More than 700 ideas submitted


The new Spark funding scheme has generated enormous interest. Young researchers in particular are applying to the SNSF for financial support.

The SNSF’s pilot funding scheme Spark promotes unconventional projects and innovative approaches to science. Researchers receive 50,000 to 100,000 Swiss francs for a project lasting a maximum of 12 months. “We are delighted with the large number and diversity of applications”, says SNSF Director Angelika Kalt. 40% of the more than 700 projects come from biology and medicine, 30% from the humanities and social sciences, and 30% from mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Roughly one in five applications was submitted by researchers working at a university of applied sciences or a teachers college.

Most under 40

The SNSF awards Spark grants to promising and original ideas. How many projects researchers have already managed or what they have published is irrelevant for this funding scheme. Which is why the scheme is also suitable for young scientists. In fact, most applicants are under the age of 40. 70% hold no professorship. Around 80% have never applied for financial support from the SNSF before. “Through Spark, we are thus primarily reaching young researchers and new applicants. This is in line with our goal of promoting diversity in research”, says Angelika Kalt.

The SNSF uses a double-blind process in evaluating the projects (i.e. the experts do not know the identity of the applicants). Key criteria are the idea, the quality of the project and the potential impact of the results.

Potential budget top-up

The downside of the tremendous response is that the SNSF has earmarked 10 million Swiss francs for this first call for applications in the summer of 2019. However, the funds requested amount to more than 70 million Swiss francs. Asked whether most researchers are likely not to get any money at all, Angelika Kalt answers: “If there are a significant number of original projects worthy of support, the Presiding Board of the National Research Council will decide in autumn whether to increase the budget for 2019. That would enable us to do even more to support innovative science.”

Angelika Kalt is eagerly awaiting the results of the next Spark call, which will be open until March 2020. “At that point it should be clear whether there really is a need for more financing for short-term, unconventional projects or whether the number of applications for the first round was just unusually large.”