European Space Agency

The International Space Science Institute: A Vision Realised

Diane C. Taylor

ISSI, Bern, Switzerland

In May 1995, five Swiss astronomers and physicists, professors from the Universities of Basel, Bern, Geneva and Lausanne, were able to realise a project that they had envisioned for several years: the setting up of the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern, Switzerland.

Proposed to bring together scientists from around the World who have gathered specific data from various spacecraft, ISSI seeks to provide an opportunity for them to exchange and co-ordinate ideas, interpretations, approaches and data, to enhance their results. It offers a forum in which space scientists, astronomers, ground-based observers and theorists can work together on the joint analysis and interpretation of their data to achieve a deeper understanding of space-mission results. The ISSI approach was endorsed by the Inter-Agency Consultative Group (IACG) at its meeting on 28 September 1994.

Funding sought, funding found

While the support of the IACG was quite critical for the future of ISSI, only sufficient funding would guarantee success. Pro-ISSI - a society to promote the idea of ISSI, especially within Switzerland - was set up in May 1994 by the five professors (Johannes Geiss, Hans Balsiger, Bernard Hauck, André Maeder and Gustav A. Tammann) together with Hanspeter Schneiter, representing the Space Technology Group of the Verein Schweizerischer Maschinen-Industrieller (VSM/ Swiss Association of Machinery Manufacturers), and several other space specialists.

In August 1994, the Canton of Bern financed Pro-ISSI to outfit offices and provide a deficit guarantee. In early December 1994, the Swiss government's Federal Department of the Interior, through its Federal Office of Education and Science, provided substantial funding. In mid-December, the ESA Council unanimously decided to provide funding as well, roughly matching the Swiss contributions. A further grant for the scientific programmes was received from the Swiss National Science Foundation in the fall of 1995.

In January 1995, the Swiss firm Oerlikon-Contraves AG in Zurich provided the endowment to set up ISSI as a foundation. While ISSI is a foundation under Swiss law, its outlook is international, though its emphasis is on Europe because of the European aspects of its funding.

The Institute began to take shape in May 1995, when its Science Committee met for the first time. This group, made up of internationally known scientists active in the fields to be covered by ISSI, is chaired by David J. Southwood, of Imperial College, London. The members are drawn from a variety of universities in Austria, France, Switzerland and the USA and research institutes in France, Germany, Italy and Sweden. The Committee provides guidance for the science programme by advising the ISSI Directorate and the Board of Trustees.

ISSI's Board of Trustees is the governing body of the foundation. It appoints the Directors and broadly administers the Institute's resources. The Board, chaired by Hanspeter Schneiter of Oerlikon- Contraves AG, is made up of members of industry, IACG space agencies, the scientific community and two legal experts.

Out of the basement

Working long hours and with the help of a secretary and his assistant from the Physikalisches Institut at the University of Bern, Prof. Geiss moved the Institute from his cramped office in the basement at the University to the present more spacious offices nearby in September 1995. He was named Executive Director by the Board of Trustees, which then appointed a second Director, Prof. Bengt Hultqvist, formerly Director of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna, and one of the original Science Committee members. Prof. Geiss's assistant, Dr. Rudolf von Steiger, became the senior scientist at the Institute.

With more space, there was room for more people: a computer and data engineer from Germany, Martin Preen; an Institute programme manager from Italy, Dr. Vittorio Manno; and an administrator/public relations specialist from the USA, Diane Taylor. A secretary, Gabriela Nusser-Jiang, completes the present full-time staff.

While the staff was coming together, Prof. Geiss and Dr. von Steiger were busy organising the first workshop on 'The Heliosphere in the Local Interstellar Medium', which took place in mid-November 1995. About fifty scientists - from Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Poland, Japan and the USA, as well as Switzerland, representing a variety of universities and research organisations, including ESA - compared their data from more than twelve different spacecraft and discussed their interpretations during the week-long meeting.

