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‘More than just a treat for scientists’

Researchers can’t wait to start doing measurements with the Einstein Telescope. It will be a world-class underground observatory, up to ten times more sensitive than its predecessors. According to Stan Bentvelsen – who with Guido Derks forms the management of the Einstein Telescope project office – the facility is also of interest to parties from far beyond the realm of science.

I know, the name ‘Einstein Telescope’ isn’t perhaps the most appropriate for the underground observatory that in a few years’ time will start detecting gravitational waves. After all, it’s not a traditional telescope like the familiar dishes that peer up at the stars in the sky. No, the Einstein Telescope will be a measuring instrument, 250 metres deep underground, capable of listening for gravitational waves and ten times more sensitive than existing telescopes. And it will be able to carry out at least a thousand times more observations. Scientists – and I’m one of them – can’t wait to get to work with it. We’re convinced we’ll soon be able to gain a huge amount of new and fascinating information about the universe.

The Einstein Telescope is more than just a treat for scientists. Companies and knowledge institutions are already working on solutions to all kinds of technical challenges. Universities, polytechnics, and vocational colleges are educating young people who would have a bright, exciting future in their own region. And it’s been calculated that every euro invested in the Einstein Telescope will generate a three or four-fold return.

But that’s still a long way off. Since January this year, our project office in Maastricht has been investigating the feasibility of the project. The key question is whether the Einstein Telescope can be successfully constructed in the border region of (Dutch) South Limburg, Flanders, Wallonia, and North Rhine-Westphalia?

We’ll first need to properly survey the terrain to find the ideal underground location for the observatory. Equally important is to consider what it will mean above ground too. Once the construction phase is over, you’ll see hardly anything of the Einstein Telescope on the surface. That’s fine, but even during the construction phase we want to be extremely careful with the beautiful landscape and cause as little harm as possible to the area. But to be perfectly honest: construction won’t be entirely nuisance-free.

That means that our project office doesn’t only include scientists, geologists, and tunnellers from the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. We also have experts on sustainability, nature and landscape, planning, the environment, cross-border legislation and regulations, project management, finance, communication, and logistics around the table.

And all those sometimes generate fascinating and sometimes feisty discussions. Everyone’s contribution is indispensable and it’s great to see all these different perspectives coalescing step by step into a single plan. We’re optimistic and our commitment is one thousand per cent! However, we there are still a lot of questions that we don’t have answers to, so we don’t want to start rejoicing too soon either. In the current phase – exploring feasibility – it’s realism that’s counts.

Stan Bentvelsen

Prof. Stan Bentvelsen is scientific director of the Einstein Telescope project office in the Euregion Meuse-Rhine. He’s also director of the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef) and a professor at the University of Amsterdam.

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