Featured Institution Interview
In a recent analysis of
Essential Science IndicatorsSM from
Reuters, the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica
(INAF) had the highest percent
citations from February to May of this year in the
field of Space Science. Their current record in the
database includes 1,217 papers cited a total of 15,081
times between January 1, 1999 and June 30,
In the interview below, ScienceWatch.com talks with
Dr. Tommaso Maccacaro, President of the INAF, and Dr.
Paolo Vettolani, the Director of the INAF's Projects
Department, about the organization's history and
How do you account for the INAF's increase
in the number of citations in the field of Space Science in recent
Funding for research, in particular for fundamental (as opposed to
applied) research is dramatically shrinking in Italy. There is a growing
consensus that the fewer resources should be distributed based upon
scientific merit. Hence the effort by INAF scientists to continue producing
first-class research results.
Does this reflect a deliberate plan to enhance the
organization's research effort in this field, or was this an
unexpected or serendipitous development?
Large Binocular Telescope
an extensive gallery INAF
It is more serendipitous than planned; again, it may be related to the fact
that when the resources are limited it is the strongest groups that should
be preserved and fed, so as to maintain international competitiveness.
Are there specific areas of research within the realm of
Space Science on which the INAF particularly focuses?
Actually not. There are areas in which INAF is strong, for instance,
high-energy astrophysics, for which there is a long tradition in the
country. In other important areas we are admittedly weak, and, following
the suggestions of the long-term plan formulated by the INAF Scientific
Council, the Institute is trying to upgrade.
What factors or circumstances led the INAF to its work
in this field?
INAF is the National Institute of Astrophysics in Italy, which was
formed in the year 2000 by joining 12 astronomical observatories, and in
2005 it was joined by three Institutes of the National Research Council
working in the areas of high-energy astrophysics, planetary science, and
radio-astronomy. Therefore, working in the field of Space Sciences is the
mission of the Institute.
What is your prediction for the state of our knowledge
about this particular field 10 years from now?
Space Science has progressed very rapidly in the last 10 years with the
advent of new, extremely powerful observational facilities—both
ground- and space-based, such as the 8-meter class telescopes in Chile and
Hawaii. In a sense Space Science has became as "big" a science as particle
physics has been for many years. This trend is going to continue with the
advent in the next decade of even bigger facilities like the Extremely
Large Telescopes of the 30- to 40-meters class, the Square Kilometer Array,
and the James Webb Space Telescope.
These projects will allow exploration of the Cosmos to larger distances in
space and time, in greater detail, and over the whole electromagnetic
spectrum. It will also be possible to acquire better knowledge of the Sun
and the Solar System and of extraterrestrial planets. The discovery of
earth-like planets, in particular, will be a gigantic step ahead.
What research fields or capabilities do you see as
critical for the future of the INAF?
To maintain state-of-the-art facilities for ground-based and space
observations, and to be able to participate in major international
Paolo Vettolani, Director Projects Department
KEYWORDS: ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORIES, NATIONAL INSTITUTIONS,
FUNDING, HIGH-ENERGY ASTROPHYSICS, PLANETARY SCIENCE, RADIO ASTRONOMY,
TELESCOPES, GROUND-BASED OBSERVATIONS, SPACE OBSERVATIONS.