3 SNSF Ambizione Grants awarded


Institutional Communication Service

10 October 2023

SNSF Ambizione grants are aimed at early-career postdoctoral researchers who wish to conduct their first independent project in Switzerland. The Swiss National Science Foundation yearly awards these projects to the most promising researchers after a competitive two-step evaluation procedure, which includes an interview in front of the evaluators.

For the 2023 call, the SNSF has selected 97 projects from a total of 435 submitted proposals. Among them, we are happy to announce that 3 researchers will conduct their Ambizione project at USI: Franziska Zeuner (Istituto ricerche solari Aldo e Cele Daccò), Martin Gjoreski (Computer Systems Institute, Faculty of Informatics), William Davis (Institute of Urban and Landscape Studies, Academy of Architecture).

Thanks to their Ambizione grant, they will be able to carry out their 4-years projects autonomously and to manage their own small research team, acquiring further project management skills. These projects thus represent an important step forward in their career.

Meet the Ambizione awardee

Franziska Zeuner (Istituto ricerche solari Aldo e Cele Daccò)

What is your project about?

My project is in the field of astrophysics and daytime astronomy with the title "En route to 3D Hanle diagnostics in stellar atmospheres: the observational perspective". I am focusing on the Sun, which harbors a surprisingly high number of open questions. One fascinating aspect of the Sun which is fundamental to understand solar activity and therefore its impact on Earth is the solar magnetic field. Newly operational large solar telescopes allow us to study the physics of our central star in unprecedented detail. However, one aspect which is very difficult to study are magnetic fields on the Sun's surface which are smaller than the resolution of even the largest solar telescopes. Magnetic fields can leave traces in the light that reaches us, but if they are too small, they can "hide" from detection with conventional techniques.

What are its objectives and its concrete impact?
The goal of the project is to develop a novel technique based the quantum-mechanical Hanle effect to interpret solar observations for detecting "hidden" solar magnetic fields and challenge current dynamo theories on how these are generated and their role in the Sun's total energy balance. I will not only make use of observations from Europe's and the world's largest solar telescopes, but also innovative inference techniques. This unique combination tackles a notoriously difficult problem, which is to dis-entangle the "hidden" magnetic field contribution to the light from other physical or instrumental influences.
Unveiling the role of "hidden" magnetic fields will not only be important for a comprehensive understanding of our Sun, but other stars as well.

Taking into account your academic path, what does this grant represent?
This grant creates a strong long-term perspective for my academic career. Two aspects which I appreciate the most are that Ambizione provides my first-ever scientific independence and the generous 4-year support gives me the opportunity to dive deep into, and potentially shape, a research field which is not yet fully exploited but considered a key in solar physics in the near future.

Martin Gjoreski (Computer Systems Institute, Faculty of Informatics)
What is your project about?

The project aims to pave the way towards eXplAInable and Private Affective Computing (XAI-PAC). Wearable sensor-equipped devices (e.g., smartphones and fitness trackers), combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods, can bring significant and sustainable improvements to our lives – from improved patient monitoring and decreased healthcare costs to enhanced sports performance and improved quality of life. Affective computing utilizes the combination of wearables and AI to provide methods for tracking factors related to affective states (e.g., emotions, arousal, valence, and stress). Such methods are the first step toward remote mental-health management tools, urgently needed in Switzerland and worldwide. However, with AI systems influencing human lives so intimately, end-users must be able to understand those systems. Unfortunately, today’s groundbreaking AI methods are black-boxed (i.e., the decision model and the process are not understandable) and require vast amounts of data – data that are particularly sensitive in the case of affective computing. Hence, it is evident that explainable and privacy-aware affective computing is vital – what can be more private than our emotions, and how can we be sure that the AI “got it right”?

What are its objectives and its concrete impact?

This project has three main objectives to pave the way toward eXplAInable and Private Affective Computing (XAI-PAC): (Objective 1): To develop novel eXplainable AI (XAI) tools for affective-computing methods based on wearable sensor data; To develop privacy-aware ML methods for wearable sensor data; To fuse privacy awareness and explainability into a single approach.

The broader impact of XAI-PAC covers health and safety-critical AI applications – ensuring their understandability and transparency – and foundational research that provides innovative techniques for building accurate, robust, data-efficient, privacy-aware, and personalized AI models. An example follow-up project would be the development of digital solutions for prompt identification and better management of emotional disorders. For example, more than 100 million Europeans suffer from mental health conditions, which cost the EU €600 billion, or more than 4% of the EU's GDP. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly aggravated this alarming situation by increasing the prevalence of mental ill-health. The trend is also evident in Switzerland. XAI-PAC will not result in direct interventions for improved mental health. However, it will develop critical technologies supporting more effective and acceptable digital solutions of this type in the near future.

Taking into account your academic path, what does this grant represent?

The Ambizione grant will provide me the opportunity to establish myself more thoroughly as an independent researcher and, consequently, obtain a tenured position in the near future. The ability to co-supervise a PhD student within XAI-PAC will further strengthen my key academic skills. Ambizione and the independence it grants will undoubtedly mark an important milestone in my academic career, providing the tools to establish and direct a successful research group of my own in the near future.