Some 30 researchers from throughout Europe attended the Origins of Habitable Planets programme arranged by the Gothenburg Centre for Advanced Studies in Science (GoCAS). The programme examined the circumstances under which planets form with the right conditions for life to occur.
The programme was led and organised by Leonardo Testi, a scientist at the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
‘Leonardo’s well-established network and eye for the big overarching issues enabled researchers from different fields to meet here in Gothenburg and focus on how pieces of the puzzle that represent individual research projects can be fit together into a whole’, says Eva Wirström, assistant professor at Chalmers University of Technology, which was co-organiser and the local scientific host for the programme.
Both established experts and younger scientists in areas such as astronomy, chemistry, planetary formation and radio astronomical instrumentation took part in the Origins of Habitable Planets programme. About 40 per cent of the researchers were women. The current programme, which linked astronomy with physics and chemistry, spanned six weeks, and scientists spent from one to two weeks in attendance.
Professor Testi feels that the GoCAS programme was a big success.
’Bringing together a diverse group of people and focusing on a big and important issue was very effective’, he says.
The main question was how common, or uncommon, it really is for planets to form under just the right conditions for life to evolve — something that we only know has occurred here on Earth.
’We also discussed how our observatories need to be improved to allow us to be better equipped to investigate how Earth-like planets form around stars’, says Eva Wirström.
About 80 scientists from around the world came for the two smaller conferences about instrumentation included in the Origins of Habitable Planets programme. In addition, about 30 local scientists took part in some of the programme topics.
Professor Testi believes that GoCAS was a perfect environment for these discussions.
‘There were excellent opportunities for both large discussions and small group sessions’, he says. ‘Moreover, being located in the Chalmers area made it easy for local scientific groups to meet. I also appreciated the social activities that took place outside of the regular programme, particularly the trip in the archipelago.’
’The highlight for me personally was the discussions with chemists, physicists and astronomers on how life’s molecules can form in the early stages of star and planet formation’, Eva Wirström says. ‘I learned a lot that was new, especially about the specific challenges science faces in seeking to get more precise answers to these questions.’
She believes that the new contacts created among scientists from different disciplines can move developments forward in interesting and unexpected directions.
‘The intense focus on these issues ultimately presented a much clearer picture of what we actually know at present, and possible ways forward crystallised’, Wirström says.
Leonardo Testi praises the logistics and the equipment provided.
‘It was perfect’, he says. ‘We have the organisers to thank for a large part of the success of the GoCAS programme. GoCAS was a very productive setting in which to discuss these scientific issues.’