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The project office is established, the ‘kwartiermaker’ can step down with peace of mind

Guido Derks is stepping down after a year and a half as the ‘kwartiermaker’ of the Einstein Telescope Project Office – Euregio Meuse-Rhine. The mission is complete, the organisation stands firm. From 1 January 2024, Derks will face a new challenge as the general director of the province of North Brabant. But first, a look back.

Guido Derks: “It has all happened very quickly. Two years ago, we were in intensive discussions with the Dutch National Growth Fund. And successfully so. It quickly became clear that in addition to a gigantic scientific challenge, there was also a significant civil engineering and cross-border regional collaboration task. There were enough scientists on board. The task then was to set up a project office that would deal with ‘feasibility’ and ‘collaboration between public entities’. I eagerly took on this challenge because I believe there is a unique opportunity for this euroregion.”

What did your role as ‘kwartiermaker’ entail?

“‘Kwartiermaken’… in English, I don’t think there is even a good word for it. A year and a half ago, we literally started in an empty building. There wasn’t even a chair to sit on. And look where we are now. We have major R&D facilities in Liège and Maastricht. With the commitments from the National Growth Fund, a major step has been taken towards funding the ‘grand project’. Moreover, an international governance has been set up. This involves regular consultations by ministers and other administrators overseeing the project office of the three countries. The commitment in Belgium and Germany is growing, from the administration, society, business, and science. Recently, the director of the renowned German Albert Einstein Institute fully endorsed our proposition. These statements are very important. The various feasibility studies that need to be carried out are underway. The environmental and project communication is up and running. The phase of quartermastering can be concluded. A new phase is dawning where we need to look again at what is now required and which people are needed. For me, it’s time to move on.”

“This is the only project where we are working concretely with so many institutes and governments across borders towards a clear goal”

Guido Derks
What was it like to work on a cross-border project?

“Martin Paul (the former chairman of the board of the University of Maastricht, ed.) put it very nicely at the time. He said that in this region we talk a lot about collaboration, but the Einstein Telescope is the only project where we are concretely collaborating across borders with so many institutions and governments towards a clear goal. In this sense, the ET collaboration is also a governmental voyage of discovery and a formidable task. It brings Belgians, Dutch, and Germans together at the table very intensively. These contacts and this collaboration are also valuable outside of the Einstein Telescope. We find each other more easily.”

Derks at the visit of the German and Dutch ambassadors to the ET Pathinder (June ’23)
What will you miss the most?

“For me, this was an excursion into a wondrous world. The world of the universe, black holes, and gravitational waves. Actually, magical. I have met so many interesting and passionate people in a short time. The scientific drive, the curiosity, the desire to make discoveries, is very fundamental. It’s great that I, as a policy maker ‘from outside this world’, could be intensely part of it. The importance of science cannot be underestimated.”

And: what can the scientist learn from the policy maker?

“Sometimes to make a decision quicker. Even when there are uncertainties. Contemplating and analysing is valuable and necessary, but sometimes you have to cut the knot because other disciplines also need to get to work.”

Derks at the signing of the agreement of intent between DZA Nikhef (October ’23)
Who will succeed you?

“Within the project office, the tasks are temporarily divided among themselves. This gives room for the partners to consider what is exactly needed in the next phase on our international stage. Stan Bentvelsen has the scientific lead and he is the first point of contact.”

Will the EMR bid succeed?

“Everyone is going for it. The coming years are still very much in the sign of investigations. And not just of the ground. Questions such as how we approach logistics, what the impact on the environment is, how we can operate sustainably, etc. The drive to put down a strong bid book is definitely there. What we can do ourselves, we also do. I think that, precisely through the collaboration of three countries, we can make a difference.”

Still, the question… and what if it doesn’t work out?

“Honestly, I don’t even want to think about it, because then you are dealing with the competition while we consciously want to focus on our own work. Let me say one thing about it: so much has already been set in motion in our euroregion in terms of collaboration between innovative companies, research institutes, and governments, there is a lot of lasting value in that. The best example is the ET Pathfinder. That is the test setup at the University of Maastricht. Here, techniques are tested for the Einstein Telescope, even if it wouldn’t be built here. That is a permanent R&D facility. The ET Pathfinder has given the Maastricht university a boost as a beta university. Those are things that matter in the long run.”

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