The presentation ceremony for the 2017 edition of the Aspen Institute Italia Award for scientific research and collaboration between Italy and the United States provided an opportunity to celebrate two of the Institute’s core values: that of promoting transatlantic relations and that of facilitating interdisciplinary debate.
The Panel Debate on the future of research and the economics of space exploration, has been introduced by the Nobel Prize Winner Samuel C.C. Ting, Professor Roberto Battiston – President of the Italian Space Agency, Luciano Maiani – Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics and Dr. Colleen Hartman – Director of the Science and Exploration of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
The discussion at the event took as its starting premise recent major scientific discoveries which, a century on the formulation of the theory of relativity, have posed fresh questions and new challenges. One issue examined was the importance of the motivations that fuel research, both from the standpoint of setting research aims and from the perspective of funding. In particular, the participants explored what might be the proper balance between “curiosity-driven” research and research based on market imperatives. With Italy ranked as the sixth global power in the space sector, it was observed that the country is in the running to become a key European player in related scientific research and industrial development, boasting a strong track record in these fields and a full complement of firms spanning the supply chain.
Now in its second year, the prize was awarded to six scientists who co-authored a study entitled “Wind from the black-hole accretion disk driving a molecular outflow in an active galaxy”. By crossing data gathered from two space telescopes, the study demonstrates that powerful winds driven by black holes at the center of galaxies can curb the formation of new stars.
The work was judged as worthy of the Award on the basis of its scientific merit, as was also recognized by its publication in the March 26, 2015 issue of the scientific journal Nature, which gave it front-page coverage. The study was viewed as falling within the longstanding and well-established tradition of collaborative efforts between Italian and American scientists in the field of X-ray astronomy, pioneered in the United States by Bruno Rossi and Riccardo Giacconi (winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002), and was deemed to bolster transatlantic scientific collaboration as promoted by the Aspen Award. It was noted that this study opens up new horizons for research on the evolution of galaxies; the published findings stem from the use of first-rate space technologies and will underpin the scientific aims of future X-ray space observatories of NASA and the European Space Agency, with important technological input from Italy.
The Call for 2018 Award Entries is now available on the Institute’s website.