Special funding has wide impact 

 Since its launch, the NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials has encouraged top academics to become Principal Investigators or Associate Members of the Center. One way of achieving this goal is the “Incentive Program” for the home institution, the University of Fribourg, which considers materials research one of its strategic thrusts. The funding not only helps attract new talent to the university, but also provides a welcome fillip to its departments.

Competing for the hearts and minds of future professors is not always simple. The best candidates often apply for positions at different institutions at the same, and universities need to find an edge to lure the best. While some tertiary institutions can rely on strong branding and generous funders, most are not as privileged.

Fribourg won out when it hired PI Prof. Guillermo Acuna for example. However, the NCCR’s incentive funding played a decisive role. “At that time, I had just accepted a full professor position in Germany. However, the incentive program clearly turned the dial in favor of Fribourg,” he explains. With the money, he purchased his group a multi-color fluorescence microscope for super-resolution imaging.    

“Currently, this is the piece of equipment most heavily used in my group for sample characterization,” says Acuna. “I have also employed it in my lectures of Modern Optics in order to show the basic principles of fluorescence imaging. Furthermore, different groups from my department and others, for example medicine, have also used it to perform measurements.”

Associate PI Prof. Stefan Salentinig is another PI who has benefited from the incentive program, albeit not as part of the hiring process. The focus of the NCCR, AMI and the Chemistry Department on nanomaterials, polymers and colloids in general guided his choice to the University of Fribourg to pursue his career path in the field of physical chemistry/functional biomaterials.

“The grant was approved after the start of my professorship here,” he adds. “It was an important asset that has boosted my start at the university, and contributed significantly to further establishing my group. My research also benefitted significantly.” With the funding, Salentinig was able to acquire strategic state-of-the-art research equipment for nanomaterial/interface characterization for his laboratory “The purchased equipment was crucial to our research,” he says. He was also able to invest in a food material project that led to significant research output from his team.

According to Salentinig, the grant had a multiplier effect, supporting the generation of new projects and collaborations, among them a Swiss National Science Foundation project, as well as fueling industry funded collaborations with several partners in Switzerland. Overall, the funding has also contributed to projects with other departments at the university, notably helping resolve research questions in collaboration with the departments of chemistry, physics, medicine, and the Adolphe Merkle Institute.

Both professors see the program as a net positive for the NCCR’s home institution. “I would consider that it has a tremendous impact on the hiring process as it strongly enhances the resources available to start your lab,” say Acuna, a sentiment that Salentinig shares. “I would say that the incentive grant is definitely a crucial asset that makes the hiring processes of the University of Fribourg internationally more competitive.”