New Research Organisations

Under the 2019 Swiss Research Infrastructure Roadmap, in the coming years Switzerland will examine the possibility of participating in four international research infrastructures which are currently either in the preparation stage or under construction. SERI is tasked with preparing the participations – which may take a form other than affiliation to the organisation – from establishing the financial framework and evaluating the advantages of these participations for the country through to Switzerland signing an international agreement. Representatives of the Swiss scientific communities concerned are closely involved in the process.

CTA, Cherenkov Telescope Array (astroparticle physics)

The CTA Observatory is an international scientific cooperation project that aims to build a world leading research facility in the field of astroparticle physics. The infrastructure will involve a network of more than 100 Cherenkov-type telescopes, located in the southern hemisphere at a site in Chile (Paranal) and in the northern hemisphere on the island of Palma (Canary Islands, Spain). The CTA Observatory (CTAO) will take the form of a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), with its headquarters in Bologna, Italy and a science data management centre in Zeuthen, Germany. Fundamental breakthroughs are expected in the field of high-energy astroparticle physics and more generally in cosmology and fundamental physics. Construction of CTA is due to commence in 2019. The Swiss universities of Zurich and Geneva and the ETH Zurich are actively participating in the project. SERI is involved in ongoing negotiations on the establishment of the CTAO ERIC alongside the future member states (12 other countries from around the world plus the European Southern Observatory, ESO).

ELI, Extreme Light Infrastructure (laser physics)

ELI is a research facility currently under construction at three sites in the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary. It is the only leading-edge research facility entirely based in countries of the enlarged European Union and the only one whose construction is funded primarily by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) (up to 85%).

Ultra-high intensity lasers are being installed on each of ELI’s sites (‘pillars’) to conduct complementary experiments in the fields of materials physics and nuclear physics. The project heads refer to ELI as the ‘CERN of lasers’ in view of its unrivalled power and intensity (10 times more than current sources) and the unprecedented possibilities these light sources provide for international users.

Laser physics has developed very rapidly in recent decades, driven by increasingly powerful sources. Potential applications for these new generation lasers are very promising and constitute a research field of choice for physicists today. Swiss researchers are following this movement closely and developing suitable research facilities in Switzerland, which would ideally be complemented by access to the world-leading infrastructures available at ELI’s three sites.

SKA, Square Kilometre Array (astronomy)

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is project to construct a radio telescope that will have a collection surface of approximately one square kilometre. This will be the most sensitive radio astronomical instrument ever built. It is designed to identify all galactic nuclei up to a redshift of 6 that were active when the universe was not older than a billion years. The SKA will be sensitive enough to discover signs of planets similar to Earth several hundred thousands of light years away. The radio telescope is designed to operate in the range of 0.10–25 GHz, with the aim of eventually reaching the 0.06–35 GHz frequency range. Its size means it will be 10 to 50 times more sensitive than the instruments currently in use, making it possible to monitor several independent fields of vision: different radio astronomers will be able to observe different parts of the sky at the same time. It will also be possible to obtain distant radio images using the interferometry technique.

Construction on the first configuration of the SKA network (SKA 1) is due to begin in 2021. This will comprise up to 130 satellite dishes and 130,000 dipole antennas, the former in South Africa and the latter in Australia. The SKA is headquartered at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK. Its vast scale makes it a major long-term project for astrophysics at the global level, complementing in particular the activities of European Space Agency (ESA) and European Southern Observatory (ESO).

In 2019, the representatives of seven countries signed an agreement establishing the SKA as an intergovernmental organisation (Square Kilometre Array Observatory), and several other countries have expressed their intention to join it. The treaty came into force on 15 January 2021 following ratification by the UK (headquarters country), South Africa and Australia (host countries) and Portugal, the Netherlands and Italy.

The development of the SKA is being closely followed by many Swiss research institutions. In March 2020, EPFL was recognised by SERI as the leader of Swiss participation in SKA and became, on 6 April 2020, a special member of SKAO Ltd, the UK-based company in charge of coordinating the preparatory design phase of the SKA telescope. SERI took part in the meetings of the SKA Observatory Council Preparatory Task Force, which finalised the setting up of the intergovernmental organisation. Since the commencement of the SKAO agreement it also has enjoyed observer status at the meetings of the SKAO Council, the organisation’s highest-level organ.

On 16 September 2020 the Federal Assembly approved a budget of CHF 8.9 million for Switzerland to join the SKAO as proposed in the 2021–2024 ERI Dispatch. During the course of 2020, SERI worked with players from industry and institutions in Switzerland with an interest in the SKAO to assess the current situation. Their analysis showed that only by becoming a full member can Switzerland get a satisfactory return on its investment. As the budget formerly approved does not allow Switzerland to contribute to the construction and operation of the SKAO beyond 2024, the Federal Council is asking Parliament to approve a further CHF 24.7 million to fund Switzerland’s participation up to 2030. A dispatch to this effect was presented to Parliament on 4 June 2021. If Parliament approves this change, the Federal Council can confirm Switzerland’s participation in the international organisation up to that date. This will boost Swiss research in the field of radio astronomy at international level.

LBNF, Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and DUNE, Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (particle physics)

The world scientific community in the field of neutrino physics is currently developing and setting up a research project of unprecedented scope: DUNE, to be conducted in a purpose-built facility, the LBNF. The project is funded and conducted by an international collaboration and has been recognised for the progress made in particle physics as an essential complement to the research being carried out at CERN. The facility is based at two sites in the United States: Fermilab near Chicago and Sanford in South Dakota, where it is installed in a disused mine 1.5 km underground.

The community of Swiss neutrino researchers, primarily at the universities of Bern and Basel and at the ETH Zurich, make an important contribution to this infrastructure and one which is greatly valued by the LBNF/DUNE community and by the authorities in the USA. The European contribution to LBNF/DUNE is in the hands of CERN, which is designing and constructing one of the detectors to be used in the experiment. In June 2019 the Federal Council decided to financially support the in-kind contribution to LBNF/DUNE under construction at CERN.

The universities of Geneva and Bern as well as the ETH Zurich also contribute in a significant way to experiments in neutrino physics conducted in Japan. They consider the possibility of a further participation in a large infrastructure dedicated to this research field, which is to be built in Japan starting from 2020.

Further information


SERI, Xavier Reymond

Head of the International Research Organisations Unit
T +41 58 462 34 52

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