IRAM, Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique

IRAM is an international research institute for radio astronomy. Its overall objective is to explore the universe and to study its origins and evolution.

IRAM was founded in 1979 by the French CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), the German MPG (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft) and the Spanish IGN (Instituto Geográfico Nacional) - initially an associate member, becoming a full member in 1990. Today, the institute is considered a model of scientific multinational cooperation.

IRAM’s headquarters are located in Grenoble. With a staff of more than 120 scientists, engineers, technicians and administrative personnel, IRAM maintains and develops two observatories: the 30-meter telescope located on Pico Veleta near Granada in Spain, and the Plateau de Bure interferometer (an array of six 15-meter antennas) in the French Alps. Both instruments are prime facilities for radio astronomy and the most powerful observatories today operating at millimeter wavelengths.

These radio telescopes play a crucial role in modern astronomy, as they enable the study of cold matter through measuring the emission of molecular gas and dust – key elements in the formation of stars and galaxies and thus for the evolution of the universe. This wavelength range is essential to astronomy, since dust and gas-enshrouded cosmic objects remain optically invisible. Using radio techniques, astronomers can push the frontiers, penetrate the most distant galaxies, analyse black holes at the edge of the observable universe and trace the cosmological radiation up to its source, the Big Bang.

With their unmatched sensitivity, IRAM telescopes are able to detect these radio emissions from within our solar system to the farthest reaches of the universe.

IRAM scientists and engineers also develop instrumentation and software for the specific needs of millimetre radio astronomy and for the benefit of the wider astronomical community. The institute’s laboratories cover the complete field of high frequency technology, from ultra-sensitive super-conducting detectors to complex receiver systems, high-speed digital electronics and advanced data reduction software. Providing manufacture and supply of devices to other radio astronomy centers, IRAM has highly valued partnerships with national and international space research organisations such as ESA, NASA and CNES. IRAM is a major partner in the international ALMA project, a giant radio observatory under construction in the Chilean desert.

Its observatories and in-house technical expertise make IRAM the worldwide leader in millimeter radio astronomy.