Well on the way to a permanent professorship

The funding scheme Eccellenza of the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF enables highly qualified researchers to implement their projects as an assistant professor at a Swiss university. Here, we present four award-winning researchers and their projects at the University of Bern.

Maria Balmer, Jessica Bastiaansen, Nicolas Detering and Sofia Zambrano (clockwise) © InselspitalBern, Jérôme Yerly, zvg, CocoeurPhotography

Maria Balmer, Jessica Bastiaansen, Sofia Zambrano and Nicolas Detering are the researchers who will deepen their research at the University of Bern as part of the SNSF Eccellenza program. Their projects won the competition in a nationwide bidding process. Their scientific disciplines range from medicine to the humanities.

Support for new projects

The Eccellenza program is aimed at researchers who aspire to a permanent professorship and offers two variants: with the SNSF Eccellenza Professorial Fellowships, young talents can advance their research projects at the assistant professorship level by leading their own team and receiving financial support. The SNSF Eccellenza Grant also consists of very lucrative project funds, and is aimed at newly appointed tenure-track assistant professors. On average, awarded researchers receive CHF 1.6 million each over a period of five years.

Three Professorial Fellowships and one Grant

Out of 244 application dossiers received by the SNSF, 45 researchers were awarded support. We introduce four of them who will now be focusing on their projects at the University of Bern.

PD Dr. med. et. phil. Maria Luisa Balmer, Assistenzärztin an der Universitätsklinik für Diabetologie, Endokrinologie, Ernährungsmedizin & Metabolismus (UDEM). © InselspitalBern
Dr. Maria Luisa Balmer © InselspitalBern

One of the Eccellenza Professorial Fellowships goes to the clinician-scientist Maria Luisa Balmer and her research project on human intestinal flora and its influence on obesity and diabetes. Under the title "Immunometabolic sensing of bacterial metabolites driving diet-induced obesity", she will investigate how intestinal flora is related to obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

Maria Balmer: "This project investigates the way in which metabolites produced by intestinal bacteria influence the development of obesity and diabetes and how the intestinal flora could be specifically modified to prevent these diseases."

Biomedizinforscherin Dr. Jessica Bastiaansen, Department of Radiology am Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), Universitätsspital Lausanne
Dr. Jessica Bastiaansen © Jérôme Yerly

A second Professorial Fellowship goes to Jessica Bastiaansen, who conducts research in the field of medical imaging technologies. In her project, the biomedical researcher will address the current challenges of low- and high-field magnetic resonance imaging. Jessica Bastiaansen: “I am going to develop a novel diagnostic imaging technology that will tackle current challenges of both low and high field MRI and will replace the need for conducting invasive biopsies in patients.” 

She will conduct her project "Quantitative magnetic resonance biopsies: Exploiting signal asymmetries for next-generation noninvasive biomarker mapping" at the University Institute of Diagnostic, Interventional and Pediatric Radiology (DIPR) at Inselspital, University Hospital Bern, and sitem-insel.


Dr. Sofia Zambrano. © CocoeurPhotography
Dr,. Sofia Zambrano © CocoeurPhotography

Sofia Zambrano will also receive a Professorial Fellowship to perform her research at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM). The social scientist studies the role of emotions in the practice of medicine with a special emphasis on how emotions affect the communication between physicians and patients at the end of life. 

Sofia Zambrano: "Despite initiatives to teach communication skills to physicians, patients and their families are still often not adequately informed about the severity of their illness in the end of life context. Although emotions and the inner life of the physician can significantly influence this communication, their impact remains, to this day, largely unexplored."

Her project now aims to provide a deeper understanding of the role of emotions in the practice of medicine in order to improve communication with patients and their families at the end of life.

Prof. Dr. Nicolas Detering © zvg
Prof. Dr. Nicolas Detering © zvg

An Eccellenza Grant is being awarded to Nicolas Detering, who is already an assistant professor with tenure track at the Institute of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Bern. His research in literary studies will also receive very lucrative project funding. 

Detering's team will examine how premodern Christian literature was transformed after the 18th century. Nicolas Detering: "Tracing the reception of spiritual songs, martyr plays and hagiography, the project aims to analyze how medieval and early modern genres and other literary patterns still shape our understanding of sanctity today.”


The funding scheme Eccellenza of the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF gives researchers the freedom to realize their own project together with a team. For assistant professors who aspire to a permanent professorship, this is crucial. It increases the likelihood that they will remain in academia and strengthen Switzerland as a center of research.

SNSF Eccellenza Grants, which were aimed at newly appointed tenure-track assistant professors, will not continue to be offered as was announced on November 2, 2020. In contrast, the SNSF Eccellenza Professorial Fellowships will continue.

In 2020, the Eccellenza program selected five researchers at the University of Berne. For the fifth person, clarifications are still ongoing, which is why they have not been presented here.



Dr. Maria Luisa Balmer
University Department of Diabetology, Endocrinology, Nutritional Medicine & Metabolism (UDEM).
Freiburgstrasse 15
3010 Bern
Telephone direct: +41 31 632 40 70
E-Mail: maria-luisa.balmer@insel.ch 

Dr. Jessica Bastiaansen
Department of Radiology
Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV)
Rue de Bugnon 46, BH 08.74
Telefon direkt: + +41 21 314 75 16
E-Mail: jbastiaansen.mri@gmail.com

Dr. Sofia Carolina Zambrano Ramos
University Centre for Palliative Care
Freiburgstrasse 28
3010 Bern
Telephone direct: +41 31 632 31 87
E-Mail: sofia.zambrano@extern.insel.ch

Prof. Dr. Nicolas Detering
Institute for German Studies
Länggassstrasse 49
3012 Bern
Telefon direct: +41 31 631 42 32
E-Mail: nicolas.detering@germ.unibe.ch


About the author

Isabelle Aeschlimann is a university intern in the Communication & Marketing Department at the University of Bern.