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What to know about Davos the town, a hot spot for innovation

Welcome to Davos, the highest town in the Alps and a centre for science and innovation.

Welcome to Davos, the highest town in the Alps and a centre for science and innovation. Image: World Economic Forum

Alois Zwinggi
Managing Director, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

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  • Davos, Switzerland, is the host town of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting.
  • It also has a strong foundation in science and innovation and has been known as a center for scientific excellence for more than 100 years.
  • Here's what makes the alpine town unique.

The Swiss alpine town of Davos hits the headlines each year as it hosts more than 2,500 people from governments, business and civil society to discuss the world’s more pressing challenges at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting.

But beyond just that one week, a spirit of innovation and progress can be found in the town year-round.

Davos, a city of science

Switzerland is a hub of innovation, thanks to its excellent education systems, small size and ability to finance projects, which enables innovation ecosystems to develop and flourish. Indeed, the World Intellectual Property Organization recently named it the world’s most innovative country, ahead of the US and Sweden.

Davos itself is a renowned ski town in the east of Switzerland and, at 1,560 metres above sea level, is the highest town in the Alps, with a population of more than 10,000 people. As well as more traditional winter sport and mountain activities, it has hosted the Spengler Cup – said to be the oldest ice hockey tournament in the world – almost every year since 1923.

By 2030, the town is set to become Switzerland’s first climate-neutral destination with all guests and businesses jointly funding the myclimate Climate Fund Davos, which supports carbon emission-reducing projects in the resort.

In addition to being a renowned tourism destination, Davos is also the home to many innovative organizations. Indeed, it’s been known as a center of scientific excellence for more than 100 years and has a strong medical reputation, immortalized by Thomas Mann’s fictional portrayal of the town’s sanatoriums for tuberculosis sufferers in the early 1900s.

Medical progress

Today, one of the medical organizations based there is the not-for-profit the AO Research Institute aims to advance orthopaedic patient care through innovative research and development. With a global network of more than 460,000 healthcare professions, the AO seeks to improve patient outcomes in the treatment of trauma and musculoskeletal disorders. Each year, the AO hosts its AO Davos Courses, which in 2022 saw participants and faculty from 77 countries to teach, learn and experience how the future of surgery is digital. A total of 21 courses were held by AO Trauma, AO Spine, AO CMF, AO VET, AO Recon and AO Sports across the 12-day flagship event.

Elsewhere in the medical sphere, the alpine town also homes the Swiss Institute of Allergy and Asthma Research (SIAF), which is a department of the Swiss Research Institutes for High Altitude Climate and Medicine Davos (SFI) and an affiliated institute of the University of Zurich and a member of the Life Science Zurich Graduate School. Focused on research in the fields of allergies, asthma and clinical immunology to prevent preventative and curative treatments for the conditions, SIAF also organizes the yearly World Immune Regulation Meeting at the Davos Congress Centre.

Research in a complementary field is carried out at the Christine Kühne-Center for Allergy Research and Education (CK-CARE), which has one of Europe’s largest private initiatives in the allergy field since its establishment in Davos, Munich and St Gallen in 2009. After successful external evaluation of its services by a team of international experts, the research initiative was expanded to Zürich, Bonn and Augsburg and extended in 2014 for another five years.

Meteorology, radiation and avalanche research

Davos is also home to the World Radiation Center (WRC), which was founded as the Physical Meteorological Observatory Davos (PMOD) in 1907 and has a mandate from the World Meteorological Organization to maintain the world standard reference for solar radiation measurements. The PMOD/WRC also develops radiation measuring instruments for use on the ground and in space, plus investigates the influence of solar radiation on the Earth’s climate. Some of its staff are also professionals or lecturers at ETH Zurich.

Particularly appropriately, given its alpine setting, Davos is also home to the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, which employs 140 researchers and technical staff from around the world to study snow and its interaction with the atmosphere. The research also focuses on the formation, movement and impact of avalanches and other mass movements of snow – avalanche mitigation in view of integrated risk management, permafrost and mountain ecosystems.

Emerging technology

Another major scientific organization based in Davos is the recently opened Lab42. This global artificial intelligence (AI) research lab aims to create human-level AI for humankind and improve quality of life on a global scale. By bringing together AI talent from across the world, Lab42 focuses on challenges that are unsolvable in today’s algorithms through a new generation of technology more powerful than today’s machine learning-based approaches.

As world leaders meet in the conference centre this month, there’s an opportunity for the Davos spirit of innovation to inspire them to come together, push boundaries and create new solutions. And when they leave, its citizens will continue to carry on the forward-looking work that truly makes the town a model of scientific excellence.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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