25th anniversary of the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC

Published on 20 December 2018


On December 21st, 1993, the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE) was created by the European Consortium for VLBI. Its deed as a Foundation under Dutch law was signed by the directors of five European radio observatories, inspired by the vision of Richard Schilizzi, who became its first director. He recognised the potential of building a dedicated correlator for the European VLBI Network (EVN) in Dwingeloo, where JIVE was to be hosted by ASTRON.

The principal development in the early years of JIVE was the development of the EVN MkIV correlator, inaugurated in 1998. This decisive effort was possible thanks to funding from the Dutch and French goverments, the European Commission programmes, and of course to the group of expert scientists and engineers from JIVE and partner institutes/companies in Germany, the U.K., Italy, Spain and the USA. JIVE ramped up operational EVN correlation from mid-1999, when the VLBI data arrived from the EVN telescopes on tapes. 

When Schilizzi left JIVE to assume new responsibilities at the SKA, Mike Garrett took office. This started a period of great successes in obtaining EC and NWO project funding, resulting in a rapid expansion of the JIVE staff. Through projects like EXPReS and NEXPReS real-time capabilities for the EVN were developed and electronic or e-VLBI became a reality. The RadioNet project enabled many technical developments and provided the means to maintain the group of young support scientists at JIVE that help the EVN users do their science.

The creation of the EVN software correlator (SFXC) at JIVE formed a significant focus of in-house development following the successful applications of its underlying algorithms in tracking the descent of the Huygens probe onto Saturn's moon Titan in 2005. The added flexibility of software correlation has ushered in a range of new capabilities that can be exploited by the EVN, such as pulsar gating/binning, multiple phase centers, near-field modelling.

In the past ten years, under the leadership of Huib van Langevelde, JIVE evolved from a Dutch Foundation into a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). Currently the Netherlands, France, Latvia, Spain, Sweden and the UK are members of JIVE; INAF (Italy), DST (South Africa), MPIfR (Germany) and CAS (China) are associated via bilateral agreements. JIVE is the first, and for the time being, the only ERIC for astronomy. The most visible aspect of JIVE is the comprehensive support of users at all stages of the VLBI process - from proposal preparation to analysing the resulting images. This support has proven to be the most effective way to open the field of VLBI to the broadest possible community, by enabling non-specialists to effectively use the EVN/JIVE facility. JIVE also provides key quality control, making sure the EVN is providing optimal science data. As the central entity and because of its European status, JIVE excels at attracting project funding for the EVN partners, providing a link to the EC sponsored innovations in science.

JIVE now celebrates its 25th anniversary. With Paco Colomer as new director, it faces a great future and also some important challenges. The advent of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will offer new scientific opportunities for VLBI. During the first phase of SKA (SKA1), a globally organised VLBI network will be needed to complement the new instrument. Future VLBI will also deploy more antennas contributing data at higher frequencies, enabling large continuous bandwidth and increased image fidelity. Some specific applications, like the observations of transients and spacecraft, will probably require more agile VLBI systems. These developments are fully synergetic with the development of SKA technology and big data access methods and, when the SKA is completed, JIVE will still provide essential user services and continue its mission.

The future is bright! Come join us for the journey!