Published on 06.10.2022

3 new SNSF PRIMA fellows at UniFR!

PRIMA grants are aimed at excellent women researchers who show a high potential for obtaining a professorship. It funds their ambitious projects over a 5-year period. The UniFR is very proud of its researchers' success in applying for PRIMA grants. To keep up with its historical track record of high number of granted application, this year UniFR applicants experienced a staggering 30% success rate (compared to a 13% success rate overall, 17 projects granted for 124 applications). This is a testament to the high quality of research taking place at the University of Fribourg, and this institution's attractiveness for exciting early career researchers.

The PRIMA funding tool, which is situated at the highest level of career funding alongside Eccellenza, will from this year onward be merged with the latter in order to create the new SNSF Professorial Fellowship. The specific PRIMA funding will however still be reserved for women researcher within this new scheme.

Professor Jessica Clough's project will strive to develop a new nano-imaging technique to identify and ultimately predict the fracture or failure of polymeric materials. Polymers are everywhere in our daily lives, from the highly deformable elastomers in car tires to strong ballistic glass. Despite these materials' ubiquity, and the obvious importance of understanding when such material is going to break down, the fractures in the material which lead to the mechanical failure of these polymers are still not well understood. Indeed, the current technology used to query this involves modifying the targeted polymer with sensor molecules that translate mechanical forces into optical signals, which are in turn picked up by light microscopy. However, since the cracks and fractures in polymers occur at a nanoscopic level that cannot be observed by traditional light microscopy, we still lack the ability to grasp why, and predict when, these events take place. Clough and her group will tackle this important question, and propose to establish a novel methodology that will push the imaging resolution to its limits by taking advantage of recent developments in super-resolution microscopy techniques, which have up to now strongly impacted the imaging of nanoscopic structures in the biological field but have been underexploited in the study of materials. Clough has also recently been selected to participate in the NanoARTS program, a collaboration between AMI, the Swiss Arts Council, and Pro Helvetia. In this context, she will work in tandem with a visual artist to explore new methods of drawing with light by using mechano-responsive molecules that glow when activated.

Professor Rafca Nasr's project investigates the representation of eastern-Mediterranean women as subjects and patrons of the Arts in the later medieval period (12th-15th century). Nasr and her group - constituted of a doctoral student and a postdoctoral researcher - will repertory and study evidence of female patronage in the Syro-Palestinian territory, mainland Greece, the Ionian and the Aegean, as well as South Italy, to investigate women's agency in medieval society. They will trace patterns in the representation of women and query whether patronage was gendered, that is to say for example: were women acting as patrons differently than men? Did they select different artistic media than their male counterparts to represent themselves as patrons? Were women portrayed differently in the works of art if a woman was herself the patron? The project is impressive in its innovative character and scope: Nasr will collect visual, material, and textual evidence from a wide range of places in the Latin East into an Open Access database, and will effect a synergy of these materials which are very rarely taken into account together, in order to see whether women's portrayal changes depending on the medium of representation. Nasr's project will not only throw some much-needed light onto female patronage, a definitely under-represented subject of research in the Middle Ages especially when it comes to areas outside of Western Europe: it will do so from an intersectional perspective that will not attempt to draw out the representation of a nondescript stereotypical “Woman”, but rather trace the portrayal of individual women from a range of cultural and religious backgrounds.

Professor Magdalena Solska's exciting new research project deals with political opposition in democratic and authoritarian systems. Political opposition, broadly defined as opposition parties, or politically-engaged civil society associations and groups mobilizing to contest the power in place, is of crucial importance in the democratic process as no democracy can exist without opposition. Surprisingly little research has however been done on how opposition actors work, what they do, how, and what their function is in the cogs of the democratic and authoritarian regimes. Understanding the mechanisms of opposition is nevertheless primordial, not only to grasp the nature of a given political system as a whole, but it also can be used to trace a system change toward authoritarianism and could ultimately refine the efficacy of domestic and international organizations which work to bolster democracy. This type of research is especially welcome in the current political context that sees a new wave of devolving democracies, whereby for instance many Eastern European countries are now considered as “illiberal democracies” or “hybrid regimes” even while they are newly-minted EU member states, whereas others striving to join the EU are classified as “competitive authoritarianisms.” It is specifically among some of these post-communist democracies and authoritarianisms from which Solska and her team will draw data for their analysis, which will take the form of a comparative case-study of opposition actors in Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia.

These researchers and their innovative projects will undoubtedly enrich the University of Fribourg's academic landscape, and we welcome them with open arms.

Interested in applying for a Swiss Professorial Fellowship, the new SNSF career scheme which will merge Prima and Eccellenza? While the deadlines for 2023 are not yet announced our team at SPR will communicate them with you as soon as they are known, and will be happy to assist you in your application! Contact us at