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During its second session of 2020, the Parliament of the Canton Ticino approved the proposal regarding the affiliation of the Istituto Ricerche Solari Locarno (IRSOL) to the Faculty of Informatics at Università della Svizzera italiana (USI). "The affiliation will allow us to develop a research stream in solar physics and to strengthen our strategy for a centre of excellence in computational science, which has been present at USI with its Institute of Computational Science (ICS) and its several research groups since 2008" - says the Rector of USI, Boas Erez, who also underlines that he is pleased to "consolidate the presence of USI in the Locarno region". This affiliation, on the other hand, will allow IRSOL to obtain university status and thus continue to have access to Federal subsidies provided by the Federal Act on the Promotion of Research and Innovation (RIPA).
The affiliation of IRSOL to USI is the latest step in a process that goes back a long way and that has seen the Locarno-based institute steadily acquiring international profile in the fascinating field of solar physics, thanks also to its networking abilities - like, for example, with its role in the European project SOLARNET - and to develop solid and acknowledged academic skills not only in the observation of solar phenomena but also in the related analysis and modeling of data. These activities, in particular, are also the result of many years of collaboration with the Institute of Computational Science (USI Faculty of Informatics) and the Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS) of ETH Zurich, which contributed to the association of IRSOL to USI as early as the end of 2015 . This approach provides further evidence of the role of USI in attracting and developing a network of institutes in the region, in a process of densification of the scientific research sector in the Canton Ticino.
IRSOL was founded in 1984 to continue the research activity in solar physics carried out in Locarno since 1960 by the Göttingen Solar Observatory and to manage the related scientific instrumentation. Since 1987 it has been governed by the Fondazione Istituto di ricerche solari Locarno (FIRSOL) in whose Board are represented the Canton of Ticino (4 members), the City of Locarno (3 members) and the Associazione Istituto ricerche solari Locarno (2 members). At the end of 2015, the association agreement with USI was signed. Today IRSOL employs 15 people for a total of about 10 FTE positions and has funding totaling 1.2 million francs (as at 31.12.2019), about half of which comes from competitive research funds. The Institute is based on the hillside of Locarno in a building adjacent to the solar telescope, recently renovated thanks to funds acquired from a private donation. The structure offers sufficient space for the development of the Institute in the coming years.
Over the years, IRSOL has rebuilt and improved the existing solar telescope in close collaboration with the Institute of Astronomy at ETH Zurich. The installation in Locarno of the ZIMPOL polarimeter developed at the ETHZ has enabled IRSOL to quickly become an international centre of expertise in the measurement of solar radiation polarization. The development of close cooperation with the ICS and collaborations with the Engineering School of Yverdon, the University of Applied Sciences of Northwest Switzerland and the Observatory of the University of Geneva was also remarkable. The recent appointment at ETHZ of a professor of solar physics, director of the Davos Solar Radiation Measurement Observatory, opens up important perspectives in this field for renewed cooperation with the ETH Zurich.