New National Centres of Competence in Research strengthen top-flight research

The Swiss government is launching 6 more National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) as part of SNSF research funding. This was announced by Federal Councilor Parmelin on 16.12.2019.

​​​The federal government set up the NCCRs in 2001 as a way to fund networks for carrying out top-quality, long-term basic research. It attaches particular importance to interdisciplinary approaches as well as innovative issues within disciplines. The six new NCCRs form the fifth series of the funding scheme and will start in 2020. They will strengthen research and innovation in such strategically important areas as automation, antibiotic resistance or quantum technology. The NCCRs’ home institutions are the Universities of Basel, Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich, as well as EPF Lausanne and ETH Zurich. A large number of other universities and institutions in Switzerland and abroad will be involved.

The six NCCRs in the fifth series

  • NCCR "AntiResist": research and development of new approaches to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    Prof. Christoph Dehio, University of Basel

    Federal funding 2020–2023: CHF 17 million
  • NCCR "Dependable Ubiquitous Automation": improving the reliability and flexibility of intelligent systems in areas such as energy management, mobility and industrial manufacturing.
    Prof. John Lygeros and Prof. Gabriela Hug, ETH Zurich

    Federal funding 2020–2023: CHF 15.7 million
  • NCCR "Evolving Language": investigation of the evolution of language. Applying the results in areas such as medicine or language recognition (artificial intelligence).

    Prof. Balthasar Bickel, University of Zurich, and Prof. Anne-Lise Giraud, University of Geneva

    Federal funding 2020–2023: CHF 17 million
  • NCCR "Microbiomes": investigating micro-organism interaction and its impact within various systems (humans, animals, plants and the environment) – potential applications in medicine, environmental science and nutrition.

    Prof. Jan Roelof van der Meer, University of Lausanne, and Prof. Julia Vorholt, ETH Zurich

    Federal funding 2020–2023: CHF 16.1 million
  • NCCR "SPIN": development of small, fast and scalable silicon-based qubits as the building blocks of a new information-processing technology.

    Prof. Richard Warburton, University of Basel

    Federal funding 2020–2023: CHF 17 million
  • NCCR "Suchat ": laying the groundwork for improving the sustainability, resource efficiency and carbon footprint of chemical processes and products, and of the chemical industry as a whole (sustainable chemistry).

    Prof. Javier Pérez-Ramírez, ETH Zurich, and Prof. Jérôme Waser, EPF Lausanne
    Federal funding 2020–2023: CHF 17 million

100 million francs from the Swiss government

“The wide range of topics covered by the new NCCRs illustrate the huge potential of Swiss universities in leading-edge research and innovation”, said Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin, Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), at the media conference in Bern. “As research minister, I am delighted that this is the case.”

During their first phase of operation, from 2020 to 2023, the federal government will be investing some 100 million Swiss francs in the NCCRs. The universities and businesses will be channelling further funds into them. The NCCRS will run for a maximum of twelve years.

Close scrutiny of proposals

The Swiss National Science Foundation issued its call for proposals for the fifth series of National Centres of Competence in Research in 2017. It received more than fifty proposals in response. The SNSF subjected them to close scientific scrutiny in a two-stage process. “The international experts and our evaluation bodies agreed that the proposals were all of an impressively high quality,” says Matthias Egger, President of the National Research Council.

In August 2019, the SNSF submitted a final shortlist of eleven proposals that fulfilled all NCCR criteria to the federal government. After the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) had carried out a research and educational policy appraisal of the shortlist, the EAER decided to launch six new NCCRs. These are characterised by , among other aspects, ​their digitalisation capacity in science, business and society. As such they are compatible with the EAER’s digitalisation action plan.

A success story

As of 2020, there will be 22 National Centres of Competence in Research (third to fifth series). The eight NCCRs in the third series will be duly completed in 2022/2023 as they reach their maximum duration.

The SNSF regularly reviews the progress of each NCCR with the aid of foreign experts. The assessment of their long-term impact is positive. The NCCRs generate new knowledge and facilitate the long-term regeneration of university research structures. Furthermore, they improve work-sharing and coordination between research institutions, help promote upcoming talent and equality, and drive forward knowledge and technology transfer.

“Today we are continuing this success story,” said Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin. “Business and society will both benefit fully from the knowledge generated by the NCCRs.”

Wide-ranging effects of the NCCRs

All National Centres of Competence in Research conduct top-quality research, something that is clearly reflected in the fact that both this year’s Nobel Laureates in physics – Michel Mayor and Didier Q​ueloz – work on the NCCR PlanetS. The NCCR Synapsy is playing a pioneering role in merging neurobiology and psychiatry, while the NCCR Digital Fabrication is conducting groundbreaking research that will benefit the architecture and construction practices of the future.

Furthermore, the NCCRs have consistently resulted in the creation of permanent research infrastructures. For example, the NCCR Climate led to the establishment of the highly respected Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern. The Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau has its origins in the NCCR Democracy.

The NCCRs also have a successful track record in transferring scientific findings to business and society. For example, Flyability, a spin-off from the NCCR Robotics, won the 2019 award for the most promising start-up company in Switzerland. The NCCR Robotics contributed a further three new companies to the list of the best 100 start-ups. Cellestia, a successful player in cancer research, is a spin-off from the NCCR Chemical Biology.