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Editorial Fostering trust The SNSF's core task is to promote scientific excellence. Consequently, it expects its own performance to be of a high standGabriele Gendotti ard. Researchers must President of the Foundation Council have confidence in of the SNSF Switzerland's leading research funding organisation; they should be able to take it for granted that their applications, which reflect their scientific achievements, are evaluated independently, fairly and adequately. The Executive Committee of the Foundation Council is convinced that the National Research Council works in precisely this manner. However, as a supervisory body, it must from time to time gain a critical view of this work from the outside. An experienced US research team has recently provided this outside view and confirmed our trust: the SNSF is doing its job well! And, importantly, its decisions are regarded as impartial and fair. But here's the catch: for the applicants, they are often not sufficiently transparent and understandable. Trust is based to a high degree on clear and well-aimed communication. According to the evaluation report, this is the area in which the SNSF needs to improve. The statement issued by the SNSF reflects its commitment to doing just this.

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N° 19 > June 2013

I n f o r m a t i o n f o r r e s e a r c h e r s f r o m t h e S w i s s N a t i o n a l S c i e n c e Fo u n d a t i o n

Evaluation procedure of the SNSF: room for improvement despite good marks In 2012, a team of US researchers took a close look at the quality and transparency of the evaluation procedure at the SNSF. In a recent statement, the SNSF has confirmed that it will address almost all of the recommendations of the evaluation report. Katrin Milzow, Strategic Planning and Controlling

The evaluation project conducted in 2012 aimed to show to what extent the evaluation procedure of the SNSF is fair and impartial as well as understandable and transparent. The project also analysed to what degree the SNSF achieves its goal of funding excellent and original research in all disciplines and promoting young scientists.

Critical areas identified Based on in-depth interviews and after analysing the relevant documents and data, the research team of Chris Coryn from Western Michigan University came to the conclusion that the SNSF achieves its objectives to a very large degree. Despite this gratifying result, the evaluation has also brought to light some critical areas. The research team has framed eight recommendations in its report with regard to external reviewing, the work processes of the National Research Council and communication with researchers.

Steps by the SNSF After examining the recommendations in depth, the SNSF has decided to pursue all of them with one exception – financial compensation for external reviewers. Appropriate measures can already be planned and implemented in some areas, such as improved communication with and non-monetary incentives for external reviewers; more support for the Research

The SNSF evaluates research projects ... but this time round it is itself the object of study. The question being asked is: does the evaluation procedure of the SNSF achieve its objectives?

Council by the Administrative Offices with regard to obtaining external reviews; better communication with the researchers and clearer explanation of evaluation criteria and processes in the context of the upcoming new website. Other fundamental steps are being evaluated by the SNSF in response to the recommendations (e.g. the introduction of evaluation reports, adjustments to the election procedure for members of the Research Council). Detailed information is given in the SNSF statement, which can be obtained from the SNSF (core@snf.ch).

Page 2 > NCCR projects: various stimuli • Page 2 > In Focus: excellence in Switzerland and Europe Page 5 > Annual report 2012: facts and worries • Page 5 > For young scientists: actions follow words


Current Issues

NCCR projects – a stimulus to the economy Launched as part of a package of measures to stabilise the economy, the technology transfer projects of the SNSF have generated momentum in various areas. The companies involved – mostly small businesses – were able to strengthen their position in the market. To secure Switzerland's position as an internationally leading innovator, parliament approved funding of CHF 10 million for the SNSF in 2009. This contribution enabled the SNSF to approve 28 technology transfer projects in nine different National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs). These projects received further funding of CHF 7 million from industry partners and CHF 5 million from higher education institutions.

Numerous prototypes and processes

Research teams under the auspices of ETH Zurich have developed a sensor system with which cities can better estimate the use of parking spaces and thereby improve traffic control (in the foreground: the “Tinynode” sensor).

The final reports of the projects show that the researchers succeeded in generating momentum for the companies involved and the Swiss economy. In total, 43 prototypes and 34 processes/ products were developed. Some of the products are already on the market. In 17 cases, the innovations are protected by patents and licences. In addition, young researchers were able to establish important contacts with business, and most research groups are planning

follow-up projects, including nine in collaboration with the CTI. Several technology transfer projects showcased their work at the Hanover Messe, the largest trade show worldwide. They include: • NCCR ”CO-ME”: Planning and navigation platform for head surgery • NCCR ”MICS”: Prototype for the industrial production of supraconducting wires • NCCR ”MICS”: Sensors to determine traffic levels • NCCR ”IM2”: Software for the recognition and interpretation of eye contact Everyone involved was very positive about this initiative of the federal government. In particular, the smaller firms involved in the initiative were able to strengthen their market position by utilising innovations for new products or developments. UC

