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An elite technology school

02/12/2008

When anyone mentions innovation we tend to equate it with industrial advances, new technologies and scientific discoveries. Yet according to the experts all it takes to innovate is a good idea.

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    Being determined to reach the top in one of the most important disciplines of the day, like scientific instrumentation, and to pursue all of the training and other preparation that goes with it, certainly increases one's chances of coming up such an idea. The philosophy of the International School for Advanced Instrumentation (IScAI) is based on this approach. The School has been set up to train professionals who can work on and lead the kind of multimillion euro international projects that only a few, the best prepared, can aspire to.

    The IScAI is the largest international project of its kind. It is designed to be a centre of excellence, producing experts who will help build very high quality instruments. It is financed by "Consolider Ingenio 2010," a global initiative based at the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS (GTC), which provides resources for Spanish astronomy both by developing science programmes and by linking experts in technology and astronomic instruments with researchers in the most important Astrophysics related disciplines.

    Under the auspices of the GTC, one of the largest and most advanced telescopes in the world, the IScAI will train researchers from disparate fields including engineering, astronomy and physics. The trainees will not just go on to be leaders in their own areas of science - they will also be perfectly versed in the processes and phases of instrumentation. They will be skilled, competitive people with an overview of all aspects of science today.

    Not so long ago, university students took a short, intense course of study and were guaranteed work for life. Today the landscape has changed a lot - University is no longer a passport into work. Continuous training is the requirement these days, including for professionals who are already in work and need to keep their skills up to date. In this context, the International School for Advanced Instrumentation will be a valuable resource for those wishing to be at the forefront of scientific technology.

    Rafael Guzmán, Executive Director of the IScAI, lists one of the School's main aims as giving "our students the opportunity to build a successful professional career in instrumentation at the best research centres and advanced technology companies in the world."

    An investment in the future

    The use of technology in industry and commerce is advancing all the time. The same thing is happening in science. In recent years there has been more and more demand for increasingly complex scientific instruments. Equipment of this kind can normally only be built by international consortia and it takes a high level financial investment and effective joint working by technology companies.

    Taking astronomy as an example, at the beginning of the 1990s the bill for a large instrument designed to observe the cosmos would typically have been a million euros, and such instruments were built by small teams at the main universities involved in the project. In 2007, the budget for latest generation instruments at large observatories averaged between 20 and 70 million euros.

    The IScAI recognises the importance of being able to resource this type of project and will address the need for specialised personnel drawn from all of the branches of technology involved in designing and building advanced instruments. These people will need to be prepared to grapple with the challenges of new technologies, which in our example of Astronomy will be the new era of large Earth and Space telescopes.

    "This is an excellent opportunity because students will be able to gain practical experience in industry. There will be a very real likelihood that they will be taken on by the company they are placed at, providing industry with links to the research centres that will build the next generation of scientific instruments," said Rafael Guzmán.

    Advanced training

    It is hoped that students graduating from IScAI will be able to lead teams; work as senior engineers designing and building software, electronics and optical-mechanical components; manage collaboration between large international teams (which is needed for the completion of ambitious instrument projects); and train scientists and engineers to use all of this instrumentation to maximum effect.

    A pilot project was run last year as a result of which the initiative will be opened up to other scientific disciplines, although it will continue to have a strong emphasis on Astronomy. "In 2010 we want to start a pilot project on nanotechnology, biomedical sciences and environmental sciences", explains the School's Director. The School will also be a pioneer of distance learning via the internet.

    "We are very much looking forward to the beginning of the first course", says Guzmán. It is the first school of its kind in the world in that it is backed by institutions like the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), la University of Florida (UF) in the U.S.A, the Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica of Mexico (INANOE), the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM), and the GMV and Fractal SLNE companies, which are both based in Madrid.

    The IScAI will open its doors on the 8th June 2009 and registration will run from the 9th December 2008 until mid January 2009. Students who are interested in working with large international groups and specialising in an area of future research that is currently under-exploited now have a unique opportunity to gain advanced knowledge and professional experience. It is said that to be irreplaceable one should always try to stand out from the crowd. A very good way of standing out is by having the best professional training available.

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