A few days ago, I wrote about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)/African VLBI Network (AVN) meetings, which I attended in Windhoek two weeks ago. In case you didn’t read that post, I encourage you to read it because I do not want to explain the SKA and AVN concepts here. The aim of this post is to alert Namibian students about the big opportunities that are coming as Namibia starts implementing the AVN project.

One issue that stood out at the SKA/AVN meetings is that at the moment Namibia does not have sufficient human resources to build, maintain, and operate the radio telescopes under the AVN project. There is, therefore, a need to train young Namibian students to fill this massive skills gap.

The SKA/AVN team from South Africa, which is leading the AVN project, and the country’s National Commission on Research Science and Technology (NCRST) are taking this issue seriously. There are some study opportunities that have been lined up for good students, who demonstrate real passion and interest for radio astronomy and/or its related fields. Most of the students who will be trained under this program are expected to get employment from the same AVN project.

Interested students have to understand that these are specialized study opportunities. As a result, they are not only expected to be smart, but they must also be sufficiently motivated for this particular kind of project. Some of the areas in the AVN project that could be of interest to our Engineering students are as follows:

  • Telecommunication: Students can be involved in areas such as design and the running of the radio telescopes; measurements of electromagnetic interference; and general telecommunication issues.
  • Electronics: Students can be involved in the design of embedded systems, analogue electronics, and control systems for the observatory stations.
  • Computer Networks: Students can be involved in the design and monitoring of robust communication networks which will carry the huge volumes of astronomy data. Ethernet, IPv6, routing and switching, network security, internet of things (IoT), software defined networks, and fiber optic communication networks will find applications here.
  • Data analysis using High Performance Computing: Among other things, students will use machine learning and computational Intelligence (artificial neural networks, swarm intelligence, fuzzy inference systems, evolutionary computation, bayesian networks) to analyse the vast data that will be attained from the radio telescopes. Pattern recognition and understanding have to applied here.
  • Mechanical engineering: Some students will be involved in fabrication and welding; dish construction; radio telescope dynamics.
  • Metallurgical engineering: Testing of materials used to construct dishes
  • Civil engineering: structural design; transportation networks
  • Electrical engineering: renewable energy; distributed energy resources; optimization of energy resources.
  • Systems Engineering and Project Management: The AVN project is interdisciplinary and it is very complex. Therefore, there is a need for some students to focus on how to design and manage this complex system.

Students who are interested in the AVN project are encouraged to do a great deal of reading in order to have a proper understanding of the concept. For a start, here are some links that will help you:

As you develop understanding of the basics, don’t rest on your laurels. Go ahead and search for more information relevant to your area of interest in the AVN project.  A web based application form will made available in due course so that you can submit application. A written test will be conducted thereafter in order to select students who will benefit from the AVN project.

When the application window opens, you will get the information through newspapers. I will also post the application information on this blog as soon as it becomes available. For the time being, you just have to prepare yourself by studying more about the AVN project and radio astronomy.

The SKA/AVN team will be coming to the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Namibia in Ongwediva next semester for meetings on how we can collaborate with them. They will also present tutorials on radio astronomy for students and members of staff.

So for students studying Engineering at the University of Namibia, who are interested in the AVN project, I expect to see you at these tutorials and presentations. There is also a potential for AVN affiliated undergraduate project topics. When they become available, you will be notified through the right channels.

South Africa is already benefiting from skills transfer courtesy of the SKA Project. If Namibian youths can embrace this opportunity, Namibia stands to gain a lot from the AVN project.