Still I learn! is my favorite quote from Michelangelo Buonarroti. It clearly depicts my experiences as a scholar. It appears that the more I learn, the more I notice that there is more that I still don’t know. And as a result, I always hunger for more knowledge. Last week, I learnt a lot of stuff about radio telescopes, high performance computing, and interferometry! And I am craving for more!
The Square Kilometre Array (SKA)/African VLBI Network (AVN) team from South Africa visited Namibia for three days. They held several meetings with the authorities at the National Commission on Research Science and Technology, Telecom Namibia, and some selected members of staff at the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic of Namibia.
The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre of collecting area. The AVN, an array of radio telescopes throughout Africa as an extension of the existing global Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (VLBI), is one of the approaches which SKA is using in order to achieve its objectives.
Namibia is one of the eight countries partnering South Africa in the AVN project. Other countries include Botswana, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, Madagascar and Mauritius. The visit of the SKA/AVN team was aimed at kick-starting the process of developing radio telescopes in Namibia, which will form the intended African network with radio telescopes in the other African countries.
My Malawian friend, Fredson Phiri, and I represented the Department of Electronics and Computer Engineering at the two SKA/AVN meetings which took place on 17 June 2015 at the NCRST office and at Department of Physics of the University of Namibia.
The morning meeting at the NCRST office was a real eye opener. I learnt a lot about the genesis of the SKA project, the concept of VLBI, and the AVN project from Ms Anita Loots’ and Prof Ludwig Combrinck’s presentations. Ms Loots is the Associate Director at SKA South Africa and Prof Combrinck is a professor of Space Geodesy at Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HARTRAO).
From their presentations, I finally understood why VLBI involves huge amounts of data and therefore needs high speed networks, huge data storage systems, and high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure. The final presentation, which was on HPC, was done by Dr Happy Sithole from the Centre of High Performance Computing (CHPC). His presentation showed the evolution of HPC infrastructure at CHPC and the vast computing opportunities availed by HPC. He also talked about how they train students in HPC and engage them in world class HPC competitions.
The afternoon meeting which took place at UNAM was mainly for the Department of Physics, the School of Computing, and the Department of Electronics and Computer Engineering, to make presentations on their capacity, resources, and potential areas in which they can collaborate with the AVN team to set up the radio telescopes in Namibia.
Dr Steenkamp and Dr Sheetekela made Powerpoint presentations on behalf of the Department of Physics and the School of Computing respectively. On our part, we couldn’t prepare a Powerpoint presentation because we got the information about the meeting very late. Furthermore, we were not aware of the scope of the information that was required by the SKA/AVN team.
Courtesy of the meeting at NCRST offices, we were able to jot down some information about our department that is relevant to the objectives of the SKA/AVN team. We presented this information at the afternoon meeting after the Powerpoint presentations. We even came up with eight potential areas in which we can collaborate with the SKA/AVN team.
The SKA/AVN team wanted to visit our campus in Ongwediva but they had problems with the rescheduling of their flights. They, however, promised to visit us in a few months time and we are eagerly looking forward to some fruitful meetings with them. Apart from meetings on collaboration, they will also conduct tutorials on radio astronomy.