The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is Europe’s foremost organisation for astronomical research. Its giant telescopes provide advanced observational facilities at various sites in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Switzerland is one of the 16 countries which support ESO. The ESO Committee of Council, which currently has the University of Bern’s astrophysicist Willy Benz as president, is to meet in Bern on 5 and 6 March.
The ESO Committee of Council meeting will be chaired by its president Professor Willy Benz, who is professor of Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Bern and director of the National Centre of Competence in Research PlanetS. Representatives of the member states and of ESO’s general management, over 40 people in total, will attend the meeting. The meeting provides an opportunity for the ESO Committee of Council to discuss items of business before decisions are made at the Council’s ordinary meetings.
ESO is currently constructing the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). At 39 metres long, it will be the world’s largest telescope. The first observations using the ELT should be possible in 2025, giving us information that may radically affect the way we see the universe.
Switzerland has been a member of ESO since 1982 and provides just under five per cent of its annual funding, currently around CHF 10 million a year. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI is responsible for Switzerland’s participation. SERI’s director, State Secretary Martina Hirayama, will attend a dinner with ESO Committee of Council members on 5 March.
Switzerland’s ESO membership gives Swiss astromonical researchers access to ESO’s entire infrastructure. Swiss astrophysical research is highly regarded internationally thanks to the excellent quality of the astronomical insitutes at the universities of Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich, all of which benefit greatly from Switzerland’s membership of ESO.
Swiss businesses can also take part in ESO calls for tender. The Swiss ILO Office acts as the national coordination agency to promote networking and to support businesses and reseach institutions in Switzerland taking part in the international tender process.