Erna, daughter of Frédéric Hamburger, an electrical engineer and doctor of physics, and Else Müller, was born on 14 September 1911 in Ixelles, Belgium. She spent her teenage years in Bavaria and Lausanne.
After studying at the École supérieure des jeunes filles, then at the gymnasium, where she was the only girl among the boys, Erna Hamburger entered the School of Engineering at the University of Lausanne (UNIL). In 1933, she graduated as an electrical engineer - first in her class - and in 1937, she obtained a doctorate in technical sciences.
After a rich and varied career in academic and professional circles, she was hired in 1942 as an electrical engineer at Paillard SA in Sainte-Croix. She was called to the EPUL (Polytechnic School of the University of Lausanne) as head of work at the School of Engineering's electricity laboratory in 1952, then as an extraordinary professor of electrometry and electrical engineering in 1957.
She was the first woman to be appointed as a full professor at a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
In 1979, Erna Hamburger entered active retirement and was particularly involved in the work of international commissions in the field of basic electrical standards. She was also involved in student education, keen to pass on her values of the alliance between people, technology and the environment and to promote female academic careers. Finally, she successfully ventures into various professional, sports and women's associations, sometimes as president.
With empathy and generosity, she provided help, hospitality and unwavering support to young people in difficulty throughout her life, committing her skills to their success and autonomy; among them students, exiles and adolescents.
Erna Hamburger died on 16 May 1988 in Lausanne.
A foundation bearing her name was set up in 1988 to support women graduates in postgraduate studies. The Erna Hamburger Prize is awarded annually by the EPFL-WISH Foundation, Women in Science and Humanities, which aims to promote research and the advancement of women at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne - EPFL.