From mental health to exoplanets: 8 million for international team research

© Westend61 / Javier Pardina (Westend61 / Javier Pardina (Photographer)

With its SPIRIT programme, the SNSF is strengthening knowledge exchange between Swiss researchers and researchers in selected countries receiving development aid. 16 new projects are being funded.

Zimbabwe is suffering from a serious shortage of psychiatrists. As a result, lay helpers and nurses are often the ones responsible for mental health care. Researchers from the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Bern are investigating how a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy can help these carers to treat depression more effectively. This is one of 16 projects supported by the Swiss Programme for International Research by Scientific Investigation Teams (SPIRIT). The SNSF launched the programme specifically to promote cross-border and team-oriented research. Swiss researchers are working together with colleagues from Argentina, Bhutan, Cameroon, Colombia, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The 16 projects will each receive a maximum of 500,000 Swiss francs and be carried out by teams of 2 to 4 researchers. 40% of the grantees in Switzerland are researchers at the Federal Institutes of Technology, 45% are at cantonal universities and 15% conduct research at universities of applied sciences. 44% of the funded projects are in the life sciences, 37% in the social sciences and humanities, and 19% in STEM subjects. The share of women is 41%.

Ecosystem services and exoplanets

Another project brings together researchers from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina and the WSL. Together they want to understand how above- and below-ground communities (invertebrates, plants, soil microbes) and their biotic interaction networks interactively respond to livestock presence or their removal and how these changes affect the functioning of grasslands and the services they provide. To do so, they are working across a 1200 km edaphoclimatic gradient ranging from Argentina to Uruguay and Brazil. These are the Río de la Plata grasslands, which are among the world's most important and diverse grazing lands for food and forage production.

Another project is being conducted by researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the University of Bern. The goal of the project is to identify the first confirmed exoplanet orbiting a so-called brown dwarf, which is something between a star and a planet. This will allow researchers to study biosignatures beyond the solar system for signs of organic life. In both star formation and exoplanet science, brown dwarfs remain terra incognita.

Further projects are being funded in biophysics, history, infectious diseases, the science of management, social geography and ecology, genetics, sociology, cancer research, hydrology, neurophysiology and architecture, among others.

Excellent gender awareness

The contribution to equal opportunities and the promotion of women are a special focus of SPIRIT. All of the funded projects display excellent gender awareness in that their applicants have demonstrated in-depth reflection on whether their research topic might have a sex or gender dimension. At the team level, the applicants receiving funding have undertaken considerable efforts to gender-balance their teams.