Development of multi-wavelength astronomy in South Africa on the pathway to the SKA, LSST and CTA.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics

Abstract

In the 21st century, astrophysics is a multidisciplinary field. Far from the traditional image of the lone astronomer viewing though a telescope with the naked eye, astronomy covers the whole electromagnetic spectrum with an interdependent range of activities including optical and electronic engineering, high-speed signal processing, high-performance computing for processing huge data sets, and advanced numerical simulations. All are sophisticated intellectual endeavours; all are integral to addressing the physics questions of modern astronomy; and all have huge societal benefit in the training of young scientists and development of advanced technologies, in addition to their core value of fundamental research.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the world's largest and most capable radio observatory. It is a flagship project in South Africa, being the first international science facility built in the country. It is being highlighted as the project to bring young South Africans into high-tech areas. The South African SKA, through the NRF and RSA government, is providing training across all levels of employment, from engineering through operations and astronomy research. In this background the astrophysics community in South Africa is growing rapidly, from a small base concentrating mostly on traditional optical astronomy. We propose an exchange programme for Ph.D. students in which they will experience the wide variety of multi-wavelength technical and observational aspects of astrophysics, along with big data analysis, theory and simulations.

In our exchange programme ten students from Oxford, and a matching number from the RSA universities, will be jointly supervised by academics at their host institution and at the partner institution. Each student will spend six months, typically in the middle part of their Ph.D., at the partner institute working directly with their co-supervisor. We will also arrange a programme of supervisor exchange visits, and annual network workshops in both Oxford and South Africa, to build up the collaborative ties between the two communities for the long term.

Planned Impact

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the world's largest and most capable radio observatory. It is a flagship project in South Africa, being the first international science facility built in the country. It will bring young South Africans into high-tech areas. The South African SKA, through the NRF and RSA government, is providing training across all levels of employment, from engineering, operations and astronomy research. This exchange programme for Ph.D. students will enable students to gain experience in the wide variety of multi-wavelength technical and observational aspects of astrophysics, along with big data analysis, theory and simulations. In the long term this will provide:
1. The richest possible multi-wavelength science background to those students who will go into academia, and who will build the universities and the scientific community of RSA in the 2020s.
2. A broad experience of a large variety of data types, data analysis techniques and numerical simulations to students who wish to go into commerce, industry and public sector positions; so they can bring their highly numerate and analytical astrophysics skills to bear on the largest range of problems.
3. Experience of working in large collaborations and development of the necessary network and inter-disciplinary skills to be successful in both academia and wider industry.
Our programme not only supports the core technical and observational science of the SKA, it also builds on this to help nurture a fully-rounded, multi-wavelength astrophysics community for RSA's future.

The state-of-the-art instrumentation with which we detect the most sensitive primordial signals from the early Universe drives significant advancements in industrial development. For example, the research and development in our C-BASS project is feeding back into next-generation instrumentation such as the SKA radio telescope and industry itself. With further enhancements to our instrumentation programmes will come stimulation to industry in areas such as communications, microwave receivers, optics, interferometry, digital signal processing and remote sensing.

Our computational work has many positive consequences in Big Data; software development as well as complex computation on GPUs (the graphics cards within even modest desktop computers that have been developed by the games industry) that we are exploiting for big data handling and computation. In particular, Jarvis, Karastergiou and Fender, in collaboration with coI Roberts, are actively pursuing the development and application of machine learning algorithms to Big Data issues; looking forward to the SKA, LSST and Euclid, this will be one of the key areas of knowledge exchange in the PhD partnering scheme.

Regarding public engagement and outreach, astronomy inspires and fascinates the specialist and non-specialist alike. The PI, co-Is and students will give public talks at various levels, as appropriate to their skills and experience, including to primary schools, high schools, policy makers, and industry. These activities are not merely confined to the UK, they extend into continental Europe and developing countries, and specifically to South Africa in this case. The Oxford Physics Department also holds hugely popular Stargazing Events for the public throughout the year. All of the RSA physics departments run their own outreach events and members of the PhD partnering project provide teaching assistance in local schools. For example, UWC (with co-I Cluver) runs an astronomy partnership scheme where faculty and postdocs are paired with current PhD students to go into local schools and provide lectures and classes on school-level physics curricula. The Oxford PhD students visiting RSA will contribute to such schemes to develop their team working and education skills in an environment that is very different to typical UK schools.

Publications

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Geyer M (2016) The frequency dependence of scattering imprints on pulsar observations in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Hatfield P. W. (2016) The galaxy-halo connection in the VIDEO survey at 0.5 < z < 1.7 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Johnston Russell (2015) The evolving relation between star formation rate and stellar mass in the VIDEO survey since z = 3 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Prescott M (2016) Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA): the 325 MHz radio luminosity function of AGN and star-forming galaxies in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Whittam I. H. (2015) The faint radio source population at 15.7 GHz - II. Multi-wavelength properties in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Whittam I. H. (2016) The faint source population at 15.7 GHz - III. A high-frequency study of HERGs and LERGs in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Zwart Jonathan T. L. (2015) Far beyond stacking: fully Bayesian constraints on sub-µJy radio source populations over the XMM-LSS-VIDEO field in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

 
Description High-energy strophysics collaboration between University of Oxford and University of Namibia 
Organisation University of Namibia
Country Namibia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Namibia is the host country for HESS, the world's premier gamma-ray observatory. However the astrophysics group at the University of Namibia has been very small with limited capacity for M.Sc. and Ph.D. students. We have, and will continue to host students from UNAM and help build capacity in this area.
Collaborator Contribution The PI is actively involved in exchange teaching and research to help capacity building in the UNAM physics department. Students from Oxford have been involved in teaching and research exchanges.
Impact The first Ph.D. student in astrophysics to be enrolled the University of Namibia recently began their course. We will host exchange visits and continue to contribute reciprocal teaching and research.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Oxford Radio Cosmology - UKZN Radio Cosmology 
Organisation University of KwaZulu-Natal
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The RCUK funding partnership has been essential for solidifying our nascent C-BASS collaboration with UKZN. Without the funding provided by this scheme to allow researchers to meet and work together in the same place, we would not have been able to fully engage with them and bring them in as a full partner to the project. We particularly found that having several shorter ( ~month to ~3 month long) visits worked extremely well and made the prospects of long-term collaboration much easier to achieve. The C-BASS collaboration uses a set of common analysis tools which were originally developed in Oxford. The first RCUK/NRF trip allowed the UKZN research strudent to learn how to use these tools in close collaboration with the Oxford team and also to understand how to implement on the systems in UKZN. On his return to UKZN he was able to get the analysis tools installed and working on the systems there and begin working remotely - we instigated weekly telecons with the whole UKZN team to keep in close collaboration. The student was then able to return for a slightly longer visit, along with his co-supervisor, to then work on more detailed research with the Oxford team, having already started to build a close collaboration. Both have recently returned to UKZN and we now have in place an excellent and sustainable collaboration. We plan to have more return visits from Oxford to UKZN in the subsequent years to develop further collaborations and to build on the additional expertise that UKZN bring to the project through their involvement in complementary instruements and analysis technques.
Collaborator Contribution Analysis of data from the C-Band All-Sky Survey (C-BASS). Learning the analysis tools, developing tools to look at RFI and pointing corrections. Learning how to implement the analysis code so that this can be installed and run independently in his home institution. Second visit: Further analysis of C-BASS data building on previous experience and now developing his own research area in collaboration with the Oxford group. Specifically working towards the completion of several thesis chapters
Impact Papers to come.
Start Year 2015