Belgian Secretary of State for Science Policy Thomas Dermine aims to use the Belgian EU presidency in spring 2024 to put the EMR candidacy on the European agenda. Belgium is thus taking a new step to host the Einstein Telescope in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine, together with the Netherlands and Germany.
This was announced during the kick-out meeting of two preparatory research projects, E-TEST and ET2SMEs, in Liège on November 21, 2023. Willy Borsus, the Walloon Minister of Economy, also announced that the collaboration with companies from ET2SMEs will continue in 2024.
The European Einstein Telescope will be a world-class underground observatory that scientists will use to study the universe in a completely new way. This can be done by listening to gravitational waves, minute ripples in the fabric of the universe that arise during the most extreme events such as colliding black holes. In this way, researchers even want to listen back to the ‘cosmic dark ages’, the period before the first stars ignited.
The host country for the Einstein Telescope will acquire a European top center for scientific research. This not only attracts scientists but also high-tech companies eager to prove themselves by developing technology for the Einstein Telescope.
Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany are already preparing a joint candidacy to host the observatory in their border region, the Euregio Meuse-Rhine. This area not only offers the Einstein Telescope a unique, vibration-damping soil but also excellent infrastructure and a network of research institutions and high-tech companies.
The Italian island of Sardinia is also in the running to build the Einstein Telescope. The decision on the observatory’s location will be made around 2026 by European governments.
Preparing the Candidacy
To make their candidacy for the Einstein Telescope as strong as possible, the three neighboring countries are closely collaborating. As a result, it was announced on November 21 during a meeting in Liège to close the two cross-border programs E-TEST and ET2SMEs. These programs, funded by Interreg, prepared researchers and businesses in the three neighboring countries for the arrival of the Einstein Telescope.
Within E-TEST, soil research was conducted to map the underground in the search area for the Einstein Telescope. These studies will continue in 2024 with a series of boreholes in the search area. E-TEST also developed a prototype of the cryogenic mirrors for the Einstein Telescope. The mirror will be tested in 2024 in a new vacuum setup at the Liège Center for Space Research (CSL).
Collaboration with the Business Sector
Joint projects allow researchers and companies to gain experience with the technology that will be used in the Einstein Telescope. This means better chances of securing contracts during the construction phase and opportunities for spin-off technology. Therefore, the ET2SMEs program organized workshops to inform small and medium-sized enterprises about the opportunities and challenges of the Einstein Telescope.
Thanks to vouchers from ET2SMES, a total of 23 companies in 11 joint projects developed sub-technology for the Einstein Telescope. The 9 Belgian, 6 Dutch, and 8 German companies worked on production methods for the vacuum tubes of the Einstein Telescope and built equipment for dust and leak detection. Electric vibration equipment for soil research without CO2 emissions was also developed.
The collaboration with companies from ET2SMEs will continue in 2024 with subsidies from the Walloon government, it was announced on November 21. A new valorization committee will also be established to stimulate knowledge transfer.
During the meeting in Liège, discussions also revolved around administrative cooperation, which has taken shape in the form of ministerial tables and a task force. Feasibility studies are led by the Einstein Telescope project bureau – Euregio Meuse-Rhine. Collaboration in the field of R&D and valorization is outlined in an R&D agenda and a valorization expert committee.