Hi, everyone. Jacinta here. Dan and I, and the rest of The Cosmic Savannah team are having a bit of a week off. We all have a lot of things to catch up on, a lot of projects to work on. I myself am working on a TED talk, which I will be presenting in Western Australia in a few weeks and I'm very excited about that. We'll hopefully tell you more about that a bit later.
But for now, here is a rerun of episode 11 from all the way back in season one. And in this episode, well we chose this episode to rerun because it's about Australia. So it's from the last time that I visited Australia and I got to chat all about the SKA telescope and its precursors, MeerKAT and it's preceeding KAT7. And also the ones in Australia, ASKAP and MWA.
I was in Australia for a conference on neutral hydrogen gas, which if you're a regular listener of the show, you know, that's one of my most favorite topics. So here is an episode playing one of our very first episodes on neutral hydrogen gas also known as HI.
And I thought it was topical because you get to hear about a little bit about my life in Australia, which is where I am still at the moment, still waiting for a visa. And you can hear, we go on a little tour of my backyard here with all the birds and the bushland and my dogs.
And you get a bit of context about where I am at the moment. And in this episode, we chat with Dr. Ivy Wong, Dr. Brenda Namumba and Professor Peter Quinn. Peter Quinn, and Ivy Wong are both around here at the University of Western Australia and associated institutes. They're still here at the moment.
Although Peter Quinn is just about to retire as the director of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research after 13 years. So I'd like to wish Peter well in, in whatever he moves on to in the future. And I would like to thank him very much because he himself and another researcher called Lister Staveley-Smith basically changed my life and set me on this career path that I'm on now. So it's thanks to Peter that you're hearing me now on The Cosmic Savannah. So thank you very much, Peter, for everything you've done and good luck in the future.
And Brenda Namumba, who you'll also hear from, has gone on to do amazing things. She is a postdoctoral researcher, I believe for the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, but she is based somewhere in Europe.
I always see amazing photos from her European travels. So wherever you are, Brenda, well done on all of your successes. Yeah. And with that, I will leave you to enjoy this episode and Dan and I will be back, next time with a brand new episode.
Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr. Daniel
and Dr. Jacinta Delhaize . Each episode, we'll be giving you a behind the scenes look at world-class astronomy and astroPhysics happening under African skies.
Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.
Sit back and relax. As we take you on a safari through the skies.
We're going to Australia. We're going on tour. Well, we're taking the listeners on an audio journey to Australia.
Yes, I'm very excited to, be going, virtually to my home country.
Well, you went physically too right and did some recordings. You were there for a conference, and chatted to a couple of people.
Yep. I chatted to Dr. Ivy Wong and Professor Peter Quinn from the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research. And I also chatted to Dr. Brenda Namumba from the University of Cape Town. And we were all there in Perth, in Western Australia for a conference, as you said, and Perth is actually my hometown.
It's where I grew up and did all my studies. Actually my hometown is about an hour south of Perth in a town called Mandurah. So I got to go back and do a bit of work and also have a bit of a holiday.
I mean, I visited ICRAR a few times as you know, during my PhD. I was working with some people there and, I was fortunate enough to spend four to six weeks a year during my PhD there.
It was really, really nice. I enjoyed it. It's a similar climate to Cape Town. Completely different bird life; as you'll hear later.
Yeah. So the conference was at the University of Western Australia, which is one of the two joint partners in ICRAR, the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research, the other partner being Curtin University.
So I did all of my studies at UWA, University of Western Australia and my PhD at ICRAR. And yeah, I guess that's, well, we met in South Africa first, but then we got to know each other more at ICRAR.
I think we met at
one of these PHISCC conferences.
I think it was yeah.
Yeah it was actually,
We were both working on HI. And what is the PHISCC conference?
Oh well, we'll get to that later.
You managed to take some time off while you were there too? Go home?
Yeah. I got to go and see my family, see my dogs, Tonka and Caddie. And yes, spend a bit of time in the bushland. What do you call the bushland here in South Africa?
veld. Oh okay.
Which basically means bush, or the field, but, you
So is that where you have like trees and stuff or is it more like lower shrubs?
