ESO (European Southern Observatory) is a regional organisation operating in the southern hemisphere. Created in 1962, ESO now has 12 member states that include Italy, which joined in 1982, and its headquarters is located in Gerchin, Germany (near Munich). Its facilities are located in the Chilean Andes: the first of these, La Silla (region of La Serena), houses the organisation’s first telescopes, some of which are no longer operative. The second, on the Cerro Paranal in the Atacama desert in the region of Antofagasta, houses the Very Large Telescope, which has been operating since 2002. Installation has begun of giant telescope ALMA on the Chajnator Plain, at an altitude of 5,000 metres, in one of the world’s driest areas.
In addition to this, and through a convention with the European Space Agency, ESO also hosts the European Coordinating Facility of the Hubble Space Telescope, a structure that coordinates the scientific use in Europe of that telescope. ESO’s annual budget amounted in 2007 to approximately 121 million euro, to which, according to community rules, each member contributes in proportion to its GDP.
Italy currently makes an annual contribution of 13.4 million euro, equal to 13.48% of the overall budget. Italy’s involvement in ESO, marked by hearty development in national planning, has contributed decisively to the growth of astronomy in Italy that has placed it in a very high position on the international scenario; Italy has also had remarkable success in winning industrial contracts, with the consequent economic and technological returns.
It should be pointed out that many Italian scholars have held positions of considerable responsibility in ESO, some significant examples of whom are:
- Prof. Giancarlo Setti, former head of the ESO scientific division;
- Prof. Benvenuti, head of coordination of European participation in the Hubble Space Telescope (ESA-ESO collaboration), former President of INAF;
- Prof. Massimo Tarenghi, head of the NTT and VLT projects, ALMA Project Director;
- Prof. Alvio Renzini, current head of the VLT project;
- Prof. Franco Pacini, President of the ESO Council 1991-94;
- Prof. Riccardo Giacconi (Italy-USA), ESO Director General 1994-1999;
- Dott. Roberto Gilmozzi, current head of VLT activities in Chile.
There are also many Italian scientists and technological experts working in ESO at all levels of responsibility and in various sectors.
The scientific use of ESO facilities is granted on the basis of proposals/requests by groups of researchers, after evaluation by an international commission (peer review) and absolutely not on the basis of any pre-established national “return”. Its explicit aim is to encourage researchers to do their best work. This practice contributes to detecting and addressing delays and to appreciating elements of excellence within national scientific spheres.
EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory was set up in 1974 and has 18 Member States (three others have asked to join). Its mandate is to conduct research in the field of molecular biology, sustain the studies of Member State scientists, train its own staff and external students through high level internships and develop new instruments for biological research. Its headquarters are located in Heidelberg Germany, and it has four “outstations” located in Hamburg (Germany), Grenoble (France), Hinxton (IK) and Monterotondo (Italy). The main headquarters is divided into six Research Units, each of which is subdivided into Research Groups, which number 53 in all, only one of which has an Italian Group Leader, Dr. Elena Conti. The Hamburg office employs an Italian in the instrumentation sector, while the Grenoble division is divided into seven sectors, comparable to the activity groups in Heidelberg; the Hinxton office has 17 Groups.
The EMBL is governed by a Council with 18 Member State representatives. The Italian delegates to the Council are Prof. Glauco Tocchini-Valentini, Director of the Cellular Biology Institute of the CNR and Dr. Antonino Cianca of the Ministry of Economic and Financial Affairs; Prof. Arturo Falaschi is the Italian government’s representative on legal and administrative questions regarding the Research Programme of the Monterotondo Scalo division (guarantor of the Headquarters Agreement).
The scientific activity carried out permits Member State biologists to access advanced instrumentation for the study of the structure of proteins and the best supplied DNA and protein sequence data banks in the world. It also deals with the dissemination of scientific data regarding genomes, biochemistry, and molecular and cellular genetics. The research results in the field of molecular biology are published world-wide. The EMBL collaborates with the European Mmouse Mutant Archives (EMMA) located in Monterotondo and with the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), which deals with research and services in that field.
Italy’s contribution (8.4 million euro in 2007, disbursed by MUR) was 13% of total Member State contributions.
The EMBC (European Molecular Biology Conference) was established in 1969 and today has 25 Member States. Its activities are based on a General Coordination Programme and are financed through European funds for molecular biology research. The main scope is to gather funds for the research activities of the EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization, an international organisation in which renowned scientists participate with the aim of encouraging the development of molecular biology research) and offer support to universities and other institutions in need of the collaboration of high-level scientists. Italy has been a member of the EMBC since 1972, and is fourth among the organisation’s main financial contributors, after Germany, UK and France, and before Spain, with a contribution of 1,617,713 euro in 2007(through the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research), which is 13.02% of total Member State funding. EMBC’s total budget for 2007 was 14.2 million euro.
ICRANet (Network of International Centres for Relativistic Astrophysics), headquartered in Pescara, was created in 1985 at the University of Rome Physics Faculty on the initiative of Nobel Laureates Abdus Salam and Riccardo Giacconi and, above all, of Pro. Remo Ruffini, and soon became an autonomous international astrophysics network. Participants in ICRANet include several of the most advanced centres in the world, with a commitment to fostering the growth of new Relativistic Astrophysics centres around the world, including the Third World. With the signing of the agreement for its establishment in Rome on 19 March 2003 (the Vatican is a member, in addition to Italy, and Armenia also joined in June of the same year,) and ratified through Italian Law no. 31 of 10 February 2005, the Centre was transformed into a truly international organisation, of which Brazil is also about to become a member.
ICRANet sponsors international scientific cooperation and research in relativistic astrophysics. It also coordinates international theoretical, experimental and observational research using instruments in space and above and below ground. Its activities consist mainly of doctoral and post-doctoral degrees; long- and short-term scientific training programmes; workshops and international conferences, exchange programmes between scientists and associated personnel; development of new levels of electronic communication between research centres; creation of integrated data bases for celestial objects in all possible frequencies; and scientific and technological cooperation with industry.
ICRANet’s organisational structure consists of a Steering Committee, a Chairman and a Scientific Committee. The positions of President and Chairman are both filled by Prof. Remo Ruffini (Italy), who was appointed to a 5-year term in September 2005. On the basis of an agreement signed in Rome on 19 March 2003 and ratified through Law no. 31 of 10 February 2005, the Italian government makes an annual obligatory contribution of 1.5 million euro, which could increase in pursuance of article 6 of its charter.
ICRANet also receives voluntary contributions and donations, fees for courses and workshops, proceeds from special training programmes and technical assistance, and returns on publications and interest on trust funds, endowments and bank accounts.