In Focus

Excellence in Switzerland and in Europe: a consistent focus on quality pays off

Martin Vetterli President of the National Research Council of the SNSF

Since 1987, researchers in Switzerland have been able to apply for European funding of their projects. These applications have been submitted to the European Framework programmes for Research, which were complemented by the European Research Council (ERC) in 2007, an organisation funding basic research in the same vein as the SNSF. These additional funding sources are most welcome because researchers in Switzerland are very successful in obtaining European funding. With an average success rate of 23%, Switzerland achieved the

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highest percentage in securing ERC funding between 2007 and 2013. It is followed by countries such as the UK, France and Israel with a rate of 16% or less. If we look at the absolute numbers of ERC grants, Switzerland ranks 5th – a remarkable result for such a small country. It is also interesting to note that almost all researchers obtaining an ERC grant previously received SNSF funding. This fact underscores the emphasis both of these bodies put on quality as a key funding criteria. Switzerland also achieves very satisfactory financial return rates. Between 2003 and 2006, our coun-

try recorded a positive return flow for European funding of 114%. For the period 2007 to 2013, initial estimates of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation suggest that the result may even be higher at around 160%. These figures show that Switzerland competes very successfully for European funding. The SNSF plays a key role in this success: for over 60 years, it has funded the best researchers nationally and made them fit for a highly competitive international arena. This also proves the point that focusing on top quality is clearly worth it, particularly in the long run.


www.snsf.ch Current issues SNSFinfo Applications & evaluation Funding policy International/SwissCore National Research Programmes National Centres of Competence in Research Communication & transfer

Project funding: slight increase in demand For the summer semester 2013, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has received a slightly higher number of project proposals than in the previous year: by 1 April, 1,177 applications requesting a total amount of CHF 456 million had been submitted. While the overall number of applications rose by 3% and the requested amount of funding by 2%, different scientific fields showed different tendencies. In the humanities, both the number of applications and the requested funding are on the rise (+10% and +9% respectively). In contrast, both have declined in biol-

ogy and medicine (-6% and -3% respectively). In the fields of mathematics, the natural and the engineering sciences, the requested funding has remained stable (-1%) despite an increase in the number of applications (+4%). Despite this minor increase for the summer semester, on the whole the requested funding amount is showing a tendency to remain stable after rising continually between 2007 and 2011. The SNSF will evaluate the applications in the coming months and make the respective funding decisions by September 2013. (23.05.2013)

FLARE: first applications approved

Current issues SNSFinfo Applications & evaluation Funding policy International/SwissCore National Research Programmes National Centres of Competence in Research Communication & transfer

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The SNSF has for the first time evaluated applications submitted for the funding scheme FLARE (Funding LArge international REsearch projects). The eleven approved projects of the first call will be supported with a total of CHF 5.7 million. Research work has started as of 1 April 2013 (earliest possible date). FLARE supports the construction and maintenance of instruments for large-scale, international research projects in the areas of particle physics, astrophysics and astroparticle physics. A total of 13 applications were submitted to the SNSF in response to the first call, issued last November. The next

submission deadline for FLARE applications is 15 November 2013. (09.04.2013)

Call for proposals for r4d modules “Ecosystems” and “Food Security”

Call for the Swiss Competence Centers for Energy Research

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the SNSF have issued a joint call for proposals for the thematic research modules “Sustainable management of ecosystems for the provision of ecosystem services” and “Innovation in agricultural and food systems for food security”. CHF 14,1 million are available for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects per research module. Researchers from Switzerland and their partners from Africa, Asia and Latin America may submit their pre-proposals until 13 September 2013 via the mySNF platform. The evaluation of the proposals will be based on external reviews focusing on scientific quality and developmental issues and will be conducted by a review panel of international experts (one for each module). (28.05.2013)

The Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) has issued a call for the Swiss Competence Centers for Energy Research (SCCER). The goal of these centers is to support the development of competencies with a view to solving the problems linked to the change in energy strategy envisaged by the Confederation. The SCCERs comprise one of the measures of the action plan “Coordinated Energy Research Switzerland”, which was approved by the Federal Council in October 2012 and is endowed with a budget of CHF 70 million for the 2013-2016 period. The call was opened on 23 May 2013 and will end on 9 July 2013. Detailed information on the call can be found on the website of the CTI. (24.05.2013)


www.snsf.ch Current issues SNSFinfo Applications & evaluation Funding policy International/SwissCore National Research Programmes National Centres of Competence in Research Communication & transfer

