ASPERA gets set to aim for the stars

Representatives from 16 European national funding agencies that are responsible for particle astrophysics gathered at the headquarters of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in Paris on 20 July for the launch of the AstroParticle European Research Area (ASPERA) network. This is a three-year ERA-NET activity under the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission (EC), with an EC contribution of €2.5 m. Its aim is to improve coherence and coordination across European funding agencies for financing astroparticle physics.

ASPERA has come about through the Astroparticle Physics European Coordination (ApPEC), a consortium of national funding agencies, the aims of which are to develop long-term strategies, express the views of European astroparticle physics in international forums, and establish a system of peer-review assessment applicable to projects in astroparticle physics.

Europe is a leading worldwide player in astroparticle physics, involving about 2000 European scientists in some 50 laboratories. The current programme costs almost €100 m a year and the cost of proposed future large infrastructures is near €1 bn. This level of activity means that it is necessary to consolidate existing coordination among the different projects at the European level.

ASPERA will study funding and evaluation in Europe and will identify formal and legal barriers to international coordination. It will define a roadmap on infrastructures and R&D, and will test the implementation of new European-wide procedures of common funding of large infrastructures and the accompanying R&D. The further linking of existing astroparticle physics infrastructures will also be explored. A common information system (a database and a website) will be constructed and studies on the differential emergence of particle astrophysics in various European countries will be performed. The network is coordinated by CNRS.

In particular, the proposition for a roadmap that is being prepared by ApPEC's Peer Review Committee will be examined in a series of workshops with the aim of formulating a common action plan, including common evaluation and funding schemes, for the upcoming large infrastructures on high-energy neutrino, gamma-ray and cosmic-ray telescopes, gravitational antennas and underground observatories for dark matter, double beta-decay, low-energy neutrinos and proton decay. These efforts surrounding the roadmap will also take account of similar European efforts in particle physics (the CERN Council Strategy group, see CERN Courier September 2006 p29) and astrophysics (the European strategic planning group for astronomy, ASTRONET), and will be input, through ApPEC, to national agencies and European committees on large infrastructures (such as the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure). Coordination with other regional roadmaps, in the US and Asia, will also be sought, with a view to optimal distribution of global infrastructures.

The participants at the launch workshop agreed that ASPERA's programme, the importance of which cannot be underestimated, will be daunting and challenging, fully justifying the motto Per aspera ad astra ("with difficulty to the stars").

• At the outset, ASPERA comprises the following funding agencies: CNRS (France), BMBF (Germany), CEA (France), FCT (Portugal), FNRS (Belgium), FOM (Netherlands), FWO (Belgium), INFN (Italy), MEC (Spain), MEYS (Czech Republic), SNF (Switzerland), DEMOKRITOS (Germany), PPARC (UK), PTDESY (Germany), FECYT (Spain) and VR (Sweden), together with CERN. One of its goals is to include all European national agencies that have programmes in astroparticle physics. For further information contact Thomas Berghoefer (e-mail For information about ASPERA in general, contact the coordination manager, Nathalie Olivier (e-mail

ALICE collaboration presents awards to two Italian suppliers

During the "ALICE week" held on 19–23 June in Bologna, the collaboration honoured two Italian suppliers, Istituto Trentino di Cultura (ITC)-irst and MIPOT SPA.

ITC-irst (Trento) Microsystems Division has produced 600 silicon double-sided sensors with consistency in quality and reliability. These sensors are installed in the inner tracking system, very close to where collisions will take place. ITC-irst was also rewarded for its important contribution to the offline computing project for ALICE. The Automated Reasoning Systems Division has provided ALICE with the RuleChecker software, which periodically checks the successive releases of the ALICE code and reports any violations.

The second company, MIPOT SPA, Cormons, has assembled silicon-strip sensors with all the remaining elements necessary to produce the silicon-strip modules. The silicon-strip detector is made of 1698 of these modules, providing more than 2.7 million analogue detection channels. The fabrication of the modules requires non-standard manufacturing, custom-made equipment and highly skilled personnel.