Brussels, 11 Dec 2003
Nominated bigwigs from the world of astrophysics and space science met at an OECD-sponsored Astronomy Workshop to discuss the future of the field and how to improve international co-operation.
Munich played host last week to eighteen delegations of policy-makers, scientists and international astronomers during the Global Science Forum dedicated to astronomy and astrophysics.
The 'Workshop on large-scale programmes and projects in astronomy and astrophysics' was organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) together with the European Southern Observatory (ESO). It looked at a range of issues – both political and practical – concerning science funding and priorities. In particular, participants discussed what planning measures are needed to enhance international collaboration in basic research in this area.
Meeting twice a year, the Global Science Forum brings together senior programme managers from the national ministries, funding agencies or research councils from both OECD member countries and non-members. Invitations to the Astronomy Workshop were also extended to the International Astronomical Union and other recognised experts in the field.
Space science hub in Europe
The choice of location for the workshop was no coincidence. The Munich region is developing into a centre of excellence in this branch of science. Notable institutes in the vicinity include the workshop's host, the Ludwig Maximilians University, the Max Planck Institutes for Astrophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics, and the European Southern Observatory.
For its part, the ESO is at the leading edge of world astronomy with its flagship facility, the Very Large Telescope, and the recently launched ALMA project, both in Chile. These are examples of international partnerships already underway between Europe and the Americas.
Two public keynote speeches on 1 December, held in the Deutsches Museum, kicked off the three-day workshop. Malcolm Longair, Jacksonian professor of natural philosophy and lab chief at Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory (UK), spoke eloquently on the topic 'Astrophysics and cosmology in the twenty-first century'. He outlined the spectacular advances taking place in astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology, such as the discovery of extra-solar planets, the origin of stars, the physics of black holes and active galactic nuclei, as well as the origin of the Universe itself.