How ESO Impacts Society: New publication highlights ESO’s benefits to its Member States
22 January 2021
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a testament to research, innovation, and collaboration in Europe with a far reaching and invaluable impact on society. The new publication “ESO’s Benefits to Society” explores ESO’s contributions to its Member States across five areas: science and engineering, economy and innovation, talent development, education and outreach, and international collaboration and policy.
In science and engineering, ESO and its telescopes have been instrumental in several ground-breaking discoveries. In 2020, for example, a Physics Nobel Prize was awarded for research on the Milky Way’s black hole done with ESO telescopes. ESO enables discoveries such as this by constructing and operating world-leading observatories, which push the boundaries of engineering.
ESO innovations extend beyond the organisation’s remit; for example, techniques from MUSE, an instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, are being transferred for use in medicine and cancer diagnostics. ESO additionally provides economic benefits to society. In 2019, 60% of ESO’s budget was invested in the design and construction of telescopes and instruments. Over 90% of that was invested in high-tech innovation led by industry and research institutions in the Member States.
In talent development, ESO has played a crucial role in the enrichment and development of highly skilled astronomers, engineers and technical experts. In the last 10 years alone, ESO has trained over 260 students from more than 40 countries in science and engineering. This expertise finds application in other areas of industry and public life, as ESO alumni go on to careers in education, business development, programme and project management, and media and communications.
ESO’s communication, education and outreach activities harness the innate curiosity about the Universe to increase scientific literacy in society, and to inspire more children to engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Over the last 10 years, ESO has featured in 46 online press articles per day on average, and since 2018 the ESO Supernova Planetarium & Visitor Centre has hosted 132 000 visitors to planetarium shows and 13 000 visitors on guided tours.
As a collaborative and international organisation, ESO is able to bring countries together to create a scientific and political capacity for development that is beyond the reach of its individual Member States. ESO therefore stands out as a role model in research and development and is a cornerstone of the European Research Area in astronomy.
All of ESO's contributions to society are perfectly exemplified in the building of the ambitious and revolutionary Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), ESO’s upcoming flagship telescope set to see first light this decade. ESO’s ELT will dramatically change what we know about our Universe and will make us rethink our place in the cosmos.
“ESO has provided three key benefits to the European and global community: first, a world-class observatory system that generates many efficiencies for national astronomy communities in terms of its operations and options for instrumentation, and possibilities to host national projects in the observatory; second, a deep body of experience in the management of megaprojects in astronomy; and third, a stable framework that has allowed countries to fairly pool resources to enable these world-leading projects. A project like the ELT is only possible in Europe with ESO,” says Nobel Laureate Didier Queloz.
The full “ESO’s Benefits to Society” publication is available online now.
ESO Head of Communications
Garching bei München, Germany
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