257 million francs for 361 outstanding research projects

© Constantine Johnny

From ribwort plantain as nitrogen reservoir to sediment tracking in bodies of water and youth homelessness in Switzerland: under its project funding scheme, the SNSF is financing promising projects on topics chosen by researchers.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth. At the same time, excess nitrogen in the form of nitrate and nitrous oxide pollutes the water and air. The release and conversion of various nitrogen compounds in the plant-soil system is primarily controlled by microorganisms and is subject to complex interactions.

Else Bünemann from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is researching ways to reduce nitrogen emissions from agricultural land. One possibility is to use the native plant ribwort plantain (plantago lanceolata). Bünemann and her team want to test the extent to which ribwort plantain species can influence nitrogen conversion in the soil so that fewer harmful nitrogen compounds are released. This could also reduce the use of fertiliser on agricultural land while maintaining the same yield.

Thanks to SNSF funding, this project can now go ahead. It is one of 361 research projects the SNSF is financing as part of its project funding scheme.

Around 1,000 applications received

988 applications were evaluated in the April 2023 call. 36.5 per cent of these projects were approved and will receive a total of 257 million Swiss francs in funding over the next few years. Around 38 per cent of the projects are in life sciences, 33 per cent in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering, and 29 per cent in humanities and social sciences. Most of the funded researchers (60%) work at a university and more than a quarter (27%) in the ETH Domain. The share of researchers from universities of applied sciences, universities of teacher education and other institutions has almost doubled compared to the last call (up from 7% to almost 13%).

Higher share of women

The share of women among the evaluated applications has increased in all three areas, most strongly in the humanities and social sciences. Around 31 per cent of successful applications were submitted by women. The success rate of projects submitted by female researchers was 36.8 per cent, slightly higher than that of their male colleagues (36.4%).

Further examples of funded projects

Mathematics, natural and engineering sciences

  • The electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) is a new and promising technology. It could be used to produce certain chemicals from CO2 that are currently still obtained from crude oil. As part of her project at EPF Lausanne, Raffaella Buonsanti wants to develop a catalyst for this chemical conversion process that is as active and stable as possible.
  • Intensive land use and more frequent climate extremes as a result of climate change are leading to increased soil erosion. Many layers of soil removed in this way end up as sediment deposits in bodies of water and damage their ecosystems. Christine Alewell from the University of Basel is investigating this redistribution of sediments and comparing different methods of sediment tracking in four large catchment areas worldwide as part of her project.

Humanities and social sciences

  • How do homeless young people live in Switzerland and how do they participate in society? Jörg Dittmann from the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland is addressing this question. His research is intended to provide socio-political insights so that those affected have a better chance of leading a normal life in future.
  • Amish Shwitzer is a language originating in German-speaking Switzerland. It is still spoken today in the USA by the Swiss-Amish community. Guido Seiler from the University of Zurich is investigating how Amish Shwitzer is influenced by migration, language variation and multilingualism.

Life sciences

  • Till Voss' research project aims to gain a better understanding of the complex transmission mechanism of malaria. His research at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute focuses on the so-called gametocytes, a developmental stage of the malaria parasite. For human-to-human transmission to take place, mosquitoes must ingest female and male gametocytes from the blood of an infected individual. Current antimalarial drugs cannot yet effectively kill the gametocytes.