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  • richardmitnick 10:25 am on March 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , CSIRO, Mia Baquiran, ,   

    From CSIRO: Women in STEM – “One woman’s role in designing the world’s largest radio telescope” Mia Baquiran 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    10th March 2017
    Helen Sim

    1
    Mia Baquiran. When they flick the switch on the world’s largest telescope, one woman’s work will come to life.

    If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a planet – or at least ten countries – to build the the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array.

    The Square Kilometre Array, or SKA, is a next-generation radio telescope that will be vastly more sensitive than the best present-day instruments. It will give astronomers remarkable insights into the formation of the early Universe, including the emergence of the first stars, galaxies and other structures.

    Consisting of thousands of antennas linked together by high bandwidth optical fibre, the SKA will require new technologies and progress in fundamental engineering. The telescope’s design and development is being led by the international SKA Organisation.

    Radio telescopes add to observations made by optical and other telescopes by revealing different information about stars, galaxies and gas clouds. Because radio waves can pass through clouds of dust and gas, radio telescopes are able to observe objects and processes not visible to other telescopes.

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    An artist’s impression of the Square Kilometre Array’s antennas in Australia. ©SKA Organisation

    Construction is due to start in 2018 and around the globe 11 groups, all with members from several countries, are working feverishly on different aspects of the project to make it come together.

    Australia has a presence in several of these groups, and indeed leads two of them. Our very own Mia Baquiran is one of the researchers working on this exciting project.

    She spends her days in a quiet, ground-floor office in a leafy suburb of Sydney, working on systems that will go into the international SKA radio telescope.

    Mia’s role in this ‘moon-shot’ project concerns a telescope called ‘SKA Low’, an assembly of more than a quarter of a hundred thousand low-frequency antennas that will be housed at CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia.

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    CSIRO’s ASKAP antennas under construction at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia

    SKA Low has no moving parts but it is still a complex beast. The signals from the antennas have to be brought together and compared with each other (‘correlated’) to create a view of the sky.

    Mia is working on the system (the correlator and beamformer) that does this. She writes ‘permanent’ software (firmware) for controlling the subsystems of the correlator and beamformer.

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    Our research engineer Mia Baquiran is working on the software that will create a view of the sky using the SKA Low radio telescope.

    So how did she get into this space you might ask?

    “When I was thinking about what I wanted to do at university I didn’t have that much direction,” Mia said. “Really the only thing that got me excited was the concept of engineering, being able to develop things and understanding how things work.”

    She was always interested in physics and robotics appealed too, so she headed for a degree in mechatronics, a field that brings together mechanical engineering, electronics and software.

    After finishing her studies at UNSW in 2012 she worked at a small software company, then joined our astronomy and space science research area.

    Mia loves problem solving. “There’s always that wonderful moment when you finally find a solution,” she said.

    She’s also curiosity-driven. “I like the idea that I can learn something new every day,” she said. “Engineering is constantly changing, so you have to become a lifelong learner.”

    “I do enjoy the opportunity to learn from people who are more experienced than me, and that’s definitely well-facilitated in CSIRO.”

    Because the correlator and beamformer project is international Mia has had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands to work with colleagues there.

    The SKA will give radio astronomers a view of the past a million years after the Big Bang, when the universe first evolving to what is referred to as the “cosmic dawn”.

    But what’s in store for Mia in her future?

    “I’d like to continue in electronics and FPGA (field programmable gate array) design,” she said.

    “Ideally I’d like to continue in radio astronomy, because we’re in a special position being in Australia, where it’s one of the fields that we’re world leaders in.”

    Find out more about how CSIRO is helping to bring the Square Kilometre Array to life.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:44 am on March 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Carbon Fibre, CSIRO   

    From CSIRO: “Carbon fibre coup: Secret recipes and super strength” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    20th February 2017 [Where has this been hiding?]
    Rachael Vorwerk

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    Slightly more elaborate than a pasta maker: this machine helps us to create a new carbon fibre mix. No image credit

    If you enjoy watching motor racing, you’ve no doubt heard the commentators talk a lot about carbon fibre. And if racing doesn’t tickle your fancy, you’ve most likely flown on a plane or driven in a car with carbon fibre components – in fact, carbon fibre is used in civil engineering, the military, cars and aerospace just to name a few areas. This material of the future combines high rigidity, tensile strength and chemical resistance with low weight. It’s far stronger than steel at just a fraction of steel’s weight.

