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Nicolas Thomas (right) takes over as director of the NCCR PlanetS from Willy Benz. Images: Alessandro Della Bella / UBE

Dear Readers,

After two years of virtual meetings, the members of PlanetS met at their General Assembly in Grindelwald in late April. A three-day meeting with a record number of participants and a visit to the historic SPHINX astronomical observatory at the top of the Jungfraujoch made this meeting a very special event for all. For some, it was an opportunity to exchange again with friends, for others it was a chance to meet their colleagues in person for the first time. As anticipated, the assembly performed its magic. Everyone has returned home with new ideas and a renewed enthusiasm. The team spirit is here again!

The General Assembly also marked the conclusion of the second phase of PlanetS. Like rockets, NCCRs have three stages, each with a duration of four years. As for rockets, the first stage provides the critical lift-off and the initial boost while the second ensures the placing in orbit. The success of each step is essential to the next. According to SNSF, PlanetS successfully completed its first two stages and therefore obtained the green light for the third and last one. A critical stage, as it will enable us to reach the final destination or, better, to prepare a new beginning.

After eight years, the time has come for me to step down as Director of PlanetS. My successor, Prof. Dr. Nicolas Thomas, will have the opportunity to talk to you about this new beginning. For me, it was a great pleasure and honour to have been able to actively participate in the first two phases. It has also been a privilege to keep you updated about our activities via this Newsletter.

I wish you all the best,

Willy Benz

Dear Readers,

As of 31 May 2022, Willy Benz has stepped down as Director of PlanetS. Those of us that know Willy well are fairly sure he didn’t step down willingly but “Time and tide wait for no man”. The investment that Willy made personally in applying for setting up PlanetS cannot be over-estimated. The successful application was at the third attempt. Coordination at local and national level requires major effort in defining aims and objectives that not merely can be agreed by one’s scientific partners but that are also transparent and attractive to non-experts in the various institutions. This requires a clear view on the scientific goals and an ability to infuse those goals with an enthusiasm that can be sensed by institutional and governmental decision makers. The fact that Willy succeeded in obtaining the funding for PlanetS and maintaining the momentum of the NCCR through the first two phases (and in particular Phase 2 when an organization designed to support networking was not allowed to have in-person interactions) is testament to his skill in designing and managing scientific structures.

PlanetS now faces the next transition without Willy at the helm. And this will clearly be a challenge because his knowledge and careful approach to engaging with the local and national stakeholders in planetary science will be sorely missed. Fortunately, we will still be able to draw on his expertise in the coming years as a member of the Advisory Board. Nonetheless, the next generation will not have an easy task in sustaining and expanding PlanetS as it morphs into the envisioned Swiss Institute of Planetary Sciences (SIPS). There is a real need to ensure that the cooperation, coordination, and integration of planetary sciences activities that we see in Switzerland today, as originally foreseen by Willy more than a decade ago, is continued in the decades to come.

I look forward to leading our remarkable team into its next chapter and to welcoming you, dear readers, to the newsletter in the coming years.

With my best regards,

Nicolas Thomas


Categories: External Newsletter

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