From heart defects to wildlife management: 261 million francs for pioneering research

© Constantine Johnny

Heart defects in newborns, traditional crafts, wildlife management, and plastic recycling – with its largest funding scheme, the SNSF is supporting 332 key research projects to the tune of 261 million francs.

Younger sections of the population are becoming less interested in politics. One way in which this has become apparent is that the younger generation is paying less and less attention to political news channels. At the same time, social media influencers are trying to encourage young people to vote for the first time. A project led by Professor Frank Esser from the University of Zurich is investigating if and how these influencers are promoting political engagement by young people, and what effect their influence is having on involvement in politics. These questions are being studied in particular in countries where elections have recently been held or will soon be held, including Germany, Poland and the USA. The research findings should help to increase political engagement by young people.

The SNSF is also contributing to the success of Frank Esser’s project, as it is one of 332 new research projects that the SNSF is supporting with project funding (This statistic does not include Weave and Lead Agency Projects). A call for proposals is launched twice a year for this major funding scheme.

Almost 900 applications received

A total of 881 applications were evaluated in the call for proposals in October, over a third of which were approved. These will be funded with 260.6 million francs in total over the coming years. In terms of research domain, 36% of the projects are in life sciences and 29% are in humanities and social sciences. These are followed by projects in mathematics, natural and engineering sciences (23%) and interdisciplinary projects (12%).

With a share of 56%, the majority of the funded researchers work at a university, with just over a quarter of these (28%) active in the ETH domain. The proportion of researchers at universities of applied sciences, universities of teacher education and other institutions has once again risen compared with the last few calls for proposals (from 7% to 13%, and now 16%). The proportion of female recipients has also further increased, with 32% of the successful applications submitted by women (compared with 31% in the last call).

The next call for proposals for project funding is already under way, and the submission deadline for the next round of applications is 1 October 2024.

Other examples of funded projects

Humanities and social sciences

Many traditional crafts in the Alpine area are at risk of dying out or being forgotten. Christine Schranz from Basel Academy of Art and Design wants to prevent this. She is carrying out research into local artisanal knowledge and expertise and collecting her findings in a freely accessible digital archive.

Life sciences

  • The term “genetic load” refers to the accumulation of various genetic problems in populations. This includes harmful mutations or higher probability of inbreeding. Claus Wedekind from the University of Lausanne is looking at how the genetic load of natural fish populations is changing due to human intervention. The project aims to improve understanding of the evolutionary processes and the management of wild animals.
  • Can the decline in the hormone estradiol during menopause lead to or exacerbate type 2 diabetes in women? Lia Bally and Petra Stute from the Inselspital in Bern and Christina Boyle from the University of Zurich are aiming to prove this correlation. The project will combine preclinical and clinical research, with the overarching aim of improving the cardiometabolic health of post-menopausal women.

Interdisciplinary projects

  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) is one of the most serious congenital heart defects that, if left untreated, almost always results in death in newborns. An international research team (Switzerland/Canada) headed by Walter Knirsch and Andras Jakab from Zurich University children’s hospital are using an animal model to investigate the extent to which the restricted flow of blood in the brains of foetuses causes changes in their growth and delayed brain development. Comparable changes can also be seen in people with HLHS. The researchers also want to develop therapeutic strategies.
  • Traditional architecture often focuses on the visual, while neglecting sound and acoustics. Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler from Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich (ETHZ) and Rama Gottfried from Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) are aiming to change this. They are investigating the extent to which the inclusion of sound and acoustics can improve the overall architectural design and how architectural acoustic modelling can be used to open up new areas of sound artistry.

Mathematics, natural sciences and engineering

  • Catalytic pyrolysis is a technique for recycling plastic waste to create useful new chemical compounds such as fuels or lubricants. Patrick Hemberger from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) wants to clarify the reaction mechanisms involved in this process in order for new substances to be produced more selectively.
  • One third of worldwide energy consumption is used in buildings, where 70% of the energy is used for heating and cooling. This is the starting point for Dolaana Khovalyg from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Agnes Psikuta from Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt (Empa). Personal comfort systems (PCS) allow heating and cooling systems to be adjusted specifically and individually, can reduce energy consumption by up to 60% and can improve room comfort. The two researchers are developing guidelines for the optimum use of these PCS.