The first CTAO School came to a close last week, and the organisers, instructors and students agree that it was a resounding success! The 27 PhD students travelled from 12 different countries for the two-week workshop that took them to Italy and Spain for a deep dive into CTAO science, technology and data analysis.

The school kicked off in Bertinoro, Italy, with a masterclass in gamma-ray astrophysics that included hands-on sessions on how to prepare a science proposal for the prototype Large-Sized Telescope (LST), the LST-1. The students learned about the open questions in the field and then were instructed to select a topic for which they could apply LST-1 observations. To be able to prepare the science proposal, they also learned how to estimate the required observing time and conditions to reach the selected scientific goal.

For the second week, the students travelled to La Palma in the Canary Islands, which is the home of the CTAO-North site. To learn about the Cherenkov detection principles, the students were led by the instructors through the various steps of data analysis, from the event reconstruction to the production of the physical results that are needed for publications. Special attention was given to high-level analysis with the Gammapy software, which is the basis for future CTAO science analysis.

The students visit the prototype Large-Sized Telescope, the LST-1.

Then, the students made the trek from the classroom at sea level up to the site of the CTAO’s northern array at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (ORM) to experience the life of telescope operators. They learned about Cherenkov instruments and visited the LST prototype, the LST-1, to see the latest in Cherenkov technology up close. Additionally, the students visited the CTAO’s predecessor, MAGIC, at night and had a class in optical astronomy, with day and night visits to the GTC and TNG.

“Before I went to school, I didn’t think I was really interested in the instrumental part of my work. But I was finally amazed by the telescopes and the incredible site of El Roque de los Muchachos, and it made me realise just how huge CTAO is, involving all the people who work there (researchers, engineers, technicians, science popularizers, etc.),” said Coline Dubos, second-year PhD student IJCLab.

And, naturally, the course wouldn’t be complete without putting their newfound knowledge and skills to work – the LST-1, MAGIC, GTC and TNG operators kindly shared some observation time with the students.

“I had many valuable lectures and experiences from theoretical and observational perspectives, specifically, as an aspiring theorist, it was a great opportunity to visit and learn deeply about the LST-1…I will never forget the sight of the LST-1 against the backdrop of the Milky Way,” says Tatsuki Fujiwara, second-year graduate student, Osaka University.

Just as important, the students had time to bond and enjoy the beautiful island of La Palma. On their day off they rented cars and explored some of the incredible natural sites of the island. These future scientists not only left the CTAO School with a more in-depth knowledge and experience in gamma-ray astrophysics, but they also established connections for a lifetime!

“The school answered every lingering question I had about research topics like gamma-ray production mechanisms or extensive air shower physics, as well as giving me the opportunity to examine the hardware on current state-of-the-art IACTs in person,” said Luca Riitano, a fourth year PhD student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “All this complimented by the beautiful locations in which the school took place and the new connections made with the lecturers and students alike.”

The success of the first  CTAO School is in large part to the organisers, namely the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the Scientific Organising Committee (SOC), which includes school instructors.[1] The chairs of the LOC and SOC would like to relay the following statement:

“This is an exciting moment for everyone involved. Bringing students from around the world to learn about a field and project we are so passionate about has been both fulfilling and fun. It was inspiring to watch the next generation of astroparticle physicists explore the fundamentals and frontier of the field, present their innovative ideas and work together to enhance each other’s knowledge, all against the backdrop of two phenomenal locations: Bertinoro and La Palma. And nothing was better than watching their joy and awe as they experienced working at the ORM, where three more LSTs are under construction and they had the opportunity to operate the ‘crown jewel’ of the CTAO-North site, the LST-1. We can’t wait to do it again!”

We would like to extend a special thanks to the CTAO LST Collaboration, as well as the Gammapy, MAGIC, GTC and TNG teams for their support and participation. The CTAO School was organized by the CTAO Central Organisation in cooperation with the CTAO LST Collaboration. The first week of the school in Bertinoro was funded by the Cherenkov Telescope Array Plus project (IR0000012; CUP C53C22000430006) within the Italian Resilience and Recovery Plan (PNRR), as an activity led by the University of Bologna and INAF, with contribution from INFN. The second week was supported by funds from the Spanish Ministry for Science and Innovation and the Japanese Institute for Cosmic Ray Research. Read more about the Scientific and Local Organizing Committees on the Organisers page.

To learn more about the school, head to the website. And if you’re interested in the next session of the CTAO School, it will be back in June 2025! Make sure you follow us on social media to learn when the next call for applications is open.

To see more photos and testimonials from the school, go to our Flickr site.

[1] Bertinoro LOC: Tiziana Abegg (CTAO Central Organisation), Michelangelo Bottura (CTAO Central Organisation), Andrea Bulgarelli (INAF-OAS Bologna), Vito Conforti (INAF-OAS Bologna), Paolo Da Vela (INAF-OAS Bologna), Stefano Marchesi (University of Bologna, INAF-OAS Bologna; Chair), Eleonora Torresi (INAF-OAS Bologna)

La Palma LOC: Paolo Calisse (CTAO Central Organisation), Pilar Coca Llano (CIEMAT), Juan Cortina (CIEMAT/IAC), Alice Donini (INAF), Alba Fernández-Barral (CTAO Central Organisation), Patricia Márquez (IFAE), Daniel Mazin (ICRR), Mireia Nievas (IAC; Chair)

SOC: Fabio Acero (CNRS/IAC), Jonathan Biteau (Paris-Saclay University), Patrizia Caraveo (INAF), Juan Cortina (CIEMAT/IAC, Co-Chair), Elisabete M. de Gouveia Dal Pino (University of São Paulo), Emma de Ona Wilhelmi (DESY), David Green (MPP), Jamie Holder (University of Delaware), Daniel Mazin (ICRR), Lars Mohrmann (MPIK), Abelardo Moralejo Olaizola (IFAE), Cristian Vignali (University of Bologna), Gabrijela Zaharijas (University of Nova Gorica), Roberta Zanin (CTAO Central Organisation, Chair)

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The First CTAO School is a Wrap - CTAO