Australian SKA Project Director Update

December 2016

  

It’s been a busy few months with plenty of exciting new activity in the project. In November, we were proud to launch the Australian SKA Fellowships program. The program enables Australia-based scientists and engineers to spend up to four months in the UK contributing to SKA delivery at the SKA Headquarters. Congratulations to all four recipients of the first round of fellowships, the first two of which have already commenced work at the SKA HQ. Watch this space for future fellowship opportunities.

Another major milestone for the Australian SKA project was the formal beginning of negotiations to establish an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with the Wajarri Yamaji, the traditional custodians of Australia’s SKA site. I have always enjoyed visiting the rugged and beautiful Wajarri country, meeting Wajarri people and hearing their stories about their connection to the land. For many years the SKA and Wajarri community have had a positive relationship based on respect. A well-considered ILUA will ensure that this respectful and productive relationship continues for generations to come.

September to November saw a flurry of international SKA meetings. In September I attended the fourth treaty negotiation meeting between SKA member countries in Rome. Good progress was made on many issues. There is a strong willingness from the partnership to complete negotiations early next year ahead of an initialing ceremony amongst the member governments around February.

Also in September, I had the opportunity to visit a number of impressive data institutes in the UK with a group of high-level Australian big data specialists. Along with strengthening Australia-UK ties in big data, it was a great opportunity to share in some of the latest developments in data science.  It is clear the SKA is set to make a hefty contribution in this area.

In October I attended the International Conference on Research Infrastructure in Cape Town, South Africa. The SKA featured prominently at the conference. Our South African colleagues promoted the SKA impressively, and plenary talks were given by current and former South African SKA Project Directors, Dr Rob Adam and Dr Bernie Fanaroff. SKA Director-General Prof Phil Diamond also delivered a plenary address.

Rounding out October were the Regional Stakeholders Group meeting in Geraldton and the Science Advisory Committee meeting in Sydney. The First Pietro Baracchi Conference, entitled ‘Italo-Australian Radio Astronomy in the Era of the SKA’ also took place in early November in Perth. The conference was the first in a series of meetings planned to alternate between Australia and Italy. Future meetings will continue to bring together Italian and Australian researchers from all areas of radio astronomy.

November also saw the 22nd SKA Organisation Board Meeting in Manchester where the Board reaffirmed its commitment to managing the costs of the SKA project and keeping the project on track.

Australia’s precursor telescopes continue to make good progress and exciting headlines. Most notably, the recently published ‘GLEAM’ all-sky survey conducted on the Murchison Widefield Array caught the public’s imagination by showing what the Universe would look like if we could see radio waves.

In other news, the Dutch King and Queen visited Perth in the first week of November. While in Perth, the King and Queen visited Curtin University where they heard about the SKA. The visit was part of a celebration of the 400 year relationship between Australia and the Netherlands - a relationship that began with exploration and continues to this day with collaboration on a number of projects, including the SKA. On top of the royal visit, the Netherlands have also published a new stamp series immortalising the MRO, the Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope and the soon to be constructed SKA-Low array. As well as celebrating the close relationship between the countries, it’s wonderful to see the SKA promoted to a wide audience in new and interesting ways.

2016 has been an extremely busy year for the SKA project. Great progress has been made and member countries are keen to maintain this momentum into 2017. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

 

David Luchetti
Australian SKA Project Director

 
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