A word from the ISSI Executive Director

Dear friends of ISSI!

Dear visitors of our website!

Scientists can easily understand the instability of the situation when the coronavirus reproduction factor is about one as it has been in many countries in Europe throughout the summer. It simply says that the virus will be kept alive in the population. A slight change in the environmental parameters, e.g., a lowering of the temperature as we are entering into fall causing people to stay more inside, can cause the factor to rise and trigger exponential growth of the number of infections. Which is what we are seeing these days. Certainly, many of us had hoped that the factor would have been forced significantly below one, in which case there would have been a chance of eliminating the virus. But a society is a complicated system with many more factors – economic, political, psychological – entering into the equation and we may have found empirically that the reproduction-factor-of-one-solution at acceptably small absolute numbers was the best to be expected this summer.

In any case, ISSI has to face the fact that the COVID-19 crisis is likely going to continue for much longer than we – may be naively – had hoped and that it will impact our program even more than we had feared! We did have a successful hybrid workshop in September on the Deep Earth Interior but it appears that attendance in presence from other parts of Europe is becoming increasingly impractical and has become impractical for many. Visitors to ISSI from a growing number of countries will have to go into quarantine for 10 days should they come to Bern and it is not unlikely that they may have to go in quarantine in their own country when they come home after the event. The borders in Europe are open, but it is not very reasonable and practical to travel! This observation is the reason why teams and workshop conveners are continuing to shift their meetings to later.   

 At ISSI, we are exploring even more what the world wide web has to offer to help us through the crisis. Since August, we are having a weekly online seminar series on missions that have changed the game in the space sciences. This “Game Changers” seminar series (Thursdays at 5pm CEST) has started with seven talks on planetary exploration missions and has now turned to heliosphere and plasma missions and will turn to astronomy and astrophysics missions in November and December. The talks have all been recorded and are available for view on our website. Attendance to the seminars varied between 150 and 265 and download figures peeked at more than 1600. We have planned the seminar until the end of the year for now, but we will see what we will have to follow-on next year. In addition, we are brainstorming with the community on how we can improve the working situation for the active International Teams and the planned Workshops, Working Groups and Forums. Some of the ideas and online solutions will be tried in the coming months and hopefully, some will even have the potential to be useful when the crisis will finally be over.

Finally, let me turn to our 25th anniversary that has received not as much attention as it would have in more normal times: ISSI turned 25, already in January! Unfortunately, we mourned the passing of Johannes Geiss, the institute’s founding father, that month. We had made plans in late 2019 how to celebrate but these needed first to be postponed and have now become largely unfeasible. But, we have a little birthday present upcoming for the community!

Stay tuned and stay healthy and our thoughts continue to be with those severely hit by the pandemic

All the best

Tilman Spohn

ISSI executive director