Thursday, 17 January 2013

SKA hopes to add more to WA’s mining-dominated economy

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ASKAPPhotography by Paul Bourke and Jonathan Knispel. Supported by WASP (UWA), iVEC, ICRAR, and CSIRO.THE SKA project is already heralding a new era of science in WA and promises to turn the State into a major science and technology hub and diversify its mining-dominated economy.

International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research director Peter Quinn says WA’s astronomy community has grown from nothing four years ago to Australia’s third largest centre employing 100 experts and gaining international recognition.

Professor Quinn and a few other experts arrived in WA in 2006 on Premier’s Fellowships and started the centre in 2009 with a $20 million state grant and a funding partnership between UWA and Curtin.

“We started with a fresh piece of paper,” he says. “We decided that if we were really going to make the most of the SKA in WA we needed to create a new international centre here.”

Prof Quinn says now they have established themselves as a good international centre, and with the SKA being built in WA, they will attract the world’s best astronomers who want to be involved in the project, as well as those who want to do research in related technologies.

“As the precursor projects start to generate science [and] the Pawsey Centre managed by WA's iVEC starts to come online we’ll see more people interested in coming here and being part of what’s happening,” he says.

So far WA astronomers have been working on CSIRO’s Pathfinder project and the international Murchinson Wide Field Array project.

“We’ve used them to learn about the science of the SKA so now when the time comes to design it we’ve learned quite a bit about the systems and the technologies to be able to start figuring out and contributing to the design of the SKA,” Proff Quinn says.

They have also have been working on projects overseas and building up a graduate student program – laying the bedrock so the WA astronomy community is strong enough to take on the project.

Prof Quinn says the SKA is a motivational event for WA science on par with the Moon Landing that will establish the state as “not just a place to dig stuff out of the ground”.

He says it could take 10–20 years to develop it into a viable wing of the state’s economy but it’s headed in the right direction.

“It’s a chance for WA to diversity and develop part of its economic outlook in something that’s associated with science, information technology, engineering, digital electronics, communications and networks that the state hasn’t been able to do before because there wasn’t anything in the state that demanded these skills.”

The Pawsey Centre will come online in first quarter of 2013 and multiply the computing power of the state exponentially, allowing higher levels of research in many different areas and industries.

Then the SKA design process will employ a range of different professionals who would not have come to WA otherwise.

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