So I mean there are various velds, like there's the bush veld. As I think of the bush veld, there are sort of low trees, acacias. Whereas if you go a little bit higher in altitude, the veld becomes a lot less treed, a lot more grassland.
Australia, the bush has the characteristic eucalyptus trees, gum trees, everywhere, which are also here in Cape Town, in South Africa, everywhere.
Thanks for that.
You're welcome. I guess here, they're a bit of a pest, soaking up all of the water and there's no koalas to keep them under control; but of course they're native to Australia. And so, yeah, so like walking amongst the eucalypt trees is what I think of when I think of home.
So I thought I would actually record a bit of that for you and, play it for our listeners. You can hear what the Australian bushland sounds like.
Should we take a listen?
Hello from the Australian bushland. I'm here in my hometown in Western Australia. So I'm going for a walk. I'm looking at all of the beautiful gum trees around me.
Maybe you can hear my dogs in the background. Come here girl. You want me to throw the ball for you? Come here. Hello. Here you go, ready? Catch.
Maybe you can hear the wind. The wind rustling the leaves, and the crickets. The birds are a bit quiet at the moment. There's one! It's a very blue sky today. Very clear. Let's go for a bit of a walk. Come on dogs.
Yeah, very cool. It's like the sound of your home.
It is. Yeah. I feel a little homesick now, but it's not too bad because actually Cape Town is probably the one place in the world that is the most similar to Perth.
Yeah, we have this Mediterranean climate, winter rainfall
and very similar latitude as
yeah, on the west coast.
similar latitude, very similar temperatures and wind patterns. Good for cuts surfing. And, what was all the eucalypts we have here too? It's also, it does feel very familiar. Yeah, I felt very familiar in Perth.
But it wasn't actually just all fun and games. I did actually do a bit of work, and I did some astronomy,
and he did some recording.
I did some recording. Yeah. So I was there for the PHISCC meeting, which I'll talk a bit more about in a moment. We were talking about HI Neutral Hydrogen gas, which is a very important component of galaxies. And we were talking about the different surveys of the sky you can do in HI. With the pathfinder telescopes.
And precursor telescopes
Sorry. pathfinder and precursor telescopes.
Yeah. There's a subtle difference there that has become something which we have to clarify.
Well, I guess we need to start all the way from the SKA to explain what the pathfinders and precursors are. Right?
Sure. So, the Square Kilometre Array is this massive radio telescope, which
is getting built and will be
completed in the next decade, a large portion of it, which will
be built here in South Africa. And then other parts will be built in Australia
in Western Australia.
Western Australia. And they lead up to these various pathfinders and precursors were built to test technology to learn, to try things out and see what was going to work, what wasn't, and basically come up with the best design possible.
Yeah. So these are kind of Test_Bed Telescopes, which in themselves are the world's most powerful radio telescopes anyway, but they're only about one to three percent the size of what the full SKA will be. This is going to be an absolutely enormous endeavor, and there's pathfinder and precursor telescopes in several different parts of the world. Of course, South Africa has MeerKAT, and it's precursor which was KAT-7
definition time. A pathfinder is essentially, a smaller telescope or a Test-Bed, which isn't incorporated into the larger telescope. So KAT-7 was one of the pathfinders. We had a small seven disarray and that was not incorporated into MeerKAT. It's now no longer functioning, but we learnt a lot from it, and made a few mistakes and learned from them. MeerKAT on the other hand is a precursor to the SKA because MeerKAT will be directly incorporated into the SKA array.
And that is the difference.
Right. And then I guess the other precursors are... Well ASKAP, the Australian SKA pathfinder in Western
Is that not a pathfinder? Because it's not incorporated into the high-frequency area.
true. I'm not sure. Yeah. I guess that's another aspect of SKA. There's two main parts as a higher frequency part of SKA, which is going to be.
The telescopes looked like satellite dishes, and then there's a lower frequency component. That's the part going in Western Australia, and we still don't really know what the final design of those telescopes will look like, but one one particular design is like a metal spider or a metal umbrella and the metal spider kind of design. There is a precursor in Western Australia and that's called the Murchison Widefield Array or the MWA. And there are other pathfinders around the world. There's Apertif in the Netherlands, as FAST in China. And there's quite a few.
So that was a nice little foray into some definitions,
which we do occasionally.
