Press Release

ESO Receives Computerworld Honors Program 21st Century Achievement Award in Science Category

7 June 2005

In a ceremony held in Washington, D.C. (USA) on June 6, 2005, ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the southern Hemisphere, received the coveted 21st Century Achievement Award from the Computerworld Honors Program for its visionary use of information technology in the Science category. Sybase, a main database server vendor and member of the Chairmen's Committee, nominated ESO's Data Flow System in recognition of its contributions to the global information technology revolution and its positive impact on society.

The citations reads: "ESO has revolutionized the operations of ground-based astronomical observatories with a new end-to-end data flow system, designed to improve the transmission and management of astronomical observations and data over transcontinental distances."

This year's awards, in 10 categories, were presented at a gala event at the National Building Museum, attended by over 250 guests, including leaders of the information technology industry, former award recipients, judges, scholars, and diplomats representing many of the 54 countries from which the 17-year-old program's laureates have come.

"The Computerworld Honors Program 21st Century Achievement Awards are presented to companies from around the world whose visionary use of information technology promotes positive social, economic and educational change," said Bob Carrigan, president and CEO of Computerworld and chairman of the Chairmen's Committee of the Computerworld Honors Program. "The recipients of these awards are the true heroes of the information age and have been appropriately recognized by the leading IT industry chairmen as true revolutionaries in their fields."

Traditionally, ground based astronomical observatories have been used as facilities where scientists apply for observing time, eventually travel to the remote sites where telescopes are located, carry out their observations by themselves and finally take their data back to their home institutes to do the final scientific analysis. As observatories become more complex and located in ever more remote locations (to reduce light pollution), this operational concept (coupled with the weather lottery effect [1]) becomes less and less effective. In particular, the lack of data re-use has been increasingly seen as scientifically unproductive. Such thoughts guided the design and implementation of the ESO Data Flow System (DFS). The DFS allows both traditional on-site observing as well as service observing, where data is collected by observatory staff on behalf of the ESO user community based on user submitted descriptions and requirements [2]. In either case, the data is captured by DFS and saved in the ESO science archive [3]. After a one-year proprietary period during which the original investigators have private access to their data, researchers can access the data for their own use. ESO was the first ground-based observatory to implement these operational concepts and tools within a complete system. It was also the first ground-based observatory to build and maintain such an extensive science archive that does not only contain observational data, but also auxiliary information describing the operation process. In both areas, ESO remains the world-leader in end-to-end observatory operations on the ground.

"The result of our strategy has been a significant increase in the scientific productivity of the ESO user community", said Peter Quinn, Head of ESO's Data Management and Operations Division, responsible for DFS. "As measured by the number of papers in peer-reviewed journals, ESO is now one of the leading astronomical facilities in the world. Coupled with cutting edge optical telescopes and astronomical instruments at the Chile sites, the DFS has contributed to this success by providing the fundamental IT infrastructure for observation and data management." The case study about ESO, together with the case studies from the other winners and laureates of the 2005 Collection, is available on the Computerworld Honors Program Archives On-Line,, and also distributed to more than 134 members of the Computerworld Honors Global Archives.

According to Dan Morrow, a founding director and chief historian for the Honors Program, "This year's award recipients exemplify the very best in the creative use of IT in service to mankind. Their work and their stories are outstanding contributions to the history of the information technology revolution in every sense of the word, and, for the archives we serve all over the world, they are, truly, priceless."

From more than 250 nominations submitted this year by the industry chairmen and CEO's who serve on the program's Chairmen's Committee, 162 were honoured as laureates at ceremonies in San Francisco, on April 3, 2005, when their case studies officially became part of the Computerworld Honors 2005 Collection. Of these, 48 finalists were chosen by an academy of distinguished judges to attend the June 6 gala in Washington, D.C., at which 10 were announced recipients of the award, one in each of the following categories: Business and Related Services; Education and Academia; Environment, Energy and Agriculture; Finance, Insurance and Real Estate; Government and Non-Profit Organizations; Manufacturing; Media, Arts and Entertainment; Medicine; Science; and Transportation.

Additional information about the 2005 Collection is available at, where the entire collection is available to scholars, researchers and the general public.

The ESO Data Management and Operations Division web page is at


[1] When physically present at one of the ESO telescopes, astronomers are often confronted with the problem of rapid weather variations or weather that is incompatible with the specific observational requirements. These phenomena are often called the weather lottery - sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Losing this lottery is both frustrating and inefficient - when observations cannot be completed, astronomers must often wait for a year or more before they can attempt their observations again.

[2] In this system, there are no weather lottery losers - and the four travel days per user are eliminated as well. The European astronomical community has been extraordinarily enthusiastic about this new approach - in a typical year, ESO executes the scientific programs for more than 1000 users. Following the lead of ESO, other ground-based observatories are now implementing service-observing systems, all of which rely upon on accurate data flow. This also allows significant savings and makes it possible to perform science programs that demand rare conditions.

[3] The ESO archive currently contains approximately 50 Terabytes, but will grow into a Petabyte class archive by the end of the decade. Indeed, the annual data intake is expected to exceed 0.5 TB per day by 2010.

More information

About the Computerworld Honors Program: Governed by the Computerworld Information Technology Awards Foundation, a Massachusetts not-for-profit corporation founded by International Data Group (IDG) in 1988, the Computerworld Honors Program searches for and recognizes individuals and organizations who have demonstrated vision and leadership as they strive to use information technology in innovative ways across 10 categories: Business and Related Services; Education and Academia; Environment, Energy and Agriculture; Finance, Insurance and Real Estate; Government and Non-Profit Organizations; Manufacturing; Media, Arts and Entertainment; Medicine; Science; and Transportation. Each year, the Computerworld Honors Chairmen's Committee nominates organizations that are using information technology to improve society for inclusion in the Computerworld Honors Online Archive and the Collections of the Global Archives. The Global Archives represents the 100-plus institutions from more than 30 countries that include the Computerworld Honors Collection in their archives and libraries.


Peter Quinn
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6509

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About the Release

Release No.:eso0519
Legacy ID:PR 16/05
Type:Unspecified : People : Other/General


ESO receives the award in the science category
ESO receives the award in the science category
Computerworld honors program 21st Century Achievement Award
Computerworld honors program 21st Century Achievement Award