Spark 2023: 155 novel and unconventional projects selected

After a successful pilot phase in 2019 and 2020, Spark was incorporated into the SNSF's regular funding portfolio earlier this year. The selected projects were awarded an overall budget of 15 million francs.

Spark supports projects that are not suitable for other funding schemes The promising and original ideas do not have to be based on preliminary data demonstrating their feasibility and the proposed projects may involve high-risk research. During the evaluation of the anonymised proposals, the applicants do not know who is evaluating their project; nor do the evaluators know who the applicants are. By carrying out this double-blind evaluation process, the SNSF ensures that evaluators focus on the project idea.

As of 2 May 2023, 761 Spark proposals had been submitted with requested funding of 73 million francs. The topics covered 104 different main disciplines. 187 proposals (25%) were in the humanities and social sciences, 244 (32%) in the MINT (STEM) fields and 330 (43%) in the life sciences.

Many funded projects by researchers under 40

Thanks to a budget increase from the original 10 million francs to 15 million francs, the SNSF can now support 155 projects, which corresponds to a success rate of 20.6%. Projects in the MINT (STEM) fields had the highest success rate: 60 of the 244 submitted proposals were approved (24.6 %). In the humanities and social sciences, 35 out of 187 submitted projects were approved (18.7%), and in the life sciences 60 out of 330 (18.2%). A majority of the applicants (63%) were under 40 years of age at the time of submission. They were slightly more successful than older researchers, with 105 approved out of 482 submitted proposals (21.8%). The chances of success for female and male applicants proved to be exactly the same: just over 20% of the proposals submitted by either gender were approved.

Examples of funded projects

The following three examples are a small selection from the wide variety of projects supported:

  • At the PMOD ("Physical Meteorological Observatory Davos"), Tatiana Egorova is seeking explanations for the environmental crisis that took place 42,000 years ago. At this time, the Earth's magnetic field was significantly weaker than it is today. Tatiana Egorova is now investigating whether radiation particles from space can influence the global electrical circuit and cloud properties. This would explain the observed habitat changes.
  • At Lausanne University Hospital, Mark Anderson is developing a three-dimensional atlas for the molecular changes that occur when the spinal cord is injured. In a second step, the atlas will be made available to the public via an interactive web proposal.
  • Marion Schulze is analysing the concepts of feminist theory at the University of Basel. To this end, she is ethnographically examining the conceptual verbs "weave" and "embroider" based on the material practices from which they were originally derived.

Proposals for the next call can be entered in mySNF as of the beginning of February. The submission deadline is 4 March 2024 at 17:00 Swiss local time.