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Headlines Published on 27 October 2004

Title Boost co-operation in big astronomy projects, says OECD

Greater cross-border collaboration and a global ‘scientific vision’ in large-scale astronomy projects are some of the recommendations by the OECD in a recent report produced by its Global Science Forum.

Future large-scale astronomy and astrophysics research may rely on greater co-operation © Source: PhotoDisc
Future large-scale astronomy and astrophysics research may rely on greater co-operation
© Source: PhotoDisc
Astronomers have made enormous progress in the past few decades, developing a convincing model of the origin, evolution and distribution of the visible matter in the Universe, from asteroids and planets to the large-scale structure of clusters of galaxies. But we still don’t know the origin and composition of a huge part of the Universe called “dark matter” or, as some like to call it, “dark energy”, leaving a gaping hole in our knowledge of the beginnings of life.

Solving these mysteries requires costly new projects, such as giant optical and radio telescopes, which must be organised and financed on a multi-national basis, according to the recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. As the field of astronomy enters a new scientific and organisational era, the OECD report challenges researchers and administrators to coordinate, plan, administer and finance the large projects and programmes that will be needed to answer these ‘big questions’ in the coming decades.

A galaxy of opportunity
The report is based on discussions at two workshops attended by policy-makers and scientists.  Among the conclusions were the need for a globally-coordinated scientific vision of the most important big projects – from cosmology to planetary studies – for the next 20 years. It also recommends greater international co-operation in the development of key technologies, such as large arrays of sensors, and closer links based on shared scientific goals in the planning of space- and ground-based facilities.

“As research efforts coalesce around a small number of global-scale facilities, national scientific communities and science administrations will face difficult choices about pooling their resources to participate in new international undertakings, involving both challenges (e.g. a loss of autonomy) and opportunities (e.g. access to cutting-edge equipment and technology),” the report says.

“Decision-makers will need to ensure that the inventory of resources (facilities, instruments, access rights, observing time) is commensurate with national requirements and the size of the scientific community,” it continues. Other issues tackled in the report include the need to take a global strategic view of key technologies and R&D in this field, the importance of site selection for large ground-based facilities, and the future challenges of data management as scientists probe ever deeper into the blackness.

The Global Science Forum’s activities produce reports and recommendations for action by governments, international organisations, and the scientific community. Members of the Forum meet twice a year and seek to identify and maximise opportunities for international co-operation in basic scientific research.

Source:  OECD

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