Research funding for local reseachers

Ever since it awarded its first grants, the Aarhus University Research Foundation has supported a host of researchers and ideas. The money has been spent on anything from research trips, funding for the Steno Museum and the university’s first satellite to projects on the surveillance society and rehabilitation and healing of muscle, tendon and bone tissue.

By Helle Horskjær Hansen

Five researchers from the Faculty of Humanities received the foundation’s first grants. The year was 1946, and they received a total of DKK 18,700. The grant received by Professor Andreas Blinkenberg was spent on a research trip to the Rhaetian-speaking part of Switzerland. Philosopher and theologian K. E. Løgstrup also travelled to Switzerland, where he did a history of ideas study of the development of state-theory thinking, while Professor Franz Blatt’s grant was spent on a research trip to Paris, the purpose of which was to provide a comprehensive presentation of medieval Latin. Professor Th. Geiger received funding for a critical history of ideas study of the concept of freedom, while Professor P. G. Lindhardt received funding for a larger effort on the prevalence and impact of Danish edification literature. In fact, the first many grants went to researchers from the Faculty of Humanities. 26 years would pass until Theologian Henning Jensen Lehmann in 1972 received funding for the purchase of books. Six years later, in 1978, the first woman received funding. Namely Lise Bek, who received funding for an exhibition on art history. Today Lise Bek is emeritus professor at Aarhus University, where she was professor from 1990 to 1996. However, the foundation has not funded individuals only. E.g. the university’s first satellite was launched with support from the Aarhus University Research Foundation, and the satellite Delphini-1 is currently in orbit around the Earth.

The Aarhus University Research Foundation is known to be a foundation offering independent funding, that is, funding that has helped strengthen research and added an extra dimension which by far exceeds the nominal value of the grants.

Among other things, the Aarhus University Research Foundation has played a main role for Sandbjerg Estate. In the 1970s funding from the foundation made it possible to establish 48 rooms, a dining hall and an auditorium at Sandbjerg Estate, and through the years the foundation has supported the development of and seminars at the estate through research event grants.

In the 1990s the foundation funded the establishment of the Steno Museum through a series of grants of a total of DKK 20 million. And the visiting researcher flats within the auspices of FEAS would not have existed if it had not been for the foundation, not to mention its business activities through the subsidiaries, which in addition to providing a return also support the foundation’s objective of supporting scientific research at Aarhus University.

In general, foundation grants have since 1946 developed from more or less rigid faculty pools to more flexible grant pools. On the whole, the board of the foundation has managed to create greater strategic latitude in the foundation’s award practice, shifting from many small grants to larger focusses such as AUFF NOVA, AIAS and the AUFF Starting Grants. The foundation wishes to be evergreen and presently aims to award grants worth around DKK 135 million a year.

71 years after the first grants were distributed, grant amounts had changed significantly. Associate Professor Casper Foldager from the Department of Clinical Medicine received just under DKK 3 million for a project on rehabilitation and healing of muscle, tendon and bone tissue. He conducts research in the field of orthopaedic surgery – that is, all the moveable parts of the body such as muscles, bones and joints – or regenerative orthopaedics, to be exact, which focusses on enabling the body to repair itself. 
‘It can be difficult to obtain funding for a project like mine from the traditional national and international research foundations, because it is a brand new field’, says Casper Foldager.

Together with Aarhus University, the foundation has established the research initiative AUFF NOVA. It was through AUFF NOVA that Caster Foldager received funding for his project.
According to the foundation, the objective of AUFF NOVA is to ‘stimulate the implementation of bold and innovative high-quality research projects, which generally have difficulties obtaining alternative funding. The project will show new paths and may potentially lead to scientific breakthroughs. The hypothesis or thesis may involve breaking with existing assumptions and/or a call for new methods’.
‘Because the number of grants provided by a lot of public foundations continues to drop, it has been vital that a local foundation like AUFF has shown me the necessary trust and supported the project financially. In addition, the NOVA format is very innovative, which suited this type of research project. The project is already yielding the first highly promising results’, says Casper Foldager.

His research project focusses on how you activate and utilise the resources already found inside the body. Through an intensified type of altitude training, where you breathe through a mask containing less oxygen, you can force the body to produce a series of good molecules, which are released into the bloodstream and can help repair damaged tissue.
‘The tests are the first of their kind and are initially done on mice and rates, making it possible to study the effect of repair of different types of damage. At the same time, we study how humans react to various types of oxygen deficiency. There are two advantages to this type of treatment: The body is the factory producing the hormones and molecules for healing, and it will be relatively easy and cheap to use once it has been fully developed’, he explains.
The project is now in the process of producing the knowledge that is necessary for developing and testing the new treatment on patients with a view to improving healing and reducing the time it takes for tissue to heal.

The foundation’s objective is to support scientific research at Aarhus University. The foundation awards grants to concrete research projects and larger multi-year projects and initiatives that strengthen research at Aarhus University. The foundation awarded DKK 141.5 million to research at Aarhus University in 2018 and DKK 156.5 million the previous year, and the goal is to distribute around DKK 135 million a year. A precondition for applying for support is that the applicant is affiliated with and conducts research at Aarhus University. According to the foundation strategy, grants must be spent where they make a unique difference and thus contribute to excellent research at Aarhus University. The foundation’s grant policy focusses on quality and grants that support strategic initiatives focussing on talent development, internationalisation and research dissemination, among other things.