Increasing access to science results: Science Europe adopts principles

Annual reception of SwissCore and the SNSF in Brussels

The major national research funding and performing organisations in Europe, members of the European umbrella organisation Science Europe, have agreed on a common set of principles that should guide the transition to Open Access to research publications. The 51 member organisations are committed to ensuring that results of publicly-funded research and innovation in Europe are available through an unrestricted online access system. Through its active membership in Science Europe, the SNSF has contributed to this position statement and is committed to its principles. (16.05.2013)

In April, the annual event of SwissCore and the SNSF was held for the 13th time in Brussels. Among those present were key actors of the Swiss and European research scenes. The event focused on scientific talent, exchanges with the European Commission and insights into Belgian cooperation programmes, which are based on a long tradition of collaboration with the African continent. Prior to the annual reception, the partners of SwissCore had the opportunity to meet representatives of the European Commission and discuss various topics with them, such as the future European Framework Programme for research and innovation “Horizon 2020”. (02.05.2013)

Swiss participation in “MatSEEC” expert committee

Current issues SNSFinfo Applications & evaluation Funding policy International/SwissCore National Research Programmes National Centres of Competence in Research Communication & transfer

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Since 2009, the SNSF has been represented in the Materials Science and Engineering Expert Committee (MatSEEC). The SNSF has decided to continue its participation in this successful expert committee, and the mandate of the Swiss representative to the committee has therefore been approved and extended for another two years. MatSEEC is a temporary expert committee of the European Science Foundation (ESF) in the remit of and associated with the ESF Standing Committee for Physical and Engineering Sciences (PESC). Its tasks comprise producing a scientific forecast report on the challenges to Materials Science and Engineering in the next

ten years and delivering strategic and science policy recommendations to the PESC and the ESF. (04.04.2013)

New edition of Horizonte: Does the end justify the means?

Swiss Inter- and Transdisciplinarity Day in October 2013

Animal testing involves a dilemma: human beings gain scientific insights by inflicting pain on animals and use these insights to cure diseases. Is this permissible? Despite viable alternatives, animal testing is still indispensable for biomedical research. – The research magazine Horizonte, jointly published by the SNSF and the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, presents exciting reports from the world of science and research. It is published four times a year in a German and a French version. The main topic of this edition is “Animal testing”. (01.06.2013)

Inter- and transdisciplinary (ITD) research is conducted at numerous research institutions. However, there is still no actual research community representing this form of research. The “Swiss Interand Transdisciplinarity Day” aims to give ITD researchers a platform to talk about their experiences and engage in dialogue with research funding organisations. The researchers will have the chance to discuss specific aspects or problem areas such as the added value and organisation of interdisciplinary collaboration, or methodological questions. (28.03.2013)


Current Issues

CHF 755 million for basic research Last year, the SNSF was able to invest CHF 755 million in basic research, the highest amount to date. Despite this positive development, the SNSF is concerned about the limited number of young scientists emerging in Switzerland. As stated in the latest annual report, the SNSF approved more than 3500 research proposals to the tune of CHF 755 million last year; this represents a year-on-year increase of approximately 6%. In total, the SNSF supported 8750 researchers, more than half of whom were doctoral students.

Project funding: higher approval rate In 2012, the SNSF invested more than half of its funds – CHF 391 million – in project funding, its main funding scheme. In a welcome development, the chances of researchers obtaining a grant have improved: after declining in recent years, the approval rate (proportion of approved to requested funding) rose again slightly in 2012, namely to 45%. In 2008, before the decline, the approval rate lay at 54%. This is evidence of the continuing fierce competition for SNSF grants.

Young researchers: stringent selection

© FNS / Beat Brechbühl

In 2012, the SNSF supported 8750 researchers, more than half of whom were doctoral students.

