SKA Scientist Talking Science at the Daresbury Laboratory
Members of the public were able to hear about the the SKA, as part of the ‘Talking Science’ series at the STFC Daresbury Laboratory in November 2016. Professor Keith Grainge, from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at The University of Manchester, is leading the SKA Signal and Data Transport Consortium (SADT) which has responsibility for developing the networks which will transport science and auxiliary data throughout the SKA, as well as the synchronisation and timing for the telescope.
Professor Grainge explained to the audience the importance of the next generation of astronomical telescopes currently being designed and built by scientists and engineers around the world.
“We are living in a really exciting time. We have some very powerful instruments coming online like the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the SKA at radio wavelengths. The SKA will have a vast collecting area, and will spread out across the landscape with some antennas as much as 3000km apart.”
After getting a taster on the wide range of science that the SKA will perform, from cosmology and the early Universe to the search for extra-terrestrial life, the audience were excited to hear about the scale of the data transport challenge the SKA engineers are facing, with Professor Grainge explaining the vast data transport rates in terms of the current world internet traffic.
“We are transporting 30% of an internet from the antennas to the central processor, then 20% of an internet out of the desert, about 1000km, to the Science Data Processor (SDP) and finally 100Gb/s to scientists around the world.”
The evening concluded with an opportunity for the audience to ask Professor Grainge their own questions about the science and technology behind the world’s largest science project.
The Talking Science lectures are monthly lectures run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), giving the public the opportunity to hear about the inspiring science and technology projects being carried out by UK researchers.
For more information on Talking Science please visit the website:
Engaging the Public with the World’s Largest Radio Telescope
The Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre (JBDC) at the University of Manchester has created an outreach programme to both raise public awareness of the innovative engineering behind the SKA and increase the public engagement experience of the UK SKA engineering community. The project, funded through the Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious scheme, brought together the JBDC Education Team and UK-based engineers working on the design of the SKA.
Together they designed a kit of engineering demonstrations which can be used by SKA engineers to engage the public with the inspirational design of the SKA. The kit included equipment such as a parabolic microphone – to illustrate how radio waves are focussed by the SKA dishes, a radio frequency detector and spectrum analyser, a pocket thermal camera and an optical fibre with laser pen, to demonstrate how the vast quantity of data obtained by the SKA will be transported. The kit has been distributed to SKA teams at the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford and also to the Communications and Outreach team at the SKA Organisation, (which was eligible for involvement as it is currently a UK-registered company based at Jodrell Bank).
In addition, the JBDC Education team developed two school workshops, which include presentations, lesson plans and suggested demonstrations, all of which will be available for future download via astroEDU (astroedu.iau.org).
More than 38 engineers have been involved in various aspects of the project; from providing technical input to the hands-on kit, to delivering outreach at events such as the Bluedot festival at Jodrell Bank (www.discoverthebluedot.com), which provided an opportunity to engage with new audiences not normally seen at Science and Discovery Centres.
Evaluation from the public who participated in the engineering demonstrations showed that more than 90% felt that they had learnt something about the engineering of the SKA and enjoyed the activities. Feedback from the engineers who took part in the project was also very positive as 100% reported that they enjoyed the experience and found it rewarding, while more than 80% reported that the experience boosted their outreach confidence and improved their communication skills.
The demonstration kit and teaching material will continue to be used to raise awareness of the SKA, helping teachers and engineers to inspire the engineers of the future.
Girls Night Out at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre
The SKA was the focus of the recent Girls Night Out event at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre. On 9th March 2017, more than 100 members of the public attended the event and were given the opportunity to learn more about the SKA and well as trying their hand at soldering to make their own illuminated badges.
Dr Anna Scaife, from the University of Manchester, inspired the audience as she explained the vast scale and challenges behind the design and construction of the SKA, and highlighted the revolutionary science that the SKA will perform.
After constructing individual SKA radio telescope dishes, the participants re-created the spiral structure of the proposed SKA layout, against the backdrop of the iconic Lovell Telescope. Feedback from visitors, both on the night and via social media, has been very positive, including one visitor’s comment ‘Special evening for me and my daughter. Loved it’
The UK prepares for SKA Key Science Projects
On Thurs 8th December, 2016, nearly 70 astronomers from over 15 UK Universities gathered at the University of Bath to attend a 1-day science meeting on UK science interests with the Square Kilometre Array – hosted in collaboration with the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the UK SKA Science Advisory Committee. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the breadth and depth of UK SKA science – which was shown to cover diverse areas from Solar Physics and Planet Formation to Galaxy Evolution, Cosmology and the Transient Universe – and to begin to support the UK astronomy community in identifying and developing international science leadership and involvement within the global SKA project. Updates on the current status of the SKA project were provided by key SKA staff along with a number of talks from UK scientists highlighting SKA-related science.
Significant time during the meeting was devoted to breakout discussions around the Key Science Projects, with the aim of obtaining input for a SKA science priority and funding strategy document for the UK, currently being developed by the UK SKA Science Committee.