    But did you know that the recipe needed to make the precursor (the material you need to make before you can start manufacturing carbon fibre) is a closely guarded secret? Only a handful of companies around the world can create this precursor (polymer goo) from scratch.

    Our researchers, together with researchers from Deakin University, are now members of this elite club of secret recipe makers. They worked out a way to reverse engineer the material and cracked the secret code to make a new carbon fibre mix – the first time this has have ever been done in Australia – and it’s likely to be the strongest, lightest, version of carbon fibre in the world!

    Carbon fibre & the secret recipe

    So, just how do you make carbon fibre?

    Well, if you’ve ever made pasta, you’ll probably understand how to make carbon fibre!

    The first step in making pasta is to make a dough out of the freshest, best ingredients. This isn’t too dissimilar to the “dough” needed for carbon fibre, that is, the precursor.

    Next, to produce the carbon fibre we need wet spinning lines to mix. This is like kneading the pasta dough. And just like dough through a pasta maker, the polymer goo is stretched into thin, long strands. Polymer goes into the wet spinning line and comes out as 500 – 12,000 separate strands – all finer than human hair (think angel hair pasta instead of spaghetti).

    The strands are stretched on rollers to ensure consistency, stabilised in a series of solutions, and even gets a steam bath along the way. Then the little strands of carbon fibre angel hair are wound onto a spool, which is taken back to the carboniser (kind of like an oven, but a lot more technical!). It changes the polymer’s molecular structure, getting rid of the hydrogen and realigning carbon atoms to make the finished product stronger. It’s this alignment that gives carbon fibre its amazing strength and rigidity.

    Al dente!

    What’s next for carbon fibre?

    We’ve launched a brand new carbon fibre facility with Deakin. It was custom built in Italy by a company specialising in the carbon fibre industry, in fact they liked our design so much they built another for their own factory!

    Because these amazing researchers were able to reverse engineer this secret recipe, we’re now currently testing what could be the next generation of carbon fibre. Remember how we said it was aligned molecular structure that gave carbon fibre its strength? Well, we’ve created a way to control a substance’s molecular structure. This means we have more control over our carbon fibre and can potentially make it even stronger than ever before.

    Carbon fibre isn’t our only love – we’re working hard to be innovators in other manufacturing industries, you can find out more about them here.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:51 am on March 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Australian Broadcast Corporation, CSIRO, Greta Stephensen, Wide Bay Indigenous student recognised by CSIRO for excelling in STEM,   

    From CSIRO: Women in STEM – “Wide Bay Indigenous student recognised by CSIRO for excelling in STEM” Greta Stephensen 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    1

    Australian Broadcast Corporation

    3.7.17
    Ross Kay

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    Photo: Indigenous student Greta Stephensen receives her award. (ABC Wide Bay: Ross Kay)

    A young Indigenous woman has been recognised by the CSIRO for her passion and pursuit of excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

    Greta Stephensen, from St Mary’s College in Maryborough, received the CSIRO Indigenous STEM Student Award after attending an Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS) camp, as well as demonstrating her work on an experiment.

    “The award is about passion for science as an Indigenous student,” Greta said.

    “I had to submit an application with all the things I had done, so that included the camps and the competitions and an [extended experimental investigation] that I had done, that presented my skills and my passion for STEM.”

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    Photo: STEM subjects centre around science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

    In May Greta will fly to the United States for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair as a guest of the CSIRO, where she will observe competing teams from around the world, including Australia.

    ASSETS program manager Jen Parsons said the importance of diversity in the sciences could not be overstated.

    “We have a lot of knowledge and expertise in our Indigenous communities,” she said.

    “A lot of time the reason why we don’t see good representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is purely because they may not know that opportunities exist, or they may not have those types of aspirations.

    “What we’re doing with the Indigenous STEM awards is showcasing some of these great Indigenous leaders that we do have.”

    Quantum mysteries of the double-slit experiment

    The subject Greta chose for her investigation was one that was originally performed more than 200 years ago but still confounds scientists to this day — the double-slit experiment.

    The experiment shows how light can demonstrate characteristics of both a particle and a wave.

    Photons or matter are shot towards a plate with one narrow slit and a screen behind it.

    On the screen over time the particles arrange in the shape of the narrow slit.


    Access mp4 video here .

    When you introduce a second narrow slit, things get interesting. When the particles are observed or measured, they arrange in the shape of the two narrow slits.

    But when unobserved, the particles arrange in multiple lines, as though the particle waves have interfered with each other.

    “When they’re not observed they create a bunch of lines at the back of the wall, and they think that is due to diffraction, so we chose to do our [experiment] on the diffraction of people,” Greta said.

    “So we set up the experiment and came up with the same results, which is really hard to explain considering scientists still don’t know why the particles are doing that.”

    Encouraging more women into science

    Greta has plans for university study in the future.

    “If I get a good enough OP I’m hoping to apply for the University of Queensland and get into the dual degree of engineering honours and maths, and then I would like to apply for a cadetship with the CSIRO,” she said.

    “If I get that I can work with them all through uni and then after that I don’t know where I’ll go. Anywhere in STEM, NASA maybe.

    “I’m very passionate about STEM, and I don’t think anyone could influence me not to do it.”

    Her advice for any woman considering studying STEM subjects is simple — your perspective is important.

    “I think if you’re a woman and you’re wanting to go into the STEM field then you really need to just try,” Greta said.

    “You really need women and people from diverse backgrounds to go into the workforce.

    It is an idea echoed by Dr Parsons, who adds that broader perspectives can lead to better problem solving.

    “Research shows that when you do have diverse groups you have greater results, you have a diversity of opinion, and you have different ways of looking at problems,” she said.

    “If you have a single type of person working on a problem, they may not look at all the possible angles, but if you do have a mixed group of people they may think of things that you may never have considered.

    “It’s really important not only for women to recognise that it’s a fantastic career opportunity, but also for organisations to see the benefits of having women, and Indigenous women in their organisation.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:44 pm on February 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CSIRO, , , , , , SKA South Africa   

    From CSIRO via AFR: “The Square Kilometre Array: going to infinity and beyond” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    2

    The Australian Financial Review

    Feb 24 2017
    Tess Ingram

    1
    In the red dust of WA, telescopes are already tuning in to the faint signals from the very edge of the universe. TREVOR COLLENS

    Thunderstorms are common in the Murchison region of Western Australia in January but for Luke Horsley the 21 millimetres of rain that drilled into the red dirt overnight are problematic.

    It is 6am in an old stone cottage at Boolardy Station. Horsley grabs the receiver of a black landline telephone and tells a colleague 330 kilometres away in Geraldton not to make the bumpy four-hour drive from the coast. The roads might be closed.

    The landline, which would look commonplace in any city office, stands out at Boolardy. Horsley may be working as an engineering support technician at a $400 million high-tech facility but using a mobile phone or even a humble Wi-Fi network is not an option. The radio waves they produce would obliterate the science he is working on – radio astronomy.

    Horsley and his colleagues are here in the middle of nowhere working on the world’s largest science project – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    A multibillion-dollar endeavour first dreamt up in 1991, the SKA is in essence a vast radio telescope that will literally look back through time to the dawn of the universe. To call its mission ambitious is to redefine understatement – the SKA aims to resolve some of the most profound unanswered questions of our time. Was Einstein right about gravity? When did the first stars, galaxies and black holes form? What is dark energy? And, quite possibly, are we alone in the universe?

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    A racehorse goanna explores one of the tiles in the Murchison Widefield Array. Trevor Collens

    To achieve this ten countries have joined forces to build the SKA – a telescope so large it will eventually have a collecting area of more than a million square metres. Australia won the right to host part of the project in 2012 after a hotly contested 8-year bidding process conducted by the SKA Organisation, the not-for profit dedicated to overseeing its design, construction and operation.

    South Africa will share the prize, ultimately hosting 2000 dishes probing the universe as far as six billion light years away. And here in the red dust of the Murchison a million individual antennas, each resembling a Christmas tree, will eventually tune in to the faint signals from the very edge of the universe – “light” emitted by events more than 13 billion years ago.

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)
    SKA Murchison Widefield Array,SKA Murchison Widefield Array, Boolardy station in outback Western Australia, at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO)

    Before the storm

    It is the day before the thunderstorm and here in the low-lying mulga scrub even the racehorse goanna look like they’re over the 38-degree temperatures and enervating humidity. Until a few years ago Boolardy was a cattle station and my visit coincides with that of the former manager and his daughter, here to round up the last escapee livestock.

    The Murchison shire, which is roughly the size of Denmark, is an ideal site for radio telescopes. It is so isolated it describes itself as “the shire with no town” – and claims to be the only one in Australia. During the SKA bidding process the Australian government protected it with a 260-kilometre “radio quiet zone”. Given the 50,000