The Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI ERIC) will accept Romania as a Founding Observer. The decision was made at ELI ERIC’s 8th General Assembly (GA) Meeting held in Budapest on 13 June. It is an important development in the relationship between ELI ERIC and the ELI Nuclear Physics (ELI NP) Facility Romania is hosting.
“ELI was envisioned as three complementary Facilities,” says Caterina Petrillo, ELI ERIC General Assembly Chair, “and together they offer the world an unprecedented scientific capability, so we look forward to working together closely with our Romanian colleagues.”
By including Romania as a Founding Observer, ELI ERIC acknowledges the significant role of ELI NP in the development of the research infrastructure since its inception over a decade ago. This step is crucial for Romania's path towards becoming a future Host Member. It enables Romania to actively participate alongside other ELI ERIC members in envisioning the integration of the ELI NP facility into the ELI ERIC organisation, which already encompasses the two ELI facilities in the Czech Republic and Hungary.
"The Romanian government acknowledges and shares the principles on which ELI ERIC is founded and has taken comprehensive measures to ensure alignment with the ELI ERIC objectives and statutes," said Sebastian Burduja, Romanian Minister of Research, Innovation and Digitalisation, in a letter sent to the ELI ERIC GA Chair in May. The letter was co-signed by Sorin Costreie, the government-appointed high representative for ELI-NP
The letter goes on to emphasise Romania’s financial commitment to support ELI NP, pointing to its status as a national strategic infrastructure. It also states a willingness to contribute financially to the ERIC to “…finance activities related to the future integration of ELI NP into ELI ERIC.”
The agreement to bring ELI NP back into the ELI organisation comes after a long legal dispute that caused a political split. That dispute involved ELI NP’s host organisation which canceled a contract with institutes and companies working together in a consortium to deliver a key aspect of the facility, an accelerator producing gamma radiation to interact with high-power laser systems. A recent settlement agreement in that dispute helped open the door to enter ELI ERIC.
“It helps to focus on science and not politics,” says Allen Weeks, ELI ERIC Director General. “It is much better for the ELI Facilities to work together, as intended, and we already see the scientific impact of that cooperation.”
That cooperation on the Joint ELI User Programme has been a key driver to bringing the three ELI Facilities together for scientists to use. In the first year alone, more than 140 proposals have been submitted by researchers from over 23 countries.
There is high level of interest in ELI’s unique high-intensity laser systems, including the ELI NP lasers. With the ability to operate at 10 petawatts, they offer world-leading capabilities. The scientific cooperation was helped greatly by the Horizon 2020 funded IMPULSE project, in which ELI NP is an active partner and contributor along with the ELI ERIC Facilities.
The ongoing operations and commissioning at all the ELI Facilities will not be immediately affected by the decision. In addition, despite the legal settlement on ELI NP’s gamma source, there are still years of work to be done to deliver the systems to the scientific community. The Romanian government stated very clearly to the ELI ERIC members that it is committed to delivering the source, which is an important part of the scientific case of the facility.