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Interview with ISSI-BJ Executive Director Prof. Maurizio Falanga



Prof. Maurizio Falanga took up duty as ISSI-BJ Executive Director in 2012, right after the establishment of the institute. Since then, he has served a four-year term from 2012 to 2016 and from 2017 to 2019 (ad interim). Since he is leaving office at the end of 2019, we have seized the opportunity to ask him some questions about his experience working at ISSI-BJ. 
 
Can you briefly introduce your experience at ISSI-BJ? 
 
I am very proud and honored to be the founding Executive Director of ISSI-BJ.
It was a great pleasure for me to work in Beijing and to implement my vision to promote the growth of the institute. Even more importantly, it was essential for me to be able to listen to the 'voice' of the diverse international scientific communities. I think that neutrality represents an essential factor that helps us adapt to the heterogeneous scientific environment and efficiently carry out a broad variety of science activities. Another significant part of this job is the intercultural environment I was exposed to, as ISSI-BJ staff is very international. I spent around 30% of my yearly working time in Beijing and as the Executive director, I had to possess the ability to encourage and reward the staff when required. Furthermore, since ISSI-BJ is an international institute with a limited staff, I think that the distance between the personnel and the Director should be reduced. This implies that on one side, the Executive Director should have the authority to make decisions, on the other side, she/he should be capable to humbly listen to her/his hard-working staff. 
 
How has ISSI-BJ changed since its inauguration until now? 
 
Since the inauguration ceremony of ISSI-BJ back in 2012 rapid progress has been made. Until now, we have hosted five workshops leading to the publications of the corresponding books, 20 forums whose summary is released in the forum-related magazine called TAIKONG ('Outer space' in Chinese), a total of 38 international teams have been approved, and two very successful Space Science Schools have taken place. Furthermore, in the context of our outreach program, we have hosted 13 Understanding Science seminars for the general public. The quality of ISSI-BJ's activities and outputs is competitive, and that is reflected in our events’ popularity in Asia, but not only. At ISSI-BJ we are oriented towards an international audience — more than 50% of our visitors are coming from Western countries — and therefore, we focus on arranging our events accordingly. Hitherto the relatively young age of our institute paired with its success did not prompt us to implement major changes in the way ISSI-BJ operates; nonetheless, we keep striving towards its continuous improvement, which is also increasing the visibility of our institute. 
 
How does ISSI-BJ differentiate itself in the international scientific landscape? 
 
ISSI-BJ is an institute of excellence aiming to serve the different space science communities as an international and multi-disciplinary platform. One of its strengths is we try not merely to make decisions but rather to give recommendations. This helps us maintain ISSI-BJ's neutrality as well as our ability to bring together prominent scientists coming from various institutions, like NASA, ESA, JAXA, and different countries, for example, Russia, China, India to talk about science and future missions concepts. ISSI-BJ is open to all space science disciplines as well as nationalities as long as it is 'science first' and it maintains 'excellent quality.'

What is ISSI-BJ’s achievement you are most proud of?

ISSI-BJ is successfully employing the same tools as ISSI in Bern; however, I’ve introduced the forum-related output — 
TAIKONG magazine — as well as the Space Science School in Beijing. Our outreach program — Understanding Science and scientific seminars — is also well established. In addition, I am honored to say that ISSI-BJ is currently able to connect with high-level agencies and scientists to promote innovative scientific activities in Beijing. Therefore, I am very proud of the numerous goals achieved since 2012 and that stand out when visiting our webpage at www.issibj.ac.cn or consulting our ISSI-BJ Annual Reports. 
 
What is/are the greatest challenge ISSI-BJ will have to face in the future? 
 
With no doubt, we are positively carrying out our mandate at ISSI-BJ. The institute fulfills a unique and critical role as an inclusive neutral hub bringing together various agencies and individuals involved in space science studies. We do put special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region but we are also well-connected with the global network of science experts. Regrettably, ISSI-BJ is severely under-resourced though, especially in view of the enormous potential of the Chinese space science research projects and the growing importance of international cooperation in space science. I think that this is a compelling case of an ambitious strategic plan that could help ISSI-BJ expand on a large scale over the next few years. 
 
If you had to describe the activities held at ISSI-BJ in just one or two sentences, how would you summarize them? 
 
Just excellent. Some key words to describe ISSI-BJ would be: young, modern, dynamic, future-oriented, innovative, and of great interest to the international space communities. 
 
How have international scientific cooperation models changed throughout these years, especially in regard to Chinese international scientific relations? 
 
The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is following an 'open door policy' in regard to international scientific collaboration and following this principle, ISSI-BJ is an open door to reveal to the world what China is accomplishing in the space science field. In my view, a big country has to contribute to a sounder understanding of outer space to bequeath a legacy for later generations. Asia is investing a significant amount of money in space science; however, cost-sharing as well as the exchange of scientific knowledge and technological expertise represent some fundamental elements to advance rapidly in space science studies without repeating past mistakes. As a result, China is more and more open to international collaboration and similarly, ISSI-BJ is equally willing to support projects from any Chinese or international scientists or institutes. This is the reason why we are seeking researchers coming from all over the world to work together in Beijing. 
 
Would you describe your position as the one of a 'stateless ambassador for international scientific relations'? 
 
No, I do not see myself as an ambassador but a humble supporter of space science communities. As I have an extensive network of scientific personalities that help me better promote scientific activities to serve the needs of many space science disciplines, I am entrusted with the responsibility and authority to invite them to ISSI-BJ. It comes without saying that such a mission takes a lot of my time which I thus cannot dedicate to my own research. In fact, I am a scientist too. 
 
How do you envision the future of ISSI-BJ? 
 
In order to answer this question, I would like to use the statement issued by the Visiting Committee which reviews ISSI-BJ work every three years:

"In conclusion, we feel that there is a strong case for an ambitious strategic plan. This plan must however jealously defend the neutrality and independence of ISSI-BJ, which is a core value as well as the international standing and coherence of the ISSI 'brand.'"

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For more information, please contact ISSI-BJ PR and Editorial Manager Laura Baldis
laura.baldis@issibj.ac.cn

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