Yes. Another definition is the name of the conference PHISCC. P H I S C C.
What is that for?
Okay. So I think we should just go right in ahead into our first interview with Dr. Ivy Wong. She's a researcher at ICRAR, and she was the chair of the organizing committee of PHISCC. So she'll give us our definition and tell us a bit more about, what the conference was about
I'm here at the 12th PHISCC workshop in, at the University of Western Australia. And with me here is the chair of the local organizing committee and scientific organizing committee. Dr. Ivy Wong. Welcome Ivy.
Thank you Jucinta.
So Ivy, you've done an enormous job getting together this, international conference. Can you tell us what is PHISCC and what is it all about?
PHISCC stands for the Pathfinders for HI Science Coordination Committee. So it doesn't sound like a very good name, but really it's just the coordination meeting between all the survey heads for all the SKA pathfinder experiments.
It's been really fun because; within the field, we tend to know everyone. So in terms of organization of an international workshops, such as this one, it's been a fair bit of work, but given that we do know each other, it's been a lot easier.
And this meeting is all about, HI, which is the short name for Neutral Hydrogen gas. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that is, and why it's important and where we see it in space?
HI is Neutral Hydrogen, but it's actually also known as Atomic Hydrogen. So when you were in high school, you probably learned that hydrogen as the first element of the periodic table, it's the most simple element and the building blocks for most things we see around us since the Big Bang; consists of an electron and a proton. And when the electron gets excited, we see it in the form of 21 centimeter radiation, and so we just call it HI for short, and that's what it's all about. And the reason it's interesting is because most galaxies are HI, and this means that when there's sufficient HI, it can call and form stars. What's really cool, is also the fact that when we see HI, we get to see it's kinematics, it's motion, we could actually measure the total mass of the system, including the matter we can not see. And so this is how we are able to see these galaxies in 3D, through observing atomic, hydrogen. And because it's also fluffy and wispy, it's also very, sensitive to interactions with its neighbors or any other physical processes that's occurring to that galaxy it's shaping its evolution.
So at the end of the day, HI is a very useful tool for trying to probe the dominant processes, which drive how galaxies form stars and
Right. So it's like the, building block of the galaxy. Isn't it? It's the raw fuel from which stars form. So if you have a galaxy without any, HI gas, it's kind of dead, isn't it.
Well, it's not dead. It's just passively evolving. And so it'll wait until it gets a fresh supply of gas before it can form more
What does it mean to passively evolve?
So what this means is that all the stars that are still there continue to age and the galaxy will look redder. and redder
Okay. And then if it has some of the HI gas, then it will tend to be bluer?
So the state of the HI gas is very important because while you can form stars out of HI, typically what it requires is for you to condense and call that HI, just that little bit more to gain enough pressure to form a star. And galaxies don't just form single stars. They form a whole collection of stars in the same burst.
So as you see, if you had fluffy HI, that's just hanging around doing nothing. It might take quite some time before it form stars.
So why is it important for us to have a conference about HI at the moment?
So, with the next generation of surveys, we're going to be able to see HI to a much further distance, in time and space.
And so while we've had all these fantastic surveys with optical telescopes and space telescopes, what's been lacking is surveys and radio astronomy. And because HI is such a cool element in the Universe, we can only see it in the radio. And so as technology advances, we can see further and further into space and see back to a time when most of the Universe was in HI.
Right, and so we're in a really exciting time at the moment, because there are all of these telescopes around the world, new, a new generation of telescopes that have just come online and the very first results are coming through. And I guess that's why we're here. Isn't it? To tell each other what's going.
Yes, we're here to compare results and our instruments because these are pathfinder instruments. And what happens is that ultimately, when we built our ultimate telescope, which is the Square Kilometer Array, we need the entire world's cooperation and working together towards the same goal. So this is why we start early and maintain our friendship and
Right. And I guess it's so it's important for all astronomers from all over the world to come together to do this because science is a very international thing. Isn't it?
This is why we have these annual coordination committee meetings, because if we didn't actually get everyone under the same sky, communicating together and coordinating their efforts, this would never happen.
So for example, in this particular meeting, we've got a huge contingent from South Africa, from China representing these survey instruments, showing us their latest results. And all of us comparing notes so that we can as one together progress further.
Yeah. Well, thank you very much for all of your efforts. As I said before in preparing this conference, was it a lot of work?
Thank you Jucinta for coming and you're very welcome.
Thanks very much for talking to us today, Ivy.
Great. So we heard from Ivy about the organization and the definition of the conference and what it was there for. How was it?
Yeah, it was really, really good. I really enjoyed it. These conferences happen once a year and I've been to several of them, although this was my first in about five years. So it was really great to see everyone again, see the community. The HI community is really friendly and collaborative. So I really enjoyed it. This year there was a huge contingency of attendees from South Africa because this was the first year after MeerKAT was launched since it started running and producing data. So, the very first MeerKAT results were presented, at this PHISCC conference, and that was really exciting to see.
Awesome. I want to see them.
You can! They're online now. Yeah, and so I spoke to one attendee, Dr. Brenda Namumba, about how she used KAT-7, the MeerKAT precursor, pre pathfinder.
Yep. And how she used that to study, HI Neutral Hydrogen gas and in particular, how she tried to find the very small amounts of hydrogen gas in the outskirts of galaxies at the fuzzy edges. And we know it must be there, but it's really, really hard to see. So she was trying to see if she could find that HI!
With KAT-7, and some other telescopes as well,
As we know, SKA MeerKAT will be able to do even better.
That's right. Yeah. So that's, I think what she wants to go on to work with in the future.
Excellent. Let's hear from Brenda.
Hello, I'm sitting here on the shores of Matilda bay in Western Australia with almost Dr. Brenda Namumba. Welcome, Brenda,
Hi Jacinta. Thank you for
Brenda, can you tell us a little bit more about who you are, and where you're from?
My name is Brendan Namumba. I'm a Zambian. I came to Cape Town in 2012, to pursue my career in astroPhysics.
Brenda has just submitted her PhD thesis and it's going through examination at the moment. So that's why I say almost Dr.
That's a good one.
So congratulations on submitting. It's a big
Thank you very much.
It must be quite relieving.
Very, but waiting for the big event,
the acceptance. Good. So, Brenda, we are sitting here on the shores of, as I said, Matilda bay, which is, next to the University of Western Australia in Perth. We're here for a conference at the moment. And maybe our listeners can hear the sounds in the background of the birds and maybe a couple of cars and the wind. And can you see that Swan over there, Brenda?
Wow. That looks amazing.
It's a black swan, with a red bill. Did you know they're actually indigenous to Western Australia?
Really? I didn't know that
Yeah. It's our, it's our state symbol.
I've learnt something new. Place is really amazing. I'm really enjoying Australia.
Are you enjoying?
Yes, it's a place I would love to visit for science and touring.
Well, maybe we should start talking about science. So as I said, we're here at the PHISCC conference, which is all about a Neutral Hydrogen gas; and Brenda, you gave a presentation the other day. That was about your PhD work.
so, what was it about?
So, basically for my PhD, I've been looking at deaf galaxies; these small, tiny galaxies, that are very nearby to us, in the local group and my aim was to try and study their structure, their shape and their kinematics using the Neutral Hydrogen component, which is the most important component when we are trying to study the evolution of galaxies.
Okay. So you're looking at galaxies that are quite close by to us in the Universe. You said the local group, what does the local group mean?
So, basically the local group is a group of galaxies in which, our own galaxy, the Milky way resides in. So in that group, they're mostly like three galaxies that are similar to our own galaxy. And the rest of the galaxies in that group are very tiny, small galaxies that are called dwarf galaxies. And these galaxies are very unique. In that their characteristics or their properties, are very different from other galaxies. So it's very important for us to try and understand how they evolve, so that they can help us to understand the overall view of how galaxies evolve and interacts with each other.
Alright. So, we have the big, galaxies near us. Well, obviously the Milky way that we're in and then there's, Andromeda.
There's Andromeda yes
Okay. So there's three big ones, and there's a lot of small ones that you're talking about now. So they're these weird little shaped dwarf galaxies.
So what do they look like?
