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Ten new Norwegian Centres of Excellence

The Research Council of Norway has granted ten research groups status as Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF centres). The new centres will receive a total of NOK 1.5 billion over a ten-year period to carry out world-class research.

"We need to provide the best researchers with flexible, long-term funding that enables them to think along bold new lines," says Minister of Education and Research, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen. (Photo: Marte Garmann) “Our goal is for Norway to be the home of an even greater number of world-leading research groups,” says Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksen in congratulating the new SFF centres. “To accomplish this we need to provide the best researchers with flexible, long-term funding that enables them to think along bold new lines. Drs May-Britt and Edvard Moser had many years of funding under the SFF scheme before winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 2014. Therefore we are pleased to be able to start up ten new Centres of Excellence now. Together they will enhance Norway’s standing as a research nation.”

Each of the ten new SFF centres will receive an average of NOK 15 million annually for ten years. Eight of the centres are located at the universities of Oslo, Bergen or the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, while one is at NHH Norwegian School of Economics and one at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Fierce competition

A total of 150 research groups applied for centre status in this fourth funding round under the SFF scheme. Thirty-four were considered such strong candidates that they advanced to the second application phase. The top ten groups that won made the grade after multiple, detailed assessment rounds by international experts.

According to the international scientific committee that selected the ten winners, the quality of most of the grant applications that advanced to the final phase was outstanding. The experts see each of the ten centres chosen as international leaders in their respective fields.

A high level of scientific merit in relation to international standards is the main criterion used to grant SFF centre status. This criterion applies to the planned research activity as well as to the centre’s key scientific staff. The centres must work with ambitious ideas and complex problems that require coordinated, long-term research activities. The centres must also be actively involved in researcher training and engage in extensive international cooperation.

Spearheading international research

John-Arne Røttingen, new Chief Executive of the Research Council of Norway. (Photo: Sindre Mekjan, Forskningsrådet) The SFF scheme is one of the Research Council’s foremost funding instruments for promoting quality in Norwegian research. The significance of these centres is illustrated by the successful role they play with regard to funding from the European Research Council (ERC). Fully 55 per cent of ERC allocations to Norwegian research groups goes to researchers who are or have been associated with an SFF centre.

“Norway has few world-leading research groups, and the SFF scheme will help to cultivate more,” says the new Chief Executive of the Research Council, Dr John-Arne Røttingen, who is looking forward to following this latest generation of SFF centres. “The long-term financing enables the new centres to achieve essential, pioneering research results. Experience shows that these ten new SFF centres will have a lasting impact in the years to come.”

The ten new Norwegian Centres of Excellence


  • University of Oslo:

Centre for Cancer Cell Reprogramming
The centre will study the interaction of cellular processes that are altered during the progression of cancer. The objective is to find the cancer’s weak point in order to reprogramme the cancer cells into harmless cells and thus pave the way for new kinds of cancer treatments.
Centre director: Harald Stenmark.

Developing an integrated open access organ on chip platform for drug discovery
The centre will develop an “organ on a chip”, an emerging technology that is helping scientists towards a completely new understanding of the body’s organs and how different forms of treatment work. The platform simulates metabolic processes in the body and will test how these respond to medical therapy.
Centre director: Stefan Krauss.

Hylleraas Centre for Quantum Molecular Sciences
The centre will make important contributions to understanding molecular biology, chemistry and physics. It will design new calculation methods that can process systems with up to millions of atoms. One objective is to understand and control complex biological and chemical systems in extreme environments. It has only recently become technologically possible to set up international advanced experiments to study corresponding real molecular systems.
Centre directors: Trygve Helgaker and Kenneth Ruud.

Rosseland Centre for Solar Physics

The centre’s objective is to understand the actual working of our closest star, the Sun. By combining solar observations with advanced computer modelling, the centre will generate new knowledge about particle acceleration and heating both in and around the Sun. This will help to reveal processes that have a direct impact on Earth’s atmosphere and conditions for life on Earth.
Centre director: Mats Carlsson.

Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion

Rhythm is fundamental for humans when we walk, dance or play, tell stories or try to predict the future. Rhythm is also a basic part of human biology. The centre will study the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms underlying our ability to perceive rhythm and act rhythmically.
Centre directors: Anne Danielsen and Alexander Jensenius.

  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU):

Center for Low Dissipation Quantum Spintronics

The centre will lay a foundation for tomorrow’s technology to solve the energy challenges faced in electronic signals. New theories for spin and quasi-spin states in materials will be combined with experimental studies of materials that can be used for signal transfer with no loss of energy. The objective is to create a revolution in low-energy communications technology for an energy-efficient society.
Centre director: Arne Brataas.

Porous Media Laboratory
The centre’s objective is to find methods for calculating complex fluid flows in porous media more precisely. This can be accomplished by combining experimentation, modelling and development of new theories. The centre will combine methods from physics, chemistry, geology and geophysics. The knowledge gleaned will be valuable for efficient recovery of petroleum and of clean water in drought areas.
Centre director: Alex Hansen.

  • University of Bergen:

Centre for Early Human Behaviour

New findings indicate that a leap in human cognitive, technological and social development occurred in Africa 50 000 to 100 000 years ago. But more precisely when, why and how did modern human behaviour emerge? Based on field studies in South Africa and new, interdisciplinary methods the centre seeks to provide fundamental insight into what it actually means to be human.
Centre director: Christopher Henshilwood.

  • NHH Norwegian School of Economics:

Centre for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality, and Rationality

Which kinds of inequality do we perceive as just and which as unjust? What is it that creates unfair disparities? How does our sense of justice get formed? The centre will combine large data sets and experimental methods to renew research on moral motivation and inequality.
Centre director: Bertil Tungodden.

  • Norwegian Institute of Public Health:

Centre for Fertility and Health

What are the health effects of changes in family structures and fertility on parents and children? What are the impacts of e.g. increased age of mothers and fathers, assisted reproductive technology and fewer children per family? For answers the centre will mine Norwegian health data, which is unique in an international context.
Centre directors: Per Magnus and Siri Håberg.


Written by:
Christian Lund. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann
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