The Institute of Astrophysics (IA) was formally founded on March 2, 2018 and it commenced its operations in mid-2019. IA-FORTH was the natural evolution of the very active Crete Astrophysics Group that had already been operating for nearly 30 years within the Institute of Electronic Structure and Lasers (IESL) – FORTH and the Department of Physics of the University of Crete. From 2005 until the end of 2022 the members of the Astrophysics Group, which are now part of IA, have published ~810 refereed papers, making it the most productive and most cited astrophysics group per researcher in Greece while they were awarded ~11.6MEuros in competitive research funding, including 3 ERC Grants. It should be noted that two (2) additional ERC Starting Grants were awarded in the summer of 2023, making IA-FORTH a proud host of 5 of the 6 ERC Grants in the theme of Universe Sciences (PE9) awarded in Greece. Moreover, over the same period, they trained a total of 19 PhD students and 32 postdocs, 22 of which have since moved to permanent positions in academia (16 in institutions outside Greece).
The main research facility of IA-FORTH is Skinakas Observatory, which was founded in 1984 by FORTH, the University of Crete, and the Max-Planck Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE), in Germany. The Observatory is located at a distance of 50km from the city of Heraklion, on top of Psiloritis mountain, at an altitude of 1750 meters and it is currently jointly operated by the Institute of Astrophysics and the Dept. of Physics of the University of Crete. It is worth mentioning that despite its proximity to Heraklion the quality of the atmosphere at Skinakas Observatory is superb, making it an ideal location for high-level astronomical observations. The 1.3m telescope of the observatory has been traditionally equipped with the latest astronomical instruments, including optical, near-IR cameras and a long slit spectrograph, as well as guest instruments such as OPTIMA, an extremely fast μsec-cadence photometer, which was used in the past. Over the past few years it hosts RoboPol, a specialised very accurate photopolarimeter designed specifically for this telescope.
The Institute has established long-term collaborations with research groups in leading institutes across the globe including the Astronomy Department of Caltech and the Harvard Center for Astrophysics in the US, CEA-Saclay in France, MPE and MPIfR in Germany, and IUCAA in India.
Currently, fall of 2023, the core of the Institute, in addition to the director, consists of 4 researchers, and 4 affiliated faculty, as well as 8 postdoctoral researchers and 18 PhD and 9 MSc students. Moreover, IA-FORTH hosts 3 distinguished scientists as lifetime honorary members and 3 faculty at universities outside Greece as affiliated research fellows.
The main goals of IA are to:
- perform cutting edge research in select areas of theoretical and observational astrophysics
- train students and early stage researchers in acquiring technical and analytical skills so as to address outstanding open questions in astrophysics and beyond
- engage the local community in astronomy public outreach activities and to provide educational resources for students and the general public
- serve the local and greater Greek society through actions that promote technological innovation, opportunities for enterprises and economic growth, and national security
Prof. Vassilis Charmandaris
Director of IA-FORTH