So basically they come in different shapes, and have different properties, but I'm mostly interested in what we call the dwarf irregular galaxies, because these galaxies tend to have high gas content. So, they are very rich in Neutral Hydrogen, and because the main focus of my project is to look at Neutral Hydrogen. So I focus on the dwarf irregular galaxies. They have an irregular shape just from then from their name itself. They also have a very simple structure.
You'll find other galaxies that are very complicated. They have bulges or spiral arms, but these dwarf irregular galaxies are very simple, which makes it easy for us to study the Physics in these galaxies and understand more on how they are born, how they live and until they die. All those processes.
Okay. So you say it's important to study them because they might give us some clues about evolution of galaxies. And you say that they're irregular, so they're not these nice spiral shapes, like the Milky way or Andromeda.
and you've said that they've got simple Physics. What does that mean?
I mean is, when we look at, for instance, when we want to study spiral galaxies, we have to take into account their spiral arms; and also their central disc, but for dwarf irregular galaxies. They don't have those complicated structures that such as the spiral arms. So they just have like one component. They don't have bulges, like these compact stellar disc in the central region of these galaxies. So they are very simple. Like it's only one component that you're going to look at as compared to spiral galaxies, where you have to look at three components in the same galaxy for you to try and understand something about them.
Right. So the Physics in the spiral arms might be different to the Physics in the bulges, for example
Yes. And that becomes very complicated because the Physics that you are going to use to study the spiral arms, will be different from the Physics that you are going to use to study the bulges. And you have to combine them to try and understand the whole entire galaxy.
Okay. So the irregular galaxies, they don't have these components. They just are all the same Physics presumably in the entire galaxy. Right. Okay. And you were saying that you look at the Neutral Hydrogen gas inside that, what exactly are you looking
So basically when you are observing, when the original telescope is pointing at a galaxy, we observe Neutral Hydrogen, either in emission or in absorption , but for my PhD, my focus was looking at the Neutral Hydrogen emission in these galaxies.
So Brenda, you are looking at the hydrogen gas in these galaxies, your particular observations that you've done them with some radio telescopes is trying to pick up really faint levels of hydrogen gas that we haven't been able to detect before.
Why is it important to detect this faint gas?
Yeah. So basically it's very important for us to be able to detect the faint gas around galaxies because we're able to find the total, each one mass, and also the total size of the galaxies. Like we can be able to determine their total extent from Neutral Hydrogen, because Neutral Hydrogen, as we know is the most extended, observable component as compared to other elements that we observe at other wavelengths.
Right. So I guess, we want to know two fundamental properties of the galaxy, how heavy it is, essentially. It's total mass and how big it is. And we can't figure out how big it is by looking in at the stars or anything, because we think that the hydrogen gas extends much further out than the diameter of the stars isn't that right?
That's very correct.
So, is there anything else special about the hydrogen gas at the edge of the galaxy?
So the Neutral Hydrogen at the outskirts of galaxies is less bound by gravity, and therefore tends to be easily disturbed. And from this, we can learn about different properties such as, if galaxies are interacting with each other or if they are in an isolated environment. So, these two parameters can easily be detected at Neutral Hydrogen wavelength as compared to other wavelengths.
Right. So if two galaxies are coming close to each other, and then they interact gravitationally that might affect the gas in the outskirts of the galaxy, more than it would affect the other components like the stars
Yes. And you can easily see it when you observe a galaxy at a Neutral Hydrogen wavelength.
this an important thing to know when we're studying galaxy evolution?
it's very important because the way a galaxy is going to behave when it's not interacting will be very different with the way it's going to behave when it's interacting. Yeah, because when it interacts, for instance, there is gas that is being stripped off the outskirts of this galaxy and, their behavior changes, as compared to a galaxy that is only isolated. It's not interacting it's very in quiescent state and the way the gas moves is quite different.
So you actually learn a lot by studying the environments in which galaxies reside in, when it comes to galaxy evolution.
So, I guess it's pretty hard to see this faint gas, even in close by galaxies, isn't it?
very different. When we look at, the current telescopes that, we have, although let me not say currently, because at the moment we have telescopes that are able to actually detect the HI in the outskirts of galaxies.
So you're talking about MeerKAT?
