The possibility of Western Australia becoming a major international centre for radio astronomy has prompted the state’s two major universities to recruit some of the world’s top minds in this specialist field
The possibility of Western Australia becoming a major international centre for radio astronomy has prompted the state’s two major universities to recruit some of the world’s top minds in this specialist field.
UWA and Curtin are both aiming to play a lead role in building the state’s capabilities in radio astronomy.
They are also looking to get a big share of the government funding devoted to radio astronomy.
Edith Cowan University has also positioned itself for a share of the action, through its photonics research centre.
Premier Alan Carpenter announced last month that the government would invest $20 million in a radio astronomy research centre in WA.
The state government has also agreed to invest $2.3 million in a Radio Astronomy and Engineering Centre of Excellence.
These commitments are designed to boost WA’s chances of hosting the Square Kilometre Array, a $2 billion radio telescope backed by the European Commission.
WA is one of two places in the world – with the second being southern Africa – short-listed to host the SKA.
The federal government is also keen to win the SKA project for Australia – it has provided $118 million to help meet some of the key technology and engineering requirements.
Mr Carpenter wants WA to provide not only the site “but also the infrastructure and the people doing the core science and engineering”.
Against this backdrop, UWA has recruited Professor Peter Quinn, who returned to WA after working overseas for 25 years for NASA and in Germany, and Professor Lister Staveley-Smith.
For its part, Curtin has recruited Professor Peter Hall, who was in charge of CSIRO’s SKA program before joining the international project office, and was the main author of the proposal to establish the SKA in Australia.
It has also recruited Professor Steven Tingay for the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy.
While the universities are racing to maximise their opportunities, the reality of contemporary research funding means they collaborate closely.
UWA and Curtin – along with ECU’s photonics centre - will work together in the radio astronomy CRC.
They are also developing proposals for the radio astronomy research centre, which will do pure radio astronomy science as well as develop new ICT and engineering systems.
The centre has been likened to the WA Energy Research Alliance, which attracted financial backing from the state government as well as Woodside and Chevron, and brought together UWA, Curtin and CSIRO Petroleum.