As temperatures climbed to midsummer highs on Monday, FWF President Klement Tockner and Artemis Vakianis, Executive Vice President of the FWF, invited the media to a press conference at the Haus der Forschung in order to analyse the past year, talk about necessary steps for the future and present the FWF’s strategy for the coming years.
Tockner and Vakianis also announced the 2017 Wittgenstein Award winner, quantum physicist Hanns-Christoph Nägerl, and the six young researchers selected for the START Programme.
Looking back on 2016
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is the central go-to institution when it comes to competitive funding for basic research in Austria. In 2016, the FWF granted EUR 183.8 million for 624 new projects. In total, the institution received 2,569 research applications with a funding requirement of EUR 790 million. In the context of its sophisticated peer-review process, the FWF sought 4,723 expert opinions as the basis for the funding decisions taken by the international expert panels and the FWF Board. At present, more than 2,300 FWF-funded research projects are ongoing, involving about 4,000 individuals, most of them young researchers.
On the state of research
It is heartening to see Austria achieve the second-highest R&D quota in the European context, but this tremendous potential must be upheld and secured. The country needs strong basic research in order to achieve its goal of becoming an innovation leader. Whereas the top research nations invest almost a third of their R&D budgets in basic research, this sector receives less than a fifth in Austria. A look at the budgets of comparable funding organisations shows that the FWF receives about EUR 24 per head of population per year. Innovation leaders such as Switzerland (97 €), Finland (76 €), the Netherlands (51 €) or Germany (37 €) enjoy much larger endowments. While Switzerland is raising the budget of its Nationalfonds to over EUR 110 per capita in the coming year, the allocation in Austria has been stagnant since 2011.
The FWF contributes essentially to making – and keeping – Austria one of the most attractive research and training venues in Europe. Working towards this goal, the FWF will implement the core elements of its strategy as presented last December step by step: (a) a massive increase in competitive funding, (b) continuous quality assurance and efficient administration, as well as (c) opening up the sciences through co-operative projects.
In particular, it is necessary to increase the amount of funding granted on a competitive basis in order to catch up with leading innovation countries in Europe. Today’s investments in research represent a fundamental insurance for the country, ensuring its ability to cope with the tremendous social challenges of the future.
Necessary steps for the FWF
An element of essential importance for the FWF and the science community is full implementation of the “research billion” as pledged by the Austrian Federal Government. An increase of EUR 281 million is to be provided, spread over the years 2018 until 2021, raising the annual FWF budget thereby from the current EUR 184 million to EUR 290 million by 2021.
There is broad-based political and societal consensus that this urgently required measure needs to be implemented without delay despite the forthcoming parliamentary elections in mid-October. Failure to implement would result in a tremendous loss of trust and do reckless harm to Austria’s position as a research and training venue. With the decision to increase the budget of the Nationalstiftung for the years 2018 until 2020 to a total of EUR 420 million, one part of the pledge has been fulfilled. Now, there must be no hesitation in taking the next step – for the benefit of science and for the benefit of our society!
START and Wittgenstein are the most highly endowed and prestigious science recognitions awarded in Austria. Since their introduction in 1996, they have been awarded by the FWF every year for outstanding science achievements. 160 award winners from a wide range of scientific disciplines have already received these distinctions, involving a total of EUR 180 million in funding.
For the year 2017, the quantum physicist Hanns-Christoph Nägerl has received the Wittgenstein Award, and six scholars, four of them women, have been awarded the START grants. In total, EUR 8.3 million are being awarded under the headings of these two excellence programmes in the current year.
Hanns-Christoph Nägerl was appointed Professor at the University of Innsbruck in 2006. In 2017 he became the head of the Innsbruck Physics Research Center. Nägerl is one of the world’s leading researchers in the area of ultra-cold quantum many-particle systems. His research focuses on atomic and molecular quantum gases at temperatures near absolute zero.
Here are the START award winners (in alphabetical order) and their research topics:
Hannes Fellner, Department of Linguistics, University of Vienna
The Characters that shaped the Silk Road – A Database and Digital Paleography of Tarim Brahmi
Vera Fischer, Kurt Gödel Research Center for Mathematical Logic, University of Vienna
Infinitary Combinatorics and Definability
Claudine Kraft, Max F. Perutz Laboratories, Department for Biochemistry and Cell Biology, University of Vienna
Analysis of Atg1/ULK1 function in autophagy
Wolfgang Lechner, Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Innsbruck
ParityQC: Parity Constraints as a Quantum Computing Toolbox
Andrea Pauli, Research Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna
Function of pervasive translation during development
Miriam Unterlass, Institute of Materials Chemistry, TU Wien
The hydrothermal route to functional organic frameworks
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