“The Severo Ochoa programme at IFAE has been fundamental in assuring the current level of excellence in the research lines of our centre”


Interview with MANEL MARTÍNEZ
Scientific Director of the Severo Ochoa progamme of the IFAE and coordinator of the Very High Energy Gamma Ray Astronomy (VHE) Group


“The PAUcam instrument, designed to study the expansion of the Universe, is an unprecedented achievement in the history of astronomical instrumentation”


The Institut de Física d’Altes Energies (IFAE, Institute of High Energy Physics) is a consortium of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) and the Government (Generalitat) of Catalonia, founded in 1991. As one of the 20 Spanish centres with the Severo Ochoa award of excellence it has been present in the “100xCIENCIA” forum which has brought these research institutes together with communicators and journalists.  

Manel Martínez, scientific director of the Severo Ochoa programme of the IFAE, considers that the first two years as recipients of the Severo Ochoa award have allowed the IFAE to obtain a series of scientific milestones which are keys to the development of their scientific and technological programme.

As a project he highlights the “successful construction and installation of the camera PAUcam on the William Herschel Telescope at the Roque de los Muchachos Obseratory (ORM), La Palma. “PAUcam” he explains “is designed specifically to study the expansion of the universe, and it is an unprecedented achievement in the history of astronomical instrumentation, completely conceived, designed, and built in Spain”. As well as this, Manel Martínez emphasizes that the decision to build the CTA-North observatory at the ORM is “a success for the IFAE, because it has led the project in Spain from the beginning, and has been co-leader at international level”. He adds that “CTA is a world-wide project involving 1,500 scientists and engineers in five continents, and is of the highest priority in the main science programmes of the world. Its objective is to build a gamma ray observatory which will increase the sensitivity and the range of energies detectable by an order of magnitude, and will let us take a qualitative step forward in our understanding of the most extreme and violent phenomena in the universe during the next few years”.

As well as these projects, the Severo Ochoa award “has helped the IFAE to become one of the six institutes which form the BIST (Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology) and has let us develop areas related to research support, and thus give a qualitative leap forward which puts the IFAE in the premier league of world High Energy Physics institutes”.

The main challenge facing this institute is, in the words of its scientific director “to maintain and try to augment the high impact and the visibility of the IFAE in the international collaborations in which we participate, or lead, in spite of the drastic cuts in the funding of our activities”. He adds that “The Severo Ochoa programme in the IFAE has been fundamental in funding a series of strategic activities which assure the current level of excellence in the lines of research in our centre, such as a programme of excellent postdocs, and the programme SOS for projects in serious difficulties and other actions which have will allow us, in the immediate future, to improve significantly some transversal aspects of our key infrastructures”. As examples he highlights specific infrastructure “such as machines to produce pixel detectors, the amplification of the clean room for space projects, the dark anechoic chamber to integrate cameras such as the LST’s of the CTA….”

As well as this activity the Severo Ochoa funding has permitted the hiring of key research support personnel, such as a project manager, a Technology Transfer Manager, and a manager of Communication and Public relations. “I have no doubt that a challenge for the future is to make permanent the effects of these activities in the staff of the IFAE, so that we do not have to take any steps backward from the qualitative leap forward achieved” he adds.

The “100XCIENCIA” forum has been designed as a meeting point for scientific outreach. In this direction the IFAE coordinates the programme “Bojos por la Fisica 2016” in collaboration with ICN2 and with the participation of other centres such as ICE-IEEC/CSIC, the Alba synchrotron, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, funded by the Catalunya-La Pedrera foundation. This is a programme for senior high school students with the aim of bringing experimental physics to young people using practical workshops. The programme will be run during 2016 and is included in the set of educational projects which the IFAE is developing for secondary school students as well as for students in the early years at university. 

During November 2015 there will be a series of lectures “The Dark Universe” in the Cosmocaixa Museum, Barcelona, organised by the IFAE with the Caixa foundation. Manel Martínez reminds us that the IFAE is promoting outreach activities for the general public and educational programmes for high school students and those in the early years in the university faculty. “These programmes will let us publicize the main results and open questions in particle physics, astroparticle physics, and cosmology, encourage people to take up scientific careers, and to expain the work of researchers in these fields”.


Coordination of interviews: Verónica Martín


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100xCIENCIA Communicating Frontier Science. La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), October 2015
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