

Prof. Dr. Rolf Sethe, Prof. Dr. Hans Caspar von der Crone, Prof. Dr. Rolf H. Weber

The global financial crisis has triggered a political debate on the need for stricter regulation of financial markets – a topic of great economic significance for Switzerland in general, and for Zurich as a financial center in particular. The URPP Financial Market Regulation examines existing regulatory concepts and analyzes them in terms of their historical development, but also in regard to international policies. The URPP also analyzes national and international calls for regulations as well as regulatory proposals.

Global Change and Biodiversity

Prof. Dr. Michael Schaepman, Prof. Dr. Owen Petchey, Prof. Dr. Bernhard Schmid

Understanding the loss of biodiversity associated with global change is one of today’s major research challenges, especially as the impact of this loss on the environment and human well-being is poorly understood. Researchers at the URPP Global Change and Biodiversity investigate and predict feedback mechanisms in coupled systems of human actors and ecosystems over different space and time scales. Large-scale observations, field and laboratory experiments as well as models and simulations are combined in comprehensive projects to achieve these aims.

Integrative Human Physiology

Prof. Dr. Max Gassmann

Over the course of the last decade, scientists have been able to decipher the human genome and shed light on a large variety of molecular mechanisms. It is clear, however, that the analysis of isolated biological processes is not sufficient to gain better understanding of the human being as a whole. Within the network at the URPP Integrative Human Physiology, scientists perform clinical and basic research, and scholars from medicine and the natural sciences work hand in hand to connect the needs of patients with approaches and findings from the world of research.

Social Networks

Prof. Dr. René Algesheimer

Social networks have created a vast array of new opportunities – and an equally vast array of challenges for individuals, enterprises and societies. These developments possibly represent the most significant of all changes brought to societies and economies by the development and expansion of information technology, especially because social networks exercise a great influence on how individuals and businesses interact in society. At the URPP Social Networks, researchers look beyond a particular or individual behavior and focus on complex, networked systems to gain a better understanding of the relationships between social structures and economic behavior.

Language and Space

Prof. Dr. Elvira Glaser, Prof. Dr. Heiko Hausendorf

Communication is inherently linked to physical and social space. This holds true for dialect and language contact situations (Language Areas) as well as for everyday interactions (Interactional Spaces). By choosing a particular language or regional variety, we identify with and/or distinguish ourselves from others. Modeling these choices is, however, far from a straightforward process. In addition, defining interactional spaces poses a challenge to linguistic research at the micro-level of face-to-face communication, with its complex interplay involving perceptions, movements and actions. The URPP Language and Space approaches the relationships between language and space with cutting-edge technology, combining insights from dialectology with language typology and interactional linguistics.

Systems Biology / Functional Genomics

Prof. Dr. Josef Jiricny

Systems Biology represents a new multi-disciplinary approach that enables researchers to analyze quantitative changes of RNA, proteins and metabolites in single cells, organs and entire organisms. The aim of the URPP Systems Biology / Functional Genomics is to foster and strengthen cutting-edge research in the fields of systems biology and functional genomics by applying fundamental knowledge from a variety of disciplines, efficiently developing novel technologies, and creating interdisciplinary research networks.

Translational Cancer Research

Prof. Dr. Lars French Prof. Dr. Konrad Basler

Cancer is caused by genetic and epigenetic changes that occur randomly, or that are caused by environmental factors. These changes generate cancer cells, which are characterized by uncontrolled growth, increased ability to survive and the capacity to metastasize. In addition to cancer cell-intrinsic properties, the immune response of a patient significantly influences the survival of tumor cells. Because of the complexity and variability of human tumors, an efficient cancer therapy requires a multimodal approach. To develop new therapies and improve existing treatments, it is crucial to take a multi-disciplinary approach when investigating the interactions between the tumor with its micro-environment and the immune system. The URPP Translational Cancer Research builds a bridge between fundamental and clinical research, and fosters communication and collaboration between research groups investigating different aspects of cancer.

Solar Light to Chemical Energy Conversion

Prof. Dr. Roger Alberto

The main objectives of the URPP Solar Light to Chemical Energy Conversion are to discover and develop new molecules, materials and processes for the direct storage of solar light energy in chemical bonds. Artificial photosynthesis is the working principle: water is split directly into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter representing a highly efficient carrier for energy storage and conversion into common liquid fuels such as methanol and gasoline. Researchers at the URPP create an architecture of catalysts and antennas to mimic the natural photosynthesis model. The individual steps – light harvesting, oxidation and reduction of water – are combined into one single functional system. The URPP Solar Light to Chemical Energy Conversion contributes to meeting the 21st century's demands for sustainable energy resources.

Former URPP

  • Foundations of Human Social Behavior:
    Altruism and Egoism (Website)
  • Finance and Financial Markets