Stringent selection processes are essential to the promotion of young researchers. Only the best doctoral students have the aptitude for an academic career. For this reason, the SNSF applies a very exacting yardstick in the funding schemes Ambizione and SNSF professorships, which aim to improve the prospects of an academic career for talented young researchers. In 2012, only 19% of

female candidates and 21% of male candidates managed to clear this hurdle. The SNSF is convinced that academic careers must become more attractive for young researchers if Switzerland is to maintain its leading position as a research location in the global arena. For this reason, it prepared a number of measures in 2012 which will facilitate the emergence of young scientists (see article below). That said, the SNSF is aware that the measures for promoting young talents, as envisaged in the Action Plan 2013-2016, will not be sufficient to improve the situation in the long run. The SNSF and the higher education institutions must collaborate more closely to create the right incentives for optimising the promotion of young researchers. HOC

Annual Report 2012: www.snsf.ch > About us > Publications of the SNSF

For young researchers: support grant and higher salaries The Action Plan 2013-2016 of the SNSF prioritises measures to ensure that a sufficient number of young scientists come to the fore in Switzerland. True to its words, the SNSF introduced the 120% support grant in June 2013 and will be raising the salaries of doctoral students as of 2014. In 2012, the SNSF prepared various measures aimed at improving conditions for young scientists; these measures are now ready for implementation.

Family: support for postdocs The SNSF introduced the ”120% support grant” for postdoctoral researchers as of 1 June 2013. The purpose of the grant is to help researchers find the right balance between their academic career and family commitments by allowing them to reduce their working hours. Using the freed-up work-time percentage and an additional 20% financed by the SNSF, they can hire a ”support person” to work

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on their project. Alternatively, grantees can request a contribution towards childcare costs; the two options may also be combined. With this new grant, the SNSF aims to ensure that postdocs do not suffer significant delays to their academic careers despite family commitments.

Salary policy reviewed The SNSF has decided to modify its salary policy as of 2014. The new features will include a simplified structure with only three employee categories (postdocs/doctoral students/other employees) and new arrangements for postdocs

whose salaries are paid by the SNSF: instead of the institution-related rates, a salary bracket of CHF 80,000 to CHF 105,000 will apply to these researchers, with a transition period of no more than five years with regard to the minimum rate. In addition, the SNSF will be raising the salaries of doctoral students as of 1 January 2014 by approximately 7% and guaranteeing a ”protected time” of at least 60% of a full-time equivalent for work on the doctoral thesis. The new rules will be applied for the first time for the submission deadline of 1 October 2013. KN


Picture from Research

Environmental toxicology: barely any nanosilver from consumer products in the water Nanosilver is the show horse in the nanotechnology stable: it is already contained in hundreds of consumer products today. Cosmetics, food packaging, disinfectants and cleaning agents are but some examples. Nanosilver is also commonly used in antibacterial socks and functional clothing. An estimated 300 tonnes or more of nanosilver are used each year the world over – and a substantial part of it enters the water cycle via wastewater. Nanosilver in wastewater can cause severe environmental damage if it occurs as a metal. A study conducted within the scope of the National Research Programme “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” (NRP 64) now shows that nanosilver is quickly transformed into less problematic substances on its way to the wastewater treatment plant. In addition, it is efficiently retained in the sewage sludge so that only a small portion of it reaches the water systems. www.snsf.ch > Media > Press releases

Collecting samples in a sewer channel near Glattstollen (ZH): within the scope of NRP 64, a team led by Ralf Kägi from Eawag in Dübendorf has for the first time examined more closely just what happens to nanosilver on its journey from the drainpipe to the wastewater treatment plant.

snsf internal Specialised Committee International Co-operation: new president elected The Executive Committee of the Foundation Council has elected Urs Baltensperger as the new president of the Specialised Committee International Co-operation. Baltensperger, who is head of the atmospheric chemistry lab at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), will replace Andreas Strasser (Fribourg University) as of 1 October 2013. He has been a member of the National Research Council for the environmental sciences since 2012. The specialised committee carries out the scientific evaluation of funding applications submitted to the SNSF in the area of international co-operation and makes the relevant funding decisions.

The Swiss Research Magazine

Main topic of the June edition:

Of humans and other animals Subscribe at: www.snf.ch/horizonte Published in German and French

SNSFinfo print is published three times a year. • Edition: 14,850 (9,300 German, 4,100 French, 1,450 English) Published by Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) Wildhainweg 3, P.O. Box 8232, 3001 Berne Tel ++41 (0)31 308 22 22 • Fax ++41 (0)31 301 30 09 • E-mail com@snf.ch • Website www.snsf.ch Produced by Communication division of the SNSF / Head of division: Philippe Trinchan

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Editorial Board Alan Knaus (chief editor) Corinne Ammann, Simon Breitenmoser, Urs Christ (UC), Nathalie Cottet, Daniel Höchli (HOC), Xavier Pilloud, Omar Solanki Design Agence Symbol, Granges-Paccot (FR) Printing Imprimerie Saint-Paul, Fribourg


SNSFinfo print, June 2013