Lighthouse Awards: The National Centres of Competence in Research shine beyond science

The picture shows the winners of the Lighthouse Awards from the NCCRs (5th series) and the representatives of the SNSF.

The SNSF presents the new Lighthouse Awards to the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs) for their initiatives outside science. This first edition recognises five NCCRs for their innovation and societal impact.

The NCCRs excel far beyond their research programmes! The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) founded these centres at the turn of the 21st century with the aim of consolidating Switzerland's scientific position. They are interdisciplinary and inter-institutional networks of researchers, with up to 200 scientists supported by management teams who provide the link with the SNSF. The centres were set up to encourage innovative research in strategic sectors as well as to have a structural impact, both on the research landscape and on the Swiss economy and society. Their missions beyond science are therefore important to the SNSF, which is what the Lighthouse Awards are designed to honour.

Highlighting initiatives outside science

NCCRs are hosted by Swiss universities and higher education institutions, and they receive federal funding for four-year phases. Depending on evaluations and results, up to two renewals are possible, allowing the NCCRs to run for a maximum of 12 years. To date, five series of roughly ten NCCRs have been launched (in 2001, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2020), and the call for projects for the sixth series is under way. In 2024, six NCCRs of the fifth generation, which were launched in 2020, will transition from the first four-year phase to the second. To mark the occasion, the SNSF has launched the Lighthouse Awards. "These awards are still in a pilot phase. They were designed to promote cross-cutting activities relevant to a wide variety of research domains. They encourage and reward significant contributions that advance the careers of young scientists," says Dimos Poulikakos, President of the Research Council's Programmes Division. The awards, which at the moment are aimed exclusively at the fifth generation of NCCRs, recognise initiatives outside science that promote equal opportunities, knowledge and technology transfer, open science, scientific communication and education.

Too close to choose a single winner

For this first edition, the Research Council's Programmes Division felt that the projects submitted were not yet mature enough to assess their impact concerning equal opportunities. No prize was therefore awarded in this category. The Open Science and Knowledge and Technology Transfer categories each had two prize-winners since the quality of the projects submitted was too similar to be able to decide between them. In the end, six projects from five different NCCRs were awarded Lighthouse Awards across four categories.

The NCCR AntiResist was recognised for INCATE, an entrepreneurial incubator combating antibiotic resistance. The NCCR Automation won two awards: one for its Energy Moonshot project, which optimises automation systems in line with real-life conditions, and the second for its Data Kiosk, which facilitates access to Swiss data on energy and mobility. The NCCR Microbiomes stood out for its popular science video game, and the NCCR Evolving Language impressed with its implementation of an open data management platform. Finally, the NCCR SPIN was awarded the Outreach Canvas Grant for its educational tool that promotes scientific communication training in quantum physics for young academics.

After this pilot edition, the SNSF will evaluate the impact of the Lighthouse Awards so that the Research Council can decide whether to continue them. In any case, NCCR researchers state that overall they appreciate the awards.

Caption: The picture shows the winners of the Lighthouse Awards from the NCCRs (5th series) and the representatives of the SNSF.