Yeah. So currently we have MeerKAT, but for my PhD project, I actually used the KAT-7, which was initially built as an engineering Test-Bed for MeerKAT. But when we look at the properties of a KAT-7, this instrument had compact baselines. So basically when I talk about compact baseline, the telescopes are built very close to each other, and that enables, the telescope to see extended structures as compared to telescopes that are built very far from each
So KAT-7 had antenna that were close together, and that means because of some complicated processes in radio astronomy, that you can detect what we call diffuse emission. So the faint, fuzzy emission that spread out over a larger areas. Is that correct?
Yeah, that's so correct. Yeah.
So you used KAT-7 that's pretty exciting.
Yeah, it was very exciting to work with KAT-7 because I was one of the students who started working with the telescope when it was first built, because I started working with KAT-7 just from my Masters and I continued with my phD. So it's actually one of the telescope that is very close to my heart
Yeah. Well, you were actually going to, now that you've finished your PhD, you're about to start your first job as an astronomer, as a Post Doctoral researcher with SARAO the South African Radio Astronomical Observatory. Well, congratulations on that position first of all.
And what will you be working on?
So basically I plan to continue working on draft galaxies as my main project. However, with my Postdoc, I will be using the MeerKAT, which has a very high sensitivity and very high resolution as compared to the KAT-7. So from this, we hope to actually be able to obtain even better results than we had for my PhD, and with this, I hope to also combine my radio observations with multi-wavelength data that will allow me to study different processes that occur in galaxies. So I plan to use optical to study the ongoing star formation in galaxies, combining it with the radio observations so that, we can actually go in details to study how galaxies are form and evolve.
Yeah. So a lot of the time, a lot of the power and what we can do in astronomy comes from not just looking at one type of lights or just radio, but actually combining it with other types like optical, which is released by stars. And then you've got the radio from the gas and the infrared from the dust, and then it's just by combining all of these data that you can get a clear picture of what's going on in the galaxy.
Yes, that's very correct because we get; different wavelengths, give us different information. And when we combine different wavelengths, we actually have a very clear picture on what we really want as a compare. Which is different when we only look at one wavelength. Yeah. It is very important for us to actually be able to combine different wavelengths. If we want to have a full picture on how galaxies form and evolve, and that's the key thing that we wants to understand as astronomers.
Fantastic. Well, good luck with all of that.
We're getting attacked by birds here. There's a crow behind you making these terrible sounds. There's a duck here in front of us.
We are surrounded by nature.
So I guess, that might be time to wrap up this discussion. Thank you very much for talking to us today, Brenda.
Thanks very much Jacinta.
So I am pleased to report that, Brenda has now finished her PhD, has graduated from that. So she's full Dr. Brenda Namumba.
Yay! And some of the listeners might remember that we actually gave a shout out to her and some other graduates in our previous episode. Oh, and a small correction, the black swan is not native just to us in Australia, but it is native to all of Australia. It's just quite prolific and present in Western Australia
be one where I grew up
I know, it was super weird. It was wild, and it lived on one of the little lakes at a shopping center.
My gosh. How did it get there?
I mean, maybe he got stuck in a hurricane or something or maybe it was just, I don't know, somebody's pet or something that could have got away.
It's kind of cool. It lived with the white swans.
Okay, really? Oh, wow,
they kind of fitted
Well, it's not just black swans that connect Australia and South Africa, as we mentioned. The SKA is going to be built both in South Africa and Western Australia. And the government and the people of both of these countries are very dedicated to the project.
Yeah. It's been an incredible collaborative effort, as you say, both Australia and
South Africa, but then many other countries too. As we've mentioned before, the head office for the SKA organization is and Manchester, in the UK, and the declaration or the treaty, the SKA treaty is busy traveling around the world at the moment and getting signatures from all of the governments of the related parties.
I think South Africa signed it in December. So the treaty is busy getting signed by all of these countries. It's a incredible international project and, a kind of an amazing international collaboration.
Yeah. And I guess it's only through international collaboration that it will be
possible for something this big and this epic to get built.
Yeah, that's for sure. It's very exciting.
Yeah. So I spoke to professor Peter Quinn, who is the director of ICRAR and he chatted about how important these collaborations are and what kind of science they'll be doing.
Let's hear from Peter.
I'm here at the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research in Western Australia; and with me today is Professor Peter Quinn. Hello Peter.
Hi. How are you?
