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‘Proud to host this extraordinary challenge’

Michel Stassart is the new Walloon representative for the Einstein Telescope in the EMR Project Office, working out of GRE-Liège. An introduction through a few questions.

What motivated you to get into the Einstein Telescope project?

‘The Einstein Telescope (ET) project represents a unique fusion of fundamental science and cutting-edge engineering. After spending 25 years in aerospace, the challenge of returning to more scientific activities is exhilarating. It has allowed me to reconnect with my initial passion for theoretical physics while combining my industrial experience in the space sector. The potential of ET is huge and fascinating. We are potentially on the verge of opening a new window on the universe thanks to the detection of gravitational waves, discovered eight years ago. This discovery could become a new backbone for our understanding of the universe and its deep mechanisms, while at the same time offering considerable opportunities for economic and industrial development.’

‘Einstein Telescope is a major project for the region and an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.’

Michel Stassart
Can you give an example of a technological development needed for ET that would have economic spin-offs?

‘The development of mirrors that are much more precise than those used in the space sector will give an immediate industrial advantage to the company that controls their production. What’s more, the ET project is in line with the major scientific initiatives, known as Big Science, such as those that took place at the Solvay conferences 100 years ago and which gave Belgium, and Walloon industry in particular, a worldwide reputation.’

In your view, what are the current big projects for the Einstein Telescope?

‘First of all, communication. We need to convince political decision-makers, industry and the general public of the positive impact that the telescope should have. We have every reason to be proud of hosting this extraordinary challenge, which has the potential to transform our region and give it worldwide visibility. As far as the political world is concerned, I want to explain and convince them that the ET is a major project for the region and an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.

Secondly, and most importantly, we need to involve a wide range of industrial players in the technological developments required by the scientists who dreamed up this telescope, for example in optics, cryogenics, vacuum, precision mechanics, etc. We need to encourage collaboration between companies and research institutions to develop the necessary technologies, which will, I hope, lead to the creation of new products and services and the positioning of companies as leaders in their markets. New spin-offs will certainly be created as part of this project.  If we compare this Einstein Telescope with CERN, for example, it is important to note that 50% of the latter’s day-to-day economic returns are generated within a 50 km radius. If the ET is built in the Euregio Meuse Rhin (EMR), the whole of Wallonia and neighbouring regions will be positively impacted. Overall, initial estimates of the economic return to Wallonia show that a euro invested in the ET will be multiplied by 3 during the ET’s preparation, construction and operation phases.

Finally, the implementation of the telescope must be green. This means that the project must respect the environment and the landscape and, if possible, be neutral in terms of CO2 emissions. The efficient, local and circular management of materials excavated during the construction of the infrastructure must be a priority. We’re talking here about an estimated 4,000,000 m3 of rock and earth to be brought to the surface and treated.’

Exciting! A final word?

‘ET reminds me of a double butterfly effect. On the one hand, an immense cause (the collision of black holes) causes tiny effects on future ET instruments (deformation of space-time) and, on the other hand, these tiny observations, these ‘butterfly wings’, will cause immense effects, the scale of which is still difficult to estimate. Small cause, big consequences.’

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