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Job Annoucement: Full Time Director

The International Space Science Institute (ISSI) invites applications for a full-time position of Director starting August 1, 2021. The appointee will be a member of the Directorate of ISSI whose recognized scientific stature ensures the visibility and keeps the high scientific standards of the Institute.

Complete Job Posting "Full Time Director" >>



It is with great sadness that we must bid farewell to our founding father and honorary director

Johannes Geiss (1926-2020)

Johannes Geiss died on January 30, 2020 at the advanced age of 93. In him, we have lost a great scientist and supporter of the sciences forever.

Johannes Geiss was born on September 4, 1926 in Stolp in what was then Western Pomerania as the son of an estate manager. How different the world must have looked in that time, when his grandfather had the horse hitched to the cart every two days in order to travel to the barber in the neighboring village for a shave; not fifty years later, his grandson landed an experiment on the Moon.

During the war years, Johannes Geiss was able to attend Gymnasium (high school), which he left in 1944 with a Notabitur (early school-leaving qualification in wartime) in order to immediately start a physics degree in Göttingen. Even then, his lecturers must have been struck by the young student’s rapid comprehension and irrepressible need to communication, and he was thus employed as a teaching and research assistant even during his studies. In 1950, he obtained a degree in physics from Max von Laue, and he obtained his doctorate from Wolfgang Paul in 1953. The latter he referred to, with the greatest respect, as the real part of the equally well-known but more flamboyant Wolfgang Pauli, who worked at the ETH at the time; Geiss loved such wordplays which reveal themselves to mathematical initiates.

During his time in Göttingen, Johannes Geiss also met his wife, Carmen, with whom he shared a deep partnership all his life.

His first position as a physicist brought Johannes Geiss to Fritz Houtermans’ institute at the University of Bern. Houtermans wanted to apply mass spectrometry, with which Geiss had successfully been able to determine the isotopic composition of lead, to determine the age of meteoric matter. So, at the beginning of the fifties, his glass mass spectrometer with him, he went to Bern, which would become the new center of his life, and by 1974 he was a naturalized citizen of Switzerland.

Johannes Geiss brought a breath of fresh air to an institute which was perhaps a little outdated at the time and soon found enthusiastic companions to establish a group which would quickly make a name for itself in astrophysics. Periods spent abroad in Chicago with Harold Urey and as a young professor in Miami broadened and rounded out his education; in between, he habilitated in experimental physics, in particular extraterrestrial physics, at the University of Bern in 1957. He was appointed as an associate professor in 1960, and as a full professor in 1964. At the beginning of the sixties, he had to take over management of the institute for the increasingly ill Houtermans, and was thus appointed director of the institute following Houtermans’ death in 1966; a position which he held until his retirement in 1990. In 1970/71, he also served as dean of the Faculty of Science, and in 1982/83 he served as rector of the university.

But Johannes Geiss was pulled to other places time and again in order to maintain and develop his ever-growing network. He spent the year before the first landing mission to the Moon – Apollo 11 – at NASA in Houston in order to lobby for the ingeniously simple solar wind sail developed by him and his group. The solar wind would be captured with an aluminum foil during the astronauts’ time on the surface of the Moon as the solar wind arrives there unhindered because of the Moon’s lack of an atmosphere and a magnetic field. The simplicity of the experiment and the excellent reputation of the Bernese mass spectrometer made him perfect for the job. But it took great tenacity, coupled with the previously mentioned enthusiasm and the necessary bit of luck for the sail, which weighed scarcely a pound, to fly with Apollo 11 in July 1969 and then a further four times. Its analysis, in particular the ratio of the helium isotopes captured, corresponded to a measurement of the average density of the universe as a whole – a ground-breaking result for which he, together with Hubert Reeves, was awarded the Einstein Medal by the Albert Einstein Society in Bern in 2001.

Johannes Geiss made clever use of his growing reputation in order to continue improving the conditions in Bern and to make the institute one of the top names in astrophysics and keep it that way. Under his leadership, the mass spectrometer was made so much smaller that it could be flown on space probes. At the same time, he was able to realize the necessary laboratories and a top-notch clean room in Bern for the tests and calibration. Bern thus became an internationally sought-after partner for space missions, a role which it still retains today thanks to the tireless efforts of Johannes Geiss and his successors. Of the many missions which Johannes Geiss was involved in as principal investigator or as co-investigator, the solar wind ion composition spectrometer stands out as a prime example. Developed with his friend George Gloeckler, this instrument orbited the sun on the Ulysses space probe for almost two decades on a polar orbit. This experiment achieved (among many other results) a refinement of the isotopic signature of helium measured with the solar wind sail. It is hard to find a better illustration of his progressive, unceasing spirit of research.

Even after his retirement, Johannes Geiss’ drive diminished not one jot. He still mustered all of his enthusiasm and convinced those in charge of the European Space Agency ESA and the Swiss Space Center to establish a new institute which would focus on the interdisciplinary analysis, evaluation and interpretation of the results of space missions. The International Space Science Institute was thus born almost exactly 25 years ago. In the first eight years, he served as its executive director and made the institute a center where scientists from all around the world come together in an informal and interdisciplinary setting in order to reach for new scientific horizons. Thanks to his vision, the ISSI has today become a place of meeting and exchange for thousands of space scientists.

Johannes Geiss’ work was internationally recognized with many distinguished honors. He didn’t like the often stiff atmosphere of such events, greatly preferring informal discussions with colleagues, students and anyone at all, when it came to science or any other topic which sparked his enormously broad and active interest. However, some of these honors filled him with a certain amount of pride – and deservedly so: His appointment as a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (1978), his honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago (1986), the aforementioned Einstein Medal (2001) and the Bowie Medal, the highest honor of the American Geophysical Union (2005).

Johannes Geiss passed away in his sleep on January 30, 2020 surrounded by his loved ones. He leaves behind his wife Carmen and his daughter Jana, with her family. His legacy will continue to shine at the Physics Institute at the University of Bern and at the International Space Science Institute.

Bern, February 6, 2020
Rudolf von Steiger

Obituary Johannes Geiss (English Version) >>

Nachruf Johannes Geiss (German Version) >>

Pro ISSI Nachruf Johannes Geiss (in German) >>


Dr. Anny Cazenave, ISSI Earth Science Director, Receives the 2020 Vetlesen Prize for her Pioneering Work in Charting Modern Sea Level Change

Dr. Anny Cazenave is to receive the most prestigious Vetlesen Prize 2020 for Achievements in the Earth Sciences. The Vetlesen Prize is designed to be equivalent to the Nobel prize and will be administered at a ceremony at Colombia University this spring. Cazenave, a geodesist by training,  will be honored for pioneering the use of space satellite data to measure the topography and the rise of the surface of the oceans, together with related changes in ice sheets, glaciers, ocean temperature and land water storage. Her work has linked the sea level rise with climate change.

Sea level rise is seen as one of the most important and threatening consequences of climate change. Two thirds of the sea level rise is now understood as coming from the melting of land ice as a direct consequence of global warming and one third from the expansion of ocean water. That ratio was only half to half when Cazenave started her work.

As director of ISSI's Earth Science Program Anny Cazenave has supervised the program and has organized a significant number of workshops related to global change. ISSI is proud to have her on the scientific staff. The Vetlesen Prize is awarded every three years for scientific achievement resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, or its relation to the universe. The prize was established in 1955 by George Unger Vetlesen, a Norwegian born sailor, naval engineer and shipbuilder in the United States.

More Information >>


Johannes Geiss Fellowship 2020

The International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern, Switzerland invites applications for the Johannes Geiss Fellowship (JGF) 2020. The JGF provides a generous stipend covering travel cost and living expenses for a stay at ISSI, Bern, of up to 6 months.

The JGF was established to attract to ISSI international scientists of stature, who will stay at ISSI for a limited time to substantially contribute to the ISSI mission and increase ISSI’s visibility by their presence.

Call for the Johannes Geiss Fellowship 2020 (pdf) >>


Call for Proposals 2020 for International Teams in Space and Earth Sciences

This call is jointly released by ISSI (International Space Science Institute) and ISSI-BJ (International Space Science Institute – Beijing). These institutes share the same working tools and Science Committee. The applicants should indicate clearly if they are applying for ISSI, ISSI-BJ, or both.

The purpose of this call is to invite scientists to submit a proposal for projects from International Teams. International Teams are small groups of scientists involved in space research, working together on data analysis, theories, and models. This call is open to scientists of any nationality, actively involved in any of the following research fields:
1. Space Sciences: Magnetospheric and Space Plasma Physics, Solar-Terrestrial Sciences, Solar and Heliospheric Physics, Planetary Sciences, Astrobiology, Astrophysics, Cosmology, and Fundamental Physics in Space
2. Earth Sciences using Space Data

Letter of Intent Submission Deadline: February 13, 2020

Proposal Submission Deadline: March 25, 2020

Call for Proposals (pdf) >>


Applications now open for Alpbach Summer School 2020 "Comparative Plasma Physics in the Universe" 14-23 July 2020

Would you like to use engineering and/or science to solve problems that can be addressed by space missions? If yes, consider applying to the Summer School Alpbach. This year, sixty European engineering and science students will be selected to participate in the 44th edition of the Summer School Alpbach. Participants will be engaged in an in-depth learning experience, attending stimulating lectures on relevant aspects of space science and engineering, and working intensely within four groups to define and design a space mission under the supervision of noted scientific and engineering experts.

Application Deadline: March 31, 2020

What to expect:
• 10 day learning experience, attending lectures and working intensely within groups to defi ne and design a space mission under the supervision of experts
• formulate observational objectives to advance the understanding of the behaviour and the coupling processes of plasma at several astrophysical scales (Earth, Planets, Sun, Across the Universe)
• Presentation of a mission study to an expert review panel on the last day

More details: www.summerschoolalpbach.at >>


Open Access ISSI Scientific Report Volume 17


Ionospheric Multi-Spacecraft Analysis Tools >>

Approaches for Deriving Ionospheric Parameters

edited by

M.W. Dunlop and H. Lühr

This ISSI Scientific Report provides a comprehensive toolbox of analysis techniques for ionospheric multi-satellite missions. The immediate need for this volume was motivated by the ongoing ESA Swarm satellite mission, but the tools that are described are general and can be used for any future ionospheric multi-satellite mission with comparable instrumentation.


Pro ISSI Talk with Anny Cazenave (recorded on October 30, 2019)

Abstract:  It is now well established that the Earth‘s climate is warming and that the main reason is the accumulation inside the atmosphere of green house gases produced by anthropogenic fossil fuel combustion and change in land use. Global warming has already several visible consequences, in particular increase of the Earth’s mean temperature and of ocean heat content, melting of glaciers, and ice mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets. Ocean warming causes thermal expansion of sea waters, hence sea level rise. Similarly, land ice melt that ultimately reaches the oceans, also causes sea level to rise. 

In this presentation, we summarize the most up-to-date knowledge about climate change and associated impacts on ocean warming, land ice melt and sea level rise. We highlight the contribution of space observations, in particular from satellite altimetry and space gravimetry, to measure ice sheet mass loss and sea level rise. We also discuss the various causes of sea level rise at global and regional scales and show that in terms of global average, we are now able to close the sea level budget. Finally, we discuss the importance of measuring sea level change at the coast, as well as the many complex processes at work in such regions (due to natural phenomena and anthropogenic forcing) that cause important adverse effects and significant vulnerability to coastal populations.


Small Satellites for Space Science: A COSPAR Scientific Roadmap

The COSPAR roadmap to advance the frontiers of science through innovation and international collaboration using small satellites is now published open acces in Advances in Space Research. 

Open Access Roadmap >>


Saturn’s moon Mimas, a Snowplough in the Planet’s Rings

The Solar System's second largest planet both in mass and size, Saturn is best known for its rings. These are divided by a wide band, the Cassini Division, whose formation was poorly understood until very recently. Now, researchersfrom the CNRS, the Paris Observatory – PSL and the University of Franche-Comté have shown that Mimas, one of Saturn's moons, acted as a kind of remote snowplough, pushing apart the ice particles that make up the rings.  The findings are the result of two studies supported by the International Space Science Institute and CNES, the French space agency, published simultaneously in June 2019 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

More Information >>


Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure launches New Era of Planetary Collaboration in Europe

ISSI is pleased to announce that it has been selected to be a part of a €9.95 million project to integrate and support planetary science activities across Europe. The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 654208 and will run for four years until August 2019. The project is led by the Open University, UK, and has 34 beneficiary institutions from 19 European countries. ISSI is presently the only Swiss institute participating in this project and its funding comes directly from the Swiss Government. Europlanet 2020 RI is addressing key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities across the European Research Area.

Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure Webpage >>

Announcement by ISSI about the Europlanet 2020 RI >>


ISSI Newsletter

The ISSI Newsletter will appear 2-3 times per year with the latest information about the International Space Science Institute. If you wish to be informed regularly about the International Space Science Institute please subscribe here >.

Newsletter Nr. 26 November 2019 >

Newsletter Nr. 25 July 2019 >

Newsletter Nr. 24 February 2019 >

Newsletter Nr. 23 December 2018 >

Newsletter Nr. 22 September 2018 >

Newsletter Nr. 21 February 2018 >

Newsletter Nr. 20 December 2017 >

Newsletter Nr. 19 October 2017 >

Newsletter Nr. 18 June 2017 >

Newsletter Nr. 17 January 2017 >

Newsletter Nr. 16 December 2016 >

Newsletter Nr. 15 October 2016 >

Newsletter Nr. 14 April 2016 >

Newsletter Nr. 13 February 2016 >

Newsletter Nr. 12 October 2015 >

Newsletter Nr. 11 May 2015 >

Newsletter Nr. 10 January 2015 >

Newsletter Nr. 9 July 2014 >

Newsletter Nr. 8 February 2014 >

Newsletter Nr. 7 October 2013 >

Newsletter Nr. 6 January 2013 >

Newsletter Nr. 5 October 2012 >

Newsletter Nr. 4 February 2012 >

Newsletter Nr. 3 October 2011 >

Newsletter Nr. 2 February 2011 >

Newsletter Nr. 1 October 2010 >


last update: 20 February 2020