Membersof the ISSI
Members of the ISSI staff together with some 50 scientists from around the World, who gathered in Bern in November 1995 for the first ISSI Workshop on 'The Heliosphere in the Local Interstellar Medium' (photo. U. Lauterburg)

'A number of very interesting results about the interaction of the Solar System with its environment were presented and debated', Prof. Geiss reported after the workshop. Among these were the results on how the heliosphere - the expanding atmosphere of the Sun - ploughs through the 'hydrogen wall' of interstellar gas, presented by Rosine Lallement of the Service d'Aéronomie of CNRS, Verrières-le-Buisson (near Paris), Jeffrey Linsky of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Vladimir Baranov of the Institute for Problems in Mechanics at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He was also fascinated by the discovery by Eberhard Grün (Max-Planck- Institut für Kernphysik, Heidelberg) of interstellar grains penetrating deep into the inner Solar System. 'I feel we got off to a good start', Prof. Geiss continued, 'now we have to keep up the momentum!'.

Science programme identified

To do this, based on the advice of the Science Committee, ISSI has forged ahead with its science programme. It has identified four major areas of interest in Solar System science: heliospheric physics, solar-terrestrial physics, solar wind and solar processes and cometary physics and chemistry, all leading to investigations of the origin of the Solar System and the relevance of Solar System exploration for the Earth sciences, astrophysics and cosmology.

Within the four areas, specific themes are selected and projects organised. Each project is led by an ISSI staff member or a member of the scientific community doing research in that specific area. A 'core group' of up to ten senior scientists chosen from the scientific community at large advises the project leader and assists in setting up the project, determining its goals and carrying it out.

The core group may convene several smaller working groups. These groups are to carry out their own additional data analysis as well as using and interpreting available analyses. Each group, with one to two co-chairs, may meet several times. A week-long workshop, with up to fifty or so participants, generally rounds off the project. However, if needed, this scheme may be repeated, with a second or even a third workshop, following intervening periods of working-group activities. A main task of each project is to find a consensus on matters where there were originally differing points of view. If such a consensus is not possible, the differences are to be specified as clearly as possible in physical terms.

To document the work, each project is to produce a final report, in the form of a book which that will be part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI and will be a 'state of knowledge/state of problem' treatise on the topic. The core group will be responsible for appointing the editors of the publication, which will appear within a year after the final workshop.

In order to facilitate the meetings, ISSI can provide some financial assistance for participants, who are chosen by the core group for their excellence in the field and an ability to contribute time and effort to the project. Because of its international nature, ISSI seeks to find scientists from around the World. The Science Committee, for example, now has twelve members and includes scientists from Hungary and Japan in addition to those from Europe and the USA.

ISSI is trying to find the best and the brightest in each of its areas of research, giving established scientists an opportunity and a forum to get together, and promoting younger, up-and-coming researchers and providing them with an opportunity to expand their horizons and contribute to the work of others.

Visiting Scientists

ISSI is not, however, just working groups and workshops. Beginning in mid-1996, ISSI plans to begin inviting Visiting Scientists to work together with ISSI staff in doing research on specific projects at its facility. It is hoped that these scientists, ranging from young post-doctoral (or even graduate) students to full professors, will be funded by their home institutions, though the Institute expects to identify some fellowship and other outside funding opportunities. The Visiting Scientists will stay for periods ranging from one month to one year.

ISSI will make its infrastructure - including a variety of computers connected to the Internet, the computers at the University of Bern and the Swiss Scientific Computing Centre in Manno (Tessin) - available to these scientists, who will have the opportunity to work without outside distractions. They will be able to share data, interpretations, results and experiences and work together to publish articles in the scientific literature. ISSI's primary goal is to help the scientists do more and better science.

Membersof the ISSI

The ISSI infrastructure

ISSI is physically located on two floors of a newly renovated building close to the centre of Bern, about five minutes from the University's Physikalisches Institut and about ten minutes from the main railway station. Although it is not a part of the University, the Institute is connected to its computers. The workshop and working-group participants and Visiting Scientists will also have access to the Library at the Physikalisches Institut, in addition to the small, highly specialised library being developed at ISSI itself. Because of the diverse backgrounds of those involved, English is the working language of the Institute.

Information always available

Additional information on ISSI and its programmes can be found in its World Wide Web home page, which is frequently updated. The address is:

After the vision, the challenge
Now that ISSI is up and running, the vision has been realised - and the challenge begins: to make sure the programmes and projects are so interesting that the scientists keep coming.

International Space Science Institute
Hallerstrasse 6 CH-3012 Bern

Tel. +41 31 631 4896
Fax. +41 31 631 4897

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Right Left Up Home ESA Bulletin Nr. 86.
Published May 1996.
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