266 million francs for cutting-edge research projects

© Constantine Johnny

Less back pain, smaller robots and more knowledge about the universe: the SNSF has awarded project funding grants for the second time this year. 392 projects conducted by experienced researchers will be funded.

Back pain is widespread. According to a representative survey conducted by the Swiss Rheumatism League in 2020, around two-thirds of the Swiss population suffer from back pain several times a year. This is a significant burden for those affected. In severe cases, these complaints can lead to work absences, causing considerable damage to the Swiss economy. Often the lower back is affected. Sibylle Grad from the AO Research Institute Davos and Olivier Guillaume from Vienna Institute of Technology want to do something about these widespread complaints. They are researching a novel, interdisciplinary approach to alleviating chronic lower back pain. If this approach proves successful, it could also be used to treat other spinal disc disorders. Thanks to support from the SNSF, the two researchers can now continue their pioneering work: their project in the life sciences is one of 392 new ones funded under the project funding scheme.

Selected from over 1000 applications

The SNSF awards grants under this funding scheme twice a year. About half of the SNSF budget is invested in project funding. Experienced researchers working at a higher education institution or other scientific institution in Switzerland can apply for a grant. In this call, the SNSF has allocated 266 million francs to the projects selected from the 1013 total applications received. 38% of the approved projects are in the life sciences, 35% in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering, and 27% in the humanities and social sciences. 12% of the project leaders are under 40 years old and 54% are under 50. Most of the researchers – 58% – work at universities, 25% are in the ETH Domain, 13% at universities of applied sciences or universities of teacher education, and 4% at other institutions.

Slightly lower share of women

At just under 28%, the share of women among the funded researchers has fallen slightly compared to the last call (31%). 38.5% of the participating female researchers were successful with their applications, almost equalling the success rate of male applicants. While the percentage of women in the humanities and social sciences increased by 5 percentage points to 44% compared to the last call, it decreased from 22% to 14% in mathematics, natural and engineering sciences, and from 32% to 28% in the life sciences.

Further examples of funded projects

Mathematics, natural and engineering sciences

  • Salvador Pané Vidal and Xiangzhong Chen of ETH Zurich are exploring unusual mechanical properties of nanoscale ferroelectric thin films. Their findings should enable the development of high-performance sensors, memory devices, micro- and nanoelectronic systems and small robots.
  • The puzzle of lithium abundance in low-mass dwarf stars is addressed by Corinne Charbonnel, University of Geneva. Her goal is to clarify open questions in stellar physics, galactic archaeology and the chemical evolution of the universe.

Humanities and social sciences

  • How did the institutionalisation of young children in the late 1950s affect their lives subsequently? Did the placements even leave a mark on the next generation? Patricia Lannen of the Marie Meierhofer Institute for the Child (MMI) at the University of Zurich will investigate these questions.
  • Laurent Fresard, Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), is examining the relationship between sustainable investments and corresponding information from the financial markets – and how this information influences corporate decisions.

Life sciences

  • Urgent questions about threats to biodiversity are addressed by Jakob Brodersen of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) and Nicolaj Krog Larsen of the University of Copenhagen. Using geological and biological data from various lakes, they are analysing the factors that influence diversity.