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UK Science Minister visits SKA HQ

UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore MP spoke to SKA engineers and scientists during his visit, including Project Scientist Dr. Rosie Bolton (Credit: BEIS)

SKA Global Headquarters, Thursday 16 May 2019 – The UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore MP visited the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Global Headquarters Tuesday 14 May. 

Following a speech at the Global Innovation Summit in Manchester, the UK’s Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research & Innovation visited the SKA Global Headquarters located at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire. 

In his speech, the minister mentioned his visit “to the headquarters of one of the most ambitious international science projects in history: The Square Kilometre Array – a project of such a huge scale that it gets to be called ‘mega-science'”. He also highlighted how “increasing and strengthening international partnerships must be the future of scientific collaboration”.

The minister met young scientists Charlie Walker, Philippa Hartley and Tianyue Chen, on placement at the SKA through an STFC scheme (Credit: SKA Organisation)

During his visit at the SKA HQ, Minister Skidmore was briefed on the current status of the SKA as well as the UK’s role in the SKA project by SKA Director-General Professor Philip Diamond and members of the Senior Management. Following the signature of the SKA Observatory Convention in Rome in March 2019, partner countries are now focused on ensuring that the new intergovernmental organisation is operational as early as possible to move on to construction activities.

The minister then had the opportunity to meet and engage with some of the engineers and researchers working on the SKA. He saw the international nature of the SKA’s design teams and was presented with elements of the project of particular relevance for the UK.

Among the highlights were explanations about the SKA’s complex Science Data Processor supercomputer, the “brain” of the SKA, whose international consortium led by Cambridge University and with participation of Oxford University, successfully wrapped up design work last week. Also highlighted was the University of Manchester’s leadership role in designing the SKA’s vast signal and data transport networks, the “backbone” of the SKA and a key element enabling the transfer of terabits of data per second from the telescopes to the SKA’s supercomputers, and eventually to the user community around the world.

The visit ended on a scientific note with discussions on the science prospects of the SKA between the minister and three young scientists currently in placement at the SKA HQ thanks to funding from the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council.

This is the fourth visit by a UK science minister at the SKA HQ, following the visits by Jo Johnson, Greg Clark and David Willetts, demonstrating the long-term commitment of the UK government to the SKA project.

Minister Skidmore was shown one of the University of Cambridge-designed SKA-low prototype antennas, by SKA-low Engineering Project Manager André van Es, Project Manager: SKA-low Infrastructure and Field Node Jacque Stoddart and SKA Director-General Prof. Philip Diamond (Credit: SKA Organisation)