Astronomy To Africa

The School of Physics and Astronomy is leading a new novel project to bring radio astronomy to developing countries in Africa. Prof Melvin Hoare has won a grant worth upwards of £650k, from a new government funding system called the Newton Fund. This utilises the government’s Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) money to enable new scientific collaborations with developing countries.

Astronomy has long been known as a subject that inspires young people to take an interest in science and technology, which the project hopes to exploit to drive economic development. South Afruca is hosting its first big science project in the form of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)- the world’s next generation radio telescope. This is a project that Leeds astronomers are interested in due to the leap forward in potential scientific discovery it represents.

Expanding our view

As part of the first phase of this major international project over 200 dishes will be constructed in South Africa, which will be completed by 2023. The second phase is planned to extend the networkd of advanced radio antennas into eight African partner countries by around 2030. In the run ip to the full SKA South African engineers are currently constructing a network of more traditional radio dishes in the eight African partner countries called the African Very-Long-Baseline-Interferometry Network (AVN). These will be linked together to simulate a telescope the size of the continent and will deliver very high spatial resolution radio images.

Growing Skills

In addition, students receive training in science outreach so they can go into schools in the partner countries to bring the excitement of astronomy to a large number of young people. These activities have the aim of increasing STEM take-up at all levels, which will, consequently, help grow the fraction of the population who are equipped to use this knowledge for economic development.

As well as providing in-country training the scheme is also funding PhD and MSc places in the UK. The first Kenyan student is about to start a PhD in radio astronomy at Leeds this year. These activities will enhance the international outlook of the School and could provide opportunities for undergradtuate involvement in Africa in related projects. Our industrial partners in this scheme include Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd., with whom Leeds is already collaborating on a related project. This joint project will see the repurposing of large 30m dishes on the ex-BT site in Cornwall for research and undergraduate training.

You can see Prof Hoare talking about his international research collaborations in Africa in the video below: