Budget of Spark pilot project almost trebled

The first Spark call has been a great success: the SNSF will support 284 projects with 27 million francs. 354 researchers will be taking part.

In July 2019, the SNSF launched the funding scheme Spark as a pilot project to support unconventional research and novel scientific approaches. No less than 757 applications were submitted all in all. The requested funding amounted to approximately 70 million francs in total. The SNSF had originally envisaged a budget of 10 million francs for Spark. As demand was very high, but also the quality of the submitted proposals, the National Research Council approved a budget of 27 million francs, almost three times more than originally intended for the scheme. The Council's president, Matthias Egger, said: "There were so many terrific projects, it would have been a pity not to increase the budget."

The 284 selected projects meant that the success rate was 38 per cent. The funded researchers will receive between 50,00 and 100,000 francs for projects lasting up to twelve months.

It's the idea that counts

Of the approved projects, 40 per cent are in biology and medicine, 28 per cent in the humanities and social sciences and 32 per cent in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Spark strategy, to fund promising ideas regardless of the applicants' reputation or track record, has paid dividends: most of them are under 40 years of age, and 85 per cent do not have a professorship. Approximately three out of four have not applied for SNSF funding before.

Each application was evaluated in a double-blind procedure by two members of an international pool of experts. It was the idea that counted most of all. Other important criteria were the quality of the submitted project proposal and the potential impact of the results.

Of the submitted applications, 695 were scientifically evaluated. 45 applications could not be considered for formal reasons, such as inadequate anonymisation or an excessively long research plan. 17 applications were retracted by the researchers themselves. Typical reasons included co-applicants being involved in more than one Spark application or in ongoing SNSF projects as employees.

Second Spark call scheduled for February 2020

Because of the high share of original project proposals, the Research Council has decided to launch a further call for Spark in 2020. The call will open in mid-February. In the interim, the relevant regulations will be revised based on the experience gained in the pilot project. For instance, the SNSF will strengthen the emphasis on the innovation potential and set out the eligibility requirements more clearly. "We can hardly wait to see if the next call in February will elicit a similarly enthusiastic response from researchers," says Matthias Egger.

The amended requirements will be announced on snf.ch and in mySNF nearer the time of the next Spark call.

Spark website