Scientific Visitor Programme at the ESO Headquarters


To support long term visits by first rate scientists of any nationality as a way to promote the scientific interaction of ESO with its community and with research institutions worldwide and to enhance ESO's role as an astronomical centre of excellence.

How the Programme Operates

The Visitor Programme is under the responsibility of the Head of the Office for Science. She/he appoints the members of the Scientific Visitor Selection Committee (VSC) and its chair. They are selected from the ESO Faculty and cover a broad range of scientific interests. They include at least one Fellow. The chair is appointed on a yearly basis, the members generally rotate over a three-year period.

Current membership is as follows: Mario van den Ancker (Chair), Kate Maguire (Fellows representative), Andy Biggs, Wolfram Freudling, Elizabeth Humphreys, Francesca Primas, Jeremy Walsh, Markus Wittkowski. Pam Bristow is the programme secretary.

The VSC reviews incoming applications every 2-3 months and recommends visitors to the Head of the Office for Science. It searches actively in collaboration with the Faculty for potential visitors who by their specific expertise and/or internationally recognised level of excellence in research can contribute to the scientific activities of the organisation. It follows up the approved visits with the appropriate correspondence and arrangements and globally monitors the on-going visits to make them successful. It formulates proposals to the ESO management to improve the programme.

The length of the visits can vary from about one month to a maximum of one year. For distinguished scientists multiple visits over a period of 2-3 years can also be approved. Applications for shorter visits are handled directly by the Head of the Office for Science. Ph.D. students or scientists without an affiliation cannot apply within this programme.

Currently (2015), the programme has resources (budget and office space) to host the equivalent of 4-5 visitors/month. A visitor has the status of Unpaid Associate and receives a fixed allowance to cover the living expenses while at ESO. Visitors can rent ESO apartments when available. Travel expenses to and from ESO are also generally reimbursed.

How Scientific Visitors are Selected

All ESO Faculty members and ESO Fellows are welcome to contact potential visitors and invite them to apply or to ask the VSC to send an invitation.

Scientists from another institute who want to apply are kindly requested to complete the application form available on the web (ASCII file) and forward it to the VSC chairperson ( He/she will check for suitability and might request more details or information to incorporate in the text before distributing it to the VSC members. Generally, well-known scientists are just required to provide the basic data required for an efficient follow-up of the application.

Given the scope of the programme, the visitors generally have to belong to one of the following categories:

  • visitors of world-recognised scientific stature in any field of astronomy
  • visitors who with their well-proven expertise can contribute to the ESO science-related activities and projects (e.g. definition of scientific drivers of a new VLT instrument, scientific case for a new project, etc.)
  • scientific visitors who would like to visit within the framework of a specific scientific project in collaboration with ESO staff but who can also contribute to the overall scientific discussion within ESO

ESO welcomes unsolicited applications if they fall into one of these categories.

Support to and Duties of the Visitors

Upon his/her arrival the visitor is supported by the secretary of the VSC on the administrative aspects of the visits. The contact person (the scientific collaborator at ESO or a member of the staff identified at the time of the invitation) has the task of introducing the visitor to the aspects of the scientific and non-scientific life at ESO. An office is assigned to every approved visitor, as well as a computer terminal and an account. The offices are generally for a single person but depending on the seniority and the available office space assigned to this purpose at the time of the visit, office sharing can become necessary.

The visitors are requested to give either a seminar or an informal discussion near the beginning of their stay. Visitors for longer periods (>> 1 month) may be asked to give a series of lectures or to take over some other science-related tasks.