SKA to take science, innovation to new heights

Johannesburg – Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor says the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) remains an important African endeavour with huge potential to contribute to raising the profile of science, technology and innovation development on the continent.

Minister Pandor said plans are underway to initiate a national level data facility for astronomical data which will service MeerKAT and then be expanded to include data from other SA facilities.

The South African MeerKAT radio telescope, which is currently being built some 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, is a precursor to the SKA telescope and will be integrated into the mid-frequency component of SKA Phase 1.

The SKA Project is an international enterprise to build the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world, and will be located in Africa and Australia.

Speaking at the third Ministerial Meeting of the SKA currently underway in Muldersdrift, near Johannesburg, Minister Pandor said a joint project has been established with ASTRON and IBM in the Netherlands to prototype SKA Science and Data Regional Centre activities using the MeerKAT and LOFAR (long term) archives.

“A significant focus and investment in big data in Africa is not only due, but is crucial if Africa is to play a significant role in the world economy in the coming decades.

“It is now a fact that the human expertise to capture and analyse big data is both the most expensive and the most constraining factor for most organisations pursuing big data initiatives,” she said on Friday.

Representatives and ministers from the countries participating in the hosting of the SKA are attending the meeting.

The ministers have updating delegates on the developments in their countries with regard to the SKA.

The SKA will be about 50 times more sensitive than any other existing radio telescope.

South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia will host Africa's radio telescopes contributing to the SKA network.

Both the SKA and the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) will provide scientists with the most advanced radio astronomy array in the world.

SKA SA supports students in Africa

With regard to education, Minister Pandor told the delegates attending the meeting that SKA South Africa has supported 133 students from other countries in Africa, of whom 91 are from SKA partner countries.

According to Minister Pandor, the graduates from these countries return home to establish or contribute to the astronomy efforts in their own countries.

Minister Pandor said for the very first time, students from Carnarvon achieved university admission grades in mathematics and physical science.

She said five successful students have received full cost undergraduate bursaries to various South African universities.

Over 700 university academics, postdoctoral, postgraduate and undergraduate students, as well as students training to be artisans, have been funded by SKA SA.

The SKA SA is offering opportunities for science and engineering graduates to work for the project. The Young Professionals Development Programme (YPDP) is currently open for applications from suitably qualified candidates from South Africa.