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SFAR in the service of scientific research

Excerpt from: Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, 1939 to 1970. Published in Zurich in 1972


 In terms of the research projects supported by the Foundation for Alpine Research, the small-scale expeditions undertaken by Fernand Schmid from Lausanne, a researcher into insects, must be regarded as a special case on several counts. With unusual tenacity and stamina, Fernand Schmid had worked his way deep into an extensive special area of insect science while he was still a student, and gained a reputation as a heavyweight expert on the species-rich group of Trichoptera.


When the borders opened up for young Swiss academics after the War, Fernand Schmid set himself the goal of travelling the whole Himalayan range, from Afghanistan to Assam, in a series of small expeditions. His purpose was to collect insects from the species in which he had become so interested. He either went alone or with a single companion (W. Billiger), taking a minimum of equipment, and walking through the valleys on the low southern slopes of the Himalayan range. He adapted to the way of life of the local inhabitants, and carried out his research and collecting activities in spite of all deprivations and set-backs. His field work was funded by the Swiss National Fund, while the Foundation for Alpine Research helped him with the procurement of his modest, unconventional expedition equipment, and maintained contact with him throughout his expeditions.


In the summer of 1961, we learned that Fernand Schmid had become ill in Bengal, and had tried in vain to obtain a visa for the NEFA (North Eastern Frontier Area), which had been declared a closed military area. Because of this emergency situation, the Foundation for Alpine Research arranged for the researcher to be returned to Switzerland. Interventions at the highest levels of the Indian Government had by then indicated the hopeless prospects of obtaining an entry visa for the border area, as a result of the worsening dispute between China and India. After his homecoming, Schmid looked for a university or natural history museum position that would allow him to work on the sifting and evaluation of his unusually rich collection of insects. Unfortunately, his search for a workplace in Switzerland was unsuccessful. He therefore applied for a job with a Canadian research institute; however, his entry visa was refused at first, because he had become seriously ill during his long stay in the hot, humid Indian lowland. The Foundation for Alpine Research helped him to overcome these difficulties by awarding him a research grant. His illness subsided surprisingly quickly, and the Canadian authorities then issued him with an entry visa and work permit. Schmid’s emigration meant that Switzerland lost his unique Himalayan insect collection.

Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research . Schweizerische Stiftung für Alpine Forschung . Fondation Suisse pour Recherches Alpines . Fondazione Svizzera per Ricerche Alpine