Rhodes astronomer gets prestigious post

RHODES University is reaching for the stars after a top international scientist accepted a prestigious academic post that will see him sharing his time between Grahamstown and the Square Kilometre Array. Although Rhodes University academics played a key role in helping South Africa crack the nod as the perfect place for the scientific world to invest billions building the SKA, the appointment of acclaimed European radio astronomer Professor Oleg Smirnov is the cherry on the top. "It's very difficult to overstate the importance of this development — so excuse the over-abundance of superlatives — but mega science is coming to Africa," Smirnov predicted.

He said key players on the bid such as Grahamstown-based SKA chief scientist Professor Justin Jonas deserved enormous credit for their efforts. "To have gone from virtually nothing — from what seemed a completely madcap, pie-in-the-sky idea — 10 years ago, to MeerKAT [radio telescope being built in the Karoo] construction and the SKA site today, should be lauded as one of this country's great success stories." Smirnov said SKA's benefits to the country and the continent would go a long way beyond international prestige, infrastructural investment, and job-creation. "For every future scientist using the SKA, there will be dozens of highly trained engineers and technicians who will have been involved in building it and who will then feed these skills into the high-tech economy.

"There is bound to be an influx of top international research talent, which is a great boon for local universities, and the educational system in general." Another benefit would be an increased public awareness of science that would lead to more kids studying science in school. Much bigger and more powerful than any other existing scientific instrument, Smirnov said the SKA represented a revolutionary jump in world capabilities. "It's like switching from a scooter to a sports car; with this instrument we should be able to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the origins and nature of our universe."
Source: The Herald


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