Peter, can you tell us a little bit about who you are?
Sure. So Peter Quinn, I'm an Australian by birth, but like most astronomers, I spent most of my life around
the world doing research in America, North America, South America and Europe. So it's a very international career for all astronomers. And I've done that. I'm primarily a computational astrophysicist, I guess, by training like galaxy dynamics, like computers like galaxy formation and dark matter. But over the course of time, I became very interested in data and data intensive astronomy and how you acquire data and move it and use it to do astronomy with it.
So I've been involved with that as well, and that career has brought me back here to Western Australia to be part of the SKA.
Great. Can you tell us a little bit more about your role that you're currently in.
So I came back to Australia in 2006, because Western Australia was at that time being considered as one of the places where the SKA and the Western Australian government were very keen
to start developing capacity, places, institutes people's
skills in Australia because of that SKA opportunity.
So I came back in 2006 and my job was to basically start a new research center here in Western Australia to create a landing pad, sort of a critical mass of young people to obviously use eventually the SKA but most importantly, to sort of think about how to build it and how to design it and how to make sure it does what it's supposed to do.
So we've put together this thing called the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research here in Perth. It's a joint venture of Curtin University and University of Western Australia. We have money from those universities, from the state government and from the federal government. Currently we're about 120 staff and about 80 graduate students and growing very strongly.
We are doing very well as a research organization, ranked pretty highly in the world. And. I guess over the course of one of the things I like to admire about ICRAR the most is over the course of that 10 years. Basically, we went from no astronomers on the west coast to now about one third of all the astronomers in Australia live on the west coast.
So it's, a shift in the demographic from the east coast or somewhere in the middle of Nullarbor, I guess. But, yeah, it's a big change.
Yeah, I actually did my PhD here at ICRAR with you and a few other researchers here and it's grown really quickly. Hasn't?
It's, it's amazing to see the growth. As I said, from basically a handful of people and literally a handful of people to now over 120 staff and 90 plus graduate students and we're comparable to about the fifth largest institute of the radio astronomy institutes in the world. And that's all happened because of the excitement, I guess, of the SKA. We've people want to be involved in something this large and this important, but also the funding that's come from the universities from the Australian government, federal government, they're all keen to support science, to support the growth of this as a remarkable piece of science that can be done in Australia.
But also, they love what might come with the science. So the technology and the advances and the innovation, all the things, all the problems we have to solve to make the SKA work. There are things that are interesting, obviously for astronomers, but also for other companies and industries and people around the world.
Yeah. When I started my PhD here, I think I was one of the only students. I had an entire floor of a building to myself, and now we're all crammed in fighting for space. There's so many of us. Can you tell us a little bit more about how ICRAR and the SKA are tied to South Africa and south Africa's role in the
So SKA of course, is a multi-wavelength telescope. In some sense, it has low frequency and it has high frequency. And we're lucky to have two sites in the world, which presents probably the best opportunities to do that. So the south African side and Australian site together cover that wavelength range very well; in different technologies and different approaches, but there are broad wavelength range. So it's the sites. The quality of the two sites is obviously fantastic and the isolation and the commitment of both governments to protect those sites, to make sure that they are great sites forever.
Again, both governments should be proud of that heritage, if you like world heritage kind of approach to doing science. So indeed. Yes. So the two governments and the two projects in the two sites are very, very important. Clearly, internationally, of course, we're all astronomers and astronomers need to work together to be able to study the Universe.
We all see the same sky. It all goes by our heads, but we don't all see it at the same time. So we have to work together. Be able to map parts of the sky, combine those maps together to solve science problems. And so that's why there are meetings, like the meetings here at the moment of where it's astronomers and various parts of the world get together and able to combine their ideas because they can't all do it individually.
They have to do it collectively because there's a big sky out there and it's all one big sky. So that's an important element of the SKA at both Australia and South Africa obviously need to share in, and I think both Australia and South Africa see the SKA as an opportunity to grow in various ways. So our South Africa to grow a community of scientists, a community of young people wanting to do science in Australia, because it has a heritage in astronomy, but it also sees opportunities for itself in the future in astronomy, and also wants it to be a good global partner in research.
And that's what I think South Africa wants as well, that these days, the kinds of projects