Alpbach Summer School: “You get to experience being a scientist, technician, and engineer in an ESA space mission”


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 Crisel Suarez about her experience of the 2022 edition, including how the mission her team developed was awarded “best competitive mission”, and learning what it is like to be a scientist, technician, and engineer in an ESA space mission.

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

“I am interested in this topic because plasma physics is a multidisciplinary subject where we combine the laws of physics to better understand the properties and characteristics of the plasma in different environments. Plasma is everywhere from bright neon lights to glowing aurorae, to gigantic stars. As we study and understand how plasma works, we can apply this knowledge to infer how the X-ray emission of solar flares is similar to the X-rays generated in black holes or even X-ray images at the doctor’s office.”

“Currently, I am interested in researching highly energetic events in the sun called solar flares. These solar flares are a localized increase of electromagnetic radiation where particles in the plasma are accelerated in the timescales of minutes. Learning about the different processes in plasma physics around the universe will help me apply new techniques to better describe and predict the mechanisms that drive the energy release of solar flares.”

What were your highlights from the programme?

One of the highlights from the program was to be part of the winning team for Best Competitive Mission. It was very gratifying and enjoyable to have worked in a team with various expertise backgrounds and learning from tutors and lecturers about new ways to study plasma physics.”

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

“I was part of Team Blue where we proposed the space mission CASPER.

“CASPER was a two-satellite scientific mission aiming to answer key questions concerning Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) and Terrestrial Gamma Ray Flashes (TGFs). Specifically, the mission was looking to characterize and constrain the origin of the events. These observations are very rare and information about these events is relatively new. It was a great opportunity to learn about the Earth-based phenomena and its physical mechanisms and I foresee a great opportunity in researching more about them with new technology.”

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

I found inspiration for my work in both my peers and my surroundings. Everyone had different experiences when we arrived. We were a diverse group with different backgrounds but during the programme, we worked together with our own expertise and we shared our points of view, and with our experiences we created and developed a space mission. It is important to mention that I learned about interpersonal communication skills.

“Being surrounded by and hiking the beautiful mountains was a very enjoyable and motivating experience. In addition, it was inspiring to see the resting place of the Nobel Physicist Erwin Schrödinger.”

What is your research about and why is it important?

“My current research is studying highly energetic events in the sun called solar flares. I research their properties, characteristics, and energy transport like temperature, emission and the elemental composition. The X-ray and Extreme UV emissions of solar flares that I currently analyze are from different space missions including Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS-1) Cubesats, Solar Dynamic Observatory/Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (SAO/AIA), and Hinode/X-ray Telescope (XRT) .

“We currently do not fully understand the signatures and energy transport of solar flares due to the underlying quasi-period pulsations. In order to better understand the variability of solar flares, I am constraining a model with solar observations to reproduce the emission from solar flares.”

“My work relates to plasma physics as it is completely relatable to the study of the solar flares that I am studying. Moreover, solar activity and flares not only have a direct impact on the Earth like the aurora borealis but can also affect satellites in geomagnetic storms. It is of utmost importance that we understand what are the mechanisms that generate solar activity.”

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

“I would say to young researchers that are considering applying to the Alpbach Summer School is that it is an incomparable experience and highly recommend applying. It is a lot of hard work and late nights but a very rewarding experience that will enrich your life. You get to learn from experts in different fields and meet great people from all over the European Union. Moreover, you get to experience being a scientist, technician, and engineer in an ESA space mission.”

Crisel Suarez at the Alpbach Summer School

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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