For over 60 years, the SNSF has invested in researchers and their ideas. The organisation was founded in 1952 following concerns that Swiss research might sink into mediocrity after the Second World War. Today, the SNSF supports around 19,000 outstanding researchers.
The SNSF was founded on 1 August 1952 by the scientific umbrella organisations of Switzerland. Its main tasks were and still are providing financial support for research projects in all academic disciplines and promoting young scientists. Numerous tasks were added in due course and the range of funding schemes and measures has become broader and more differentiated.
May 1945: the War had ended. Swiss researchers and industrialists renewed their relationships with their foreign colleagues. While doing so, they were shocked to see that science and technology had made enormous progress in the countries actively involved in the war, while these areas were lagging far behind in Switzerland. There was a general sense of alarm and it was felt that a major nationwide effort was needed to stop Switzerland from sinking into mediocrity. These concerns led to the founding of the SNSF.
On the institutional side, the Swiss Natural Research Society - today's Swiss Academy of Sciences (scnat) - assumed a leading role in the creation of the SNSF. In collaboration with other scientific umbrella organisations, it defined the goals and established the Statutes of the SNSF in the 1950s.
After a great personal effort from the actual founding father of the SNSF, the Bernese physiology professor Alexander von Muralt, the Federal Council agreed to provide funding to the SNSF so that it may achieve its goals. Professor von Muralt was the chief author of the petition submitted to the Federal Council and parliament, which paints a dramatic picture and describes the situation at the beginning of the 50s as worrying:
"The funds available in Switzerland today are insufficient and too fragmented to support, alongside outstanding individual achievements, the development of independent young scientists and a bedrock of successful science personalities, as is increasingly becoming the rule in other countries."
On 26 October 1951, the Federal Council submitted to parliament a dispatch on the awarding of federal funds to the "Swiss National Science Foundation".
The Swiss National Science Foundation was founded in the chamber of the Council of States on 1 August 1952 in an official ceremony. The fact that two Federal Councillors - Etter and Feldmann - were present at the inauguration ceremony showed just how much importance the federal authorities attached to the founding of the SNSF.
The first years of the SNSF were devoted to consolidating its processes and regulations. In the beginning, the National Research Council was not yet divided into divisions representing the different science areas.
The first 60 years
In its first 60 years as a research funding agency, the SNSF invested over CHF 11 billion in scientific research. During this period, it evaluated more than 70,000 applications in project and career funding and awarded fellowships for a stay abroad to more than 20,000 young scientists.
Since their inception in 1975, the SNSF has launched approximately 70 National Research Programmes (NRPs), to which it has contributed funds of over CHF 660 million. In the space of 10 years, the SNSF also made available CHF 627 million for the 28 National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs) set up since 2001.
When the SNSF started its funding activities, the annual budget at its disposal amounted to CHF 4 million. Twenty-five years later, it reached CHF 124 million and exceeded CHF 800 million after 60 years.
The SNSF added numerous funding opportunities to its portfolio over the years. Today, researchers can submit applications to a wide range of schemes within project funding, careers, programmes, infrastructures or science communication.
The way ahead
Encouraging a greater number of young talents to consider a career in research at higher education institutions or in industry is the uppermost priority of the SNSF. Its objective for the future is to make an even greater contribution towards ensuring that our best junior researchers are given the right opportunities, at the right time, to show what they are capable of achieving.
To identify trends and needs among researchers at an early stage, the SNSF is also exploring new avenues, such as surveys addressed directly to potential applicants. In so doing, it aims to support researchers in Switzerland even more flexibly and in line with their needs. This is expected to increase their competitiveness in the global arena.
Research contributes significantly to solving social and global problems. The SNSF therefore supports open access to research results and their application in the practical realm (KTT) as well as dialogue between researchers and the public.