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‘The expertise we have built up here will be invaluable for the Einstein Telescope’

In November 2023, Einstein Telescope proponents came together at Liège to celebrate the results of the innovative R&D project E-TEST and it’s economical pendant ET2SMEs. Science-to-business contact Annick Pierrard at the Université de Liège was instrumental in these two initiatives and shares her thoughts on their results.

Annick Pierrard at the E-TEST & ET2SMEs kick-out event. Photo: Barbara Brixhe Photographies
First off, what were the goals of these two projects?

“E-TEST was conceived five years ago as a cross-border Interreg EMR project to prepare the Euregio Meuse-Rhine for the Einstein Telescope. There were two main activities, namely designing and creating a prototype cryogenic mirror for the facility, and geological studies to determine optimal underground locations for the Einstein Telescope facility.

In addition to this scientific angle, we also wanted to have an economical one: we want companies in the area to benefit from the opportunities that the Einstein Telescope could bring! That is why we designed ET2SMEs to inform companies and trigger them to work together and innovate their technologies.”

Is such collaboration important to you?

“Absolutely. Looking back, I have always been interested in working in the intersection of Science and Business for 20 years. Biochemistry captured my interest as a student, and after University I ended up in a role to foster cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer and innovation. For instance in a project to create a prototype wearable sensor for hospitalized patients together with scientists, medical professionals and engineers. It was great to push for such collaborations to develop around the theme of the Einstein Telescope as well.”

How did you get involved in these projects yourself?

“The immediate trigger was when I met Prof Christophe Collette, leading the Aerospatial & Mechanic research Unit at the Université de Liège. He told me about the idea to build a vibration-free mirror for the Einstein Telescope that works at 20 Kelvin, right above absolute zero. I immediately knew I wanted to be involved. We wrote and submitted the project together. I then joined the E-TEST Consortium as general coordinator and became business developer for ET2SMEs when that project was awarded one year later.”

And how has it been?

“It was definitely hard work and a rollercoaster! Our projects launched at the beginning of COVID, which meant no face-to-face meetings to kick off projects, or workshops to discuss how companies could lend their expertise to our technological challenges. But we made it work.

We designed and created the mirror prototype, which is presently being tested at CSL ULiège, organised meetings for the general public, issued vouchers to stimulate companies to work together in R&D projects, performed geological studies… We even convinced politicians to put in place a temporary freeze on wind parks, quarries and mining projects int the ET exploration zone in Wallonia, because those could cause vibrations that disturb the measurements of the Einstein Telescope.”

Why is involving companies so important?

“My scientists tell me that wherever the Einstein Telescope will be implemented, the expertise we have built up here will be invaluable in designing and producing the final technology. By involving regional companies in an early phase, we let them gain experience and position them on a world market. That always brings unexpected spin-offs. But research needs industry as well: companies help scientists keep their feet on the ground while they gaze at the stars.”

What do companies need in order to get involved?

“Businesses need very clear expectations. Of course they want work on the short and middle term, but high-tech companies also want a long-term vision for the future. The Einstein Telescope and all the activity it will attract is such a vision. To help prepare companies in our region for those opportunities, we are talking about online catalogues of ET technologies describing the expected technological challenges, regional but also cross-border valorisation strategies, and funding to keep stimulating R&D.”

Finally, what is the most surprising connection you’ve made?

“That was the work with the people behind the Landscape Park du Bocage sans Frontières (Ann-Sophie Debergh). Initially they were worried that we would build huge structures above ground, but of course the Einstein Telescope will sit 200-300 meters underground. We realized, together with the municipalities involved that we had a common goal in protecting this unique landscape.

That the Landscape Park du Bocage sans Frontières has now been awarded official status means that the core exploration zone for the Einstein Telescope will remain quiet enough to do the world’s most sensitive gravitational wave measurements!”

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