A win for science and the Lusatia region

German Center for Astrophysics - Research. Technology. Digitization. (DZA) wins competition for structural funding

September 29, 2022

Decision in the competition "Knowledge Creates Perspectives for the Region": The German Center for Astrophysics (DZA), a new large-scale research center dedicated to astrophysics and thus advancing research, technology development and digitization, is being built in Lusatia, Saxony.

The applicants include many renowned scientists, supported by major German science organizations such as the Max Planck Society, including Prof. Dr. Michael Kramer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and current President of the Astronomical Society.

The German Federal Minister of Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, together with the German State Leaders of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, and Saxony-Anhalt, Dr. Reiner Haseloff, announced today at a federal press conference that the joint astronomy and astroparticle physics initiative (DZA) has been selected in the competition to establish two large-scale research centers in Lusatia/Saxony and in the former mining region of Saxony-Anhalt.

The applicants included many well-known scientists, supported by the major German scientific organizations and the Astronomische Gesellschaft with the Council of German Observatories. Prof. Dr. Michael Kramer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and President of the Astronomical Society explains: "Astronomy is currently opening new windows to our cosmos, which not only fascinate science but also have the potential to change our world as a driver of technology and innovation. With the DZA, a large-scale research center with a forward-looking scientific program is being created."

Thus, German Astrophysics addresses the importance of a national large-scale research center for German participation in large-scale international astrophysics projects, which was already identified in its last "Denkschrift" memorandum. The DZA will ensure access for German science to future large-scale international projects and also open up opportunities for industry to participate in tenders.

Three Pillars
The concept of the DZA rests on three pillars:  First, the DZA will achieve cutting-edge astronomical research. This extends across the entire electromagnetic spectrum into the gravitational wave window. In the initial phase, thanks to the many synergies, there will be a concentration on radio and gravitational-wave astronomy. In the long term, the DZA will be dedicated to all astronomical data.

In the second pillar, data streams from all over the world will be pooled and processed at the DZA. This includes those from future large telescopes, such as the SKA observatory or the Einstein telescope. The data from these telescopes will require several times the data traffic on today's Internet and thus new technologies. The center is intended to deal with the data tsunami and in this way also accelerate the digitization of Germany.

The third pillar will be a technology center where, among other things, new semiconductor sensors, silicon optics and control techniques for observatories will be developed. Building on the experience and modern environment of industry in Saxony, new companies and further high-quality jobs will thus be created through spin-offs.  

Leading the initiative and designated founding director of the DZA is the scientific director of the European Space Agency ESA, Prof. Dr. Günther Hasinger.  "This competition opened up new perspectives, for the regions in Saxony and for our society - an important sign of the future in a difficult time. After a demanding one-and-a-half-year process in which our concept was put through its paces, we are happy that we can now implement our plan. Lusatia in Saxony is an ideal place for this for many reasons," Hasinger said. "We would like to thank everyone who supported us and look forward to future cooperation."

Science with Impact
Astrophysics is a high-tech science with great innovative power. Varifocals, ceramic hobs, essential components of cell phones, navigation systems or fast electronic bank transfers via satellite - all this exists thanks to astronomical research. At present, astrophysics is experiencing a real boom. Half of the Nobel Prizes in physics in the past decade were granted for astronomy, astrophysics and astro-particle physics. Astronomical observations today are fundamentally different from the astronomical research of earlier times. Modern telescopes are huge facilities, spread around the world, with international collaborations working with them. They are located in the Chilean highlands, the vastness of Australia, and deep in the ice of Antarctica. They require the most precise measurement techniques, and the data that new observatories will collect is many times the size of today's Internet. In the future, these data from all over the world will converge in Saxony, creating the largest civilian data set in the world. The DZA thus faces challenges that are also socially relevant. Forecasts predict that IT will soon consume 20 percent of global electricity production. The DZA aims to address these challenges, advance green computing and resource-saving digitization, and develop new technologies for tomorrow's society.

Prospects for the region
"Astronomy has repeatedly shown that it is not only a fascinating science for all, but also a driver of innovation. The DZA can therefore exert an enormously broad appeal in Saxony and beyond," says Michael Kramer. With its unique combination of research and development in IT, sensor technology and materials research and its need for manufacturing facilities, the DZA will provide economic impetus and create at least 3,000 sustainable jobs. The DZA's portfolio is diverse, offering jobs in the scientific field, but much more in the non-scientific field. With a Center for Innovation and Transfer (ZIT), the DZA is breaking new ground in the cooperation between research and industry. Through early, close cooperation with industry, universities and non-university research organizations, new technologies will be jointly developed. Through international visibility and networking, the DZA aims to attract skilled workers and create prospects for young people in the region. Cooperation partners are the universities, first and foremost the TU Dresden, and companies in technology development and data processing. More than 50 predominantly small and medium-sized companies have also supported the DZA initiative.

Seismic waves pass through the earth's surface permanently. For gravitational wave detectors, they are considerable interference factors. Particularly quiet geological conditions are also necessary for the development of measurement and production technologies. The unique seismographic conditions in the granite rock of Lusatia will be used by the DZA for its research and development of new devices. An underground research laboratory, the Low Seismic Lab, is to be built here in an area between Hoyerswerda, Bautzen and Kamenz, which will also be available for industrial applications, such as the development of quantum computers.

The city of Görlitz is an excellent location for the DZA because of its proximity to the university cities of Dresden, Wrocław and Prague and because of the promising new settlements in the innovation and high-tech sector. Here, an open campus for cutting-edge research is planned on the Kahlbaum site, embedded in the city, with the centers for astrophysics and data science, the technology center and the center for innovation and transfer. A visitor park is also part of the concept.

Construction phase
The funding provides for a three-year start-up phase before the center can be formally established. The TU Dresden will take over the project management during this period and will also contribute its technical expertise in the field of data analytics, artificial intelligence and high-performance computing. A planning team is to start promptly with offices at the Kahlbaum site in Görlitz and at the Low Seismic Lab in the district of Bautzen.


Additional information: Statements by the co-applicants

"A national centre for astrophysics was missing in Germany. It is a great gain for the German scientific landscape with international appeal. It is nice that it is being established in the east of Germany."
Prof. Dr. Christian Stegmann, Director of Astroparticle Physics, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY, head of the site in Zeuthen

The DZA will develop into a globally visible centre in the young field of gravitational wave astronomy and play an important role for German astrophysics in future large-scale projects such as the Einstein telescope."
Prof. Dr. Michèle Heurs, Leibniz Universität Hannover

"TU Dresden will be a strong and capable partner for the DZA. Together, we will not only break new ground in digitalisation with intelligent data analysis, but also develop new technology solutions with Green Computing and the Low Seismic Lab, thus providing important economic impulses from which not only astronomy but also society will benefit."
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang E. Nagel, Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Sciences (CIDS), Technische Universität Dresden

"Today, astronomy is already facing the challenges of tomorrow's society in processing and storing large amounts of data. The DZA wants to make significant contributions to the resource-saving digitisation of Germany."
Prof. Dr. Hermann Heßling, Berlin University of Applied Sciences, Chairman of the Association for Data-Intensive Radio Astronomy (VdR) e.V.

"Astronomy inspires. We cannot arouse interest in STEM subjects early enough. From kindergarten to school labs, further training for educators to programmes for trainees and the next generation of scientists, we are focusing on education."
Prof. Dr. Stefan Wagner, Landessternwarte Heidelberg and Professor at the Centre for Astronomy at the University of Heidelberg).

"Astronomy has always been a high-tech science. The technological challenges that the DZA will be working to solve offer a wide range of connecting factors for the regional economy, from small businesses to large industries."
Prof. Dr. Matthias Steinmetz (Spokesman of the Board, Leibniz Institute for astrophysics, Potsdam.

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