Alpbach Summer School: “I feel very lucky that I was part of this”


For each edition of the annual two-week Alpbach Summer School, the FNR runs a Call for young science/engineering researchers/students with a connection to Luxembourg to attend. We spoke to participant Luca Cressa about this experience of the 2022 edition, including how the mission his team developed was awarded “best science case”.

The topic of the Summer School Alpbach 2022 was “comparative plasma physics in the universe”, why did this topic interest you?

“As a space enthusiast and hobby astronomer, the specific topic of “comparative plasma physics in the universe” was not the main reason why I applied for the summer school. I think that (almost) every topic from former years would have been very interesting for me. However, as my background is not at all space related, (I studied general chemistry and am doing now a PhD in the field of materials science) the fact that I had some basic knowledge on plasma -more in the lab-scale than in space- was very useful in the end.”

What were your highlights from the programme?

“It feels like the whole summer school was a highlight in my young career. However, one of the highlights, was the daily interaction with space experts (just to name a few Peter Falkner, Luca Fosatti, Rumi Nakamura, Jan Thoemel, Ferdinand Plaschke, Günther Hasinger and many more). Another highlight, was that the mission which was designed by the team I was in, was awarded with “Best science case” and that the mission was chosen to be further elaborated at the Post-Alpbach event at ESA ESEC (the European Space Security and Education Centre) in Belgium.”

As part of the programme, participants have to present a mission proposal. How was this experience and what did you present?

“On the last day, every team had to present the mission they designed during the past 10 days in front of a jury which was composed of four space experts. Followed by an intense Q&A session. This was very interesting, first to hear and see what the other teams were working on, and on the other hand concerning our own mission it was very exciting to hear the feedback from the jury and their questions.”

“The mission we presented was aiming to study the magnetosphere around Venus, as former missions only provide sporadic and incomplete data. The Magnetospheric Venus Space Explorers (MVSE – the name we gave to our mission) is a multi-spacecraft (3 satellites for scientific purposes and one relay satellite for communications) mission, optimised to study Venus’ magnetosphere therefore enhances the understanding of dynamic processes in Venus’ induced magnetosphere. The main goal was to study the dynamics of induced magnetospheres, which still raise several unsolved questions.”

You were amongst around 60 young science/engineering students and graduates to attend, did you find any inspiration for your work or outside?

“Yes for sure! I met so many interesting people there from all over Europe. All very talented and some of them very dedicated and disciplined, so I am sure that some of those young talents will end up in high-profile careers. The dynamic and atmosphere among the students (especially within the own team) was amazing, I think I never saw so many people working so intense and being so dedicated.

“Designing that space mission was the only thing we had in our minds, it felt like there is nothing else that matters. I feel very lucky that I was part of this, and I am sure that this experience will be a key inspiration for my work-moral and in general for my team-work perception.”

What is your research about and why is it important?

“I’m doing a PhD at LIST within the MRT department, the subject of my thesis focusses on the analysis of batteries.

“As we all know there is an urgent need and a “global” trend towards sustainability and green energy. This is inevitably related to the need for efficient and reliable energy storage systems, e.g. batteries. So latest since the Chemistry Nobel prize 2019 battery research is booming, however many questions are still unanswered.

“My research focuses on developing/ performing tests and analysis on batteries which are still subject to research, to better understand what happens inside of batteries. This can give me and other researchers unprecedent insights and help to better understand and consequently better design new batteries.”

What would you say to other young researchers considering applying to the Alpbach Summer School?

“Just do it! Everybody studying or having background in engineering and/or natural science, is qualified to apply. And I would strongly recommend doing so if you are interested or planning a career in the space sector. For every participant, the summer school seemed to be an incomparable and amazing experience, and on the other hand it is a great event to interact and work with experts in the field.

“Some big names, like for example Josef Aschbacher (ESA Director General) participated at the Alpbach summer school back in 1989. This is just one of many examples which demonstrates the quality and potential of the summer school and its participants.”

The town of Alpbach
The mission which was designed by the team Luca Cressa was in, was awarded with “Best science case”

About the Alpbach Summer School

Held annually since 1975, the Alpbach Summer School enjoys a long tradition in providing in-depth teaching on aspects of space science and space technology with the aim of advancing the training and working experience of European graduates, post-graduate students, young scientists and engineers. The Summer School is organised by the Aeronautics and Space Agency of FFG and co-sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The Summer School is open to 40-60 selected young science and/or engineering students and graduates (Master, PhD or Postdoc level) from among the member and cooperating states of the European Space Agency (ESA). The working language of the Summer School is be English.

Prospective participants who are of Luxembourg origin (Luxembourg nationality or Luxembourg residence > 15 yrs) with a PhD or Postdoc level are eligible for financial support by the FNR. Engineering students and graduates are eligible for financial support by Groupement luxembourgeois de l’aéronautique et de l’espace GLAE ( The financial support covers all fixed expenses related to the participation (registration, accommodation, travel).

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