The EPFL Library has more than 8,000 PhD theses in its collection, in both printed and electronic form, and over 60% of them are freely available online. If we were to pile these papers one on top of the other, the stack would be nearly 140 meters tall – the height of Geneva’s Jet d’Eau water fountain. To mark EPFL’s 50th anniversary, the library is opening up its collection to anyone who’s interested in tracing the history of PhD research at our School.


The key to obtaining a PhD

PhD degrees are recognized internationally and involve learning and applying research practices. To earn a PhD, students must demonstrate that they have performed extensive research on a particular topic and write up their work in a thesis paper. They must then defend their work in front of a jury. If successful, their work is usually published in a scientific journal. PhD degrees at EPFL are covered by the Ordinance on the doctorate at EPFL; Section 1, Article 2 of this Ordinance says: “The EPFL confers the title of doctor (dr ès sc or PhD), attesting that its holder has submitted a personal and original piece of scientific research work and successfully completed a doctoral program, and is consequently qualified to engage in high-level scientific research work.”

 Nearly a century old

The library’s oldest thesis dates back nearly 100 years, to 1920. It was written by Roland Zehnder-Spoerry and is titled Etude avec abaques et diagrammes relative à l’échauffement des bandages des roues de véhicules de chemin de fer par suite du freinage, en fonction de la vitesse de marche, de la vitesse de chute verticale et de la résistance au roulement. EPFL’s 50th anniversary is the ideal occasion to explore the link between scientific research and digital publication – especially through the wealth of thesis papers held at and distributed by our library. And these papers are perfect for looking back through the five decades of technological change and discovery that have marked our School since it became a federal institution.

 Facts and anecdotes

Our library’s collection of theses comes complete with an array of interesting facts, funny anecdotes, key figures and other memories related to our School’s history.

  • Why does the color of thesis paper covers change every year?
  • If we laid all of EPFL’s thesis papers side by side, how far would they stretch?
  • How has the percentage of female authors of thesis papers changed over the years?
  • What three papers have been downloaded the most since EPFL introduced an inter-library loan service?
  • How many pages are the shortest and longest research papers?

You can learn the answers to all these questions and more at the EPFL Library’s exhibition. And if you visit during the School’s open house on 14–15 September 2019, you can enter to win one of two tablet computers.

About the exhibition

The exhibition will be held at the Rolex Learning Center from Monday, September 2 to Friday, November 1, 2019. Guided tours and activities will take place during EPFL’s open house on 14–15 September. The exhibition will be open seven days a week, from 7am to midnight. For more information, visit epfl.ch/campus/library