ESA Boost for Scientists

Are you a highly motivated researcher, interested in space science? Would you like to work with like-minded people for an intense period of 4 to 6 months, with full access to laboratory and production facilities and no administrative distractions? If so, the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Star Tiger pilot project might be for you. But you will need to hurry--applications must be submitted before 15 April 2002. And slots are scarce because ESA can only select a total of 10 scientists.

Star Tiger aims to produce a compact colour terahertz imager using state-of-the-art micromachining technology. It will operate in two frequencies, 250 GHz and 300 GHz, and will be used to produce pictures of natural terahertz-wave emission. "If we succeed in building the world's first terahertz imager operating in these frequencies, it would represent a true breakthrough for submillimetre-wave remote sensing from space. In the field of planetary and atmospheric sensing, linear arrays capable of simultaneously measuring height-resolved spectral features would have a major impact on issues such as climate change and ozone chemistry," explains Peter de Maagt, ESA's project manager for Star Tiger.

Young scientists are invited to apply, according to de Maagt: "I wouldn't initially place a constraint on seniority or lack of it. Basically we are aiming at all levels, although there are minimal requirements. Due to the way Star Tiger is set up, there is no time for training. The person must be at least knowledgeable in his or her area."

Star Tiger will be hosted by the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in England from 3 June to 4 October 2002. To provide the maximum chance of success, the Star Tiger team will have at their disposal the full resources of RAL's Space Science and Technology Department's Central Microstructure Facility and Millimetre Wave Technology Group. A support team of approximately 30 engineers and scientists at RAL will also assist the Star Tiger team during the 4 months. The programme will be run on a no financial cost, no financial gain basis. Although participating scientists' expenses, such as travel, accommodation, and food, will be covered by a daily allowance, the scientists' home institutes will have to continue to pay their salaries for the duration of the Star Tiger programme.

So, given that you'll have to persuade your institution to release you from your normal duties in order to take part, what can you, and ESA, expect to gain from the experience? "The individual researcher will have several benefits. They will have priority access to state-of-the-art facilities and will be allowed to work together with an international group of researchers to try out their ideas on the spot. Furthermore, participants will retain the rights to use all potential patents that come out of their research," says de Maagt. Meanwhile Niels Jensen, head of ESA's Technology Programmes Department, hopes that "by creating a highly motivated team of researchers and experts and letting them work together in the same laboratory for an intense period with everything they could possibly require, we may create a synergy not attainable to the same extent in conventional R&D. This will provide a very real chance of a key scientific breakthrough in a technological area."

As a pilot project, the Star Tiger programme's objective is to prove the concept as a framework for future similar initiatives. "The Star Tiger concept is generally applicable to all innovative technology research. If successful, we intend to have follow-on Star Tiger projects. However, details remain to be fixed depending on the outcome of the pilot case," says de Maagt.

In order to qualify for participation in the Star Tiger programme, applicants should have experience in one or more of the following research areas: lithography, microelectromechanical systems fabrication, radio frequency (RF) system design, optical and RF photonic bandgap design, test and measurement, charge-coupled device imaging, packaging/micro/self-assembly, mechanical design, materials sciences, solid state physics, or general physics. Applications can be submitted online through the Star Tiger Web site.

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