Platform MAP: Platform Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics
In 2020, the activities of the Platform MAP and of its member organisations were strongly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the foreseen events had to be cancelled or postponed. In particular, the Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen Symposium to be jointly organised with the Swiss Physical Society (SPS) on 3 July and the Euler-Committee closure event foreseen for 20–21 November 2020 were both postponed to 2021. The Prix Schläfli could be attributed, but the award ceremony was also postponed. The meetings of the Round Table International were discontinued and only one of the usually two meetings of the MAP Plenum took place per videoconference.
The main highlight of the Platform MAP in 2020 was the Open Data Survey, which was completed by 201 scientists with a broad distribution of scientific fields and career levels between 10 June and 15 July. A document presenting the results on the 16 multiple-choice questions and a summary of the many comments received has been published on-line in October.
The other main activity of the Platform MAP in 2020 was the coordination of the SCNAT project to elaborate discipline-specific community roadmaps for large research infrastructures to be funded in 2025—2028. On a mandate by SERI, all four thematic platforms invested a lot of time and effort in 2020 to provide by early January 2021 a close-to-final preview version of seven roadmaps for research infrastructures in biology, chemistry, geosciences, particle physics, astronomy, photon science and neutron science.
Finally, the publication in the series “Swiss Academies Communications” of the COSPAR Report 2018—2020 by the Committee for Space Research (CSR) had significant echo in the media.
The Swiss Committee on Space Research (CSR) published in summer 2020 its biennial report “Space Research in Switzerland 2018—2020” to the international Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). This was for the first time edited in the “Swiss Academies Communications” series, which resulted in much more visibility on the numerous and various space activities conducted in Switzerland. Together with an interview of Renato Krpoun (Swiss Space Office) entitled “Die Schweiz ist eine Weltraumnation” and conducted by the NCCR PlanetS, this got quite some echo in the media.
The Platform MAP published a document “Open Data: Results of the MAP Survey”, presenting in graphical form with accompanying text the distribution of the multiple-choice answers to the MAP Open Data Survey (see below).
The Platform MAP supports its member organisation for their own publications. These are the international journal Astronomy & Astrophysics (SSAA) and “Elemente der Mathematik” (SMS), plus three communication tools of member societies: the SPG Mitteilungen, SSS-Bulletin, and the SSCr Newsletter.
The foreseen Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen Symposium to be organised jointly by the Platform MAP, the Swiss Physical Society (SPS) and the Physikalische Gesellshaft Zürich (PGZ) on 3rd July 2020 had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 would have marked the 175th birthday of W.C. Röntgen (1845—1923) and the 125th anniversary of his discovery of X-rays. The Euler-Committee closure event to take place on 20–21 November 2020 was also postponed.
The Platform MAP does not organise its own school, but supports the schools of its member organisations, such as the Saas-Fee Course in astronomy, the CHIPP PhD Winter School or Zuoz summer school, or the Zurich School of Crystallography. Unfortunately, in 2020 almost all of the foreseen events had to be cancelled or postponed due the pandemic.
In 2020 the usual meetings of the Round Table "Swiss Representation in International Organisations and Research Infrastructures" (RoTIORI) were discontinued. The first meeting scheduled on April 2nd was cancelled due the pandemic and a virtual meeting in autumn was not found to be essential, because the immediate priority was the finalisation of the community roadmaps for research infrastructures due by early 2021.
The Platform MAP worked on four distinct community roadmaps written rather independently by the relevant societies and committees. CHIPP wrote a roadmap on particle and astro-particle physics, the SCFA was in charge of the astronomy roadmap, while the two other roadmaps were in the hands of the Swiss Neutron Science Society (SNSS) and the newly created Swiss Society for Photon Science (SSPh). M. Türler being in charge of the overall roadmap project at SCNAT in collaboration with Hans-Rudolf Ott (ETHZ) invested significant effort in the information, coordination, and reporting of the numerous activities, which have been conducted in parallel by all thematic platforms of the SCNAT on an official mandate by SERI.
SCNAT was in contact with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) concerning the request to rename the Agassiz Promontory on the moon given the racist views promoted pseudo-scientifically by the Swiss scientist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873). After a negative answer by IAU on 30 September 2020, SCNAT sent a letter on 4 November to IAU stating it regrets this decision and would support the renaming.
The Prix Schläfli 2020 in Astronomy was awarded to Oliver Müller (Univ. of Basel) for his study of dwarf galaxies around Centaurus A, which have cosmological implications. The award ceremony was foreseen to take place at the SSAA annual assembly in October in Saint-Luc, but had to be cancelled. The Prix Schläfli 2021 will be in Mathematics, the jury already reviewed the nominations by the end of 2020.
For the time being, the promotion of young scientists in the Platform MAP essentially takes place via its member societies. A dedicated webpage of the Platform reports PhD prizes, events and other news on the topic, including press releases on Science Olympiads.
In 2020, we had only one MAP Plenum meeting with the representatives of the MAP member organisations, because the first one foreseen on 23rd March had to be cancelled on short notice. The only meeting of the year took place virtually on 13 October with a scientific talk given by Prof. Nicolas Gisin (University of Geneva) on “Quantum entanglement”.
The MAP Presidium held three meetings in 2020, the first one in early March still in presence at the House of Academies and the two others virtually in September and in November. Besides the usual activities and decisions, the Presidium completed a questionnaire on its ideas for improving the collaboration between the different thematic platforms in the Science Division. Collecting ideas for new projects of the Platform MAP to be started in 2021 was a recurring agenda item over the year. Three main projects have been identified: 1) a series of portraits of women scientists in the fields of MAP, 2) the launch of an annual Young Faculty Meeting on the model of what is done in the Platform Chemistry, and 3) setting up an exhibition on Math & Art.
The Platform MAP is, since 2019, a national node for Switzerland of UNESCO’s International Day of Light (IDL) celebrated every year on May 16th. The format of the celebration had to be adapted to the pandemic and people were invited to share on social media the role of light in their lives, possibly with a short video. Since IDL 2020 marked the 60th anniversary of the first demonstration of a laser in 1960, the Swiss Physical Society (SPS) published a detailed report by René Salathé (EPFL) to record the development and milestones in laser science from 1960 to 1980 in Switzerland.
The website of the Platform MAP announces most of the events and activities of its member organisations. The overall redesign of the SCNAT portal makes it even more attractive for member organisations, such that the Swiss Society of Crystallography (SSCr) decided in autumn 2020 to migrate its website to the SCNAT portal.
A new File “Physics and Astronomy” was released at the occasion of the web redesign under “SCNAT knowledge” to present news, events and thematic overviews of national relevance on astronomy, space research, and physics, especially particle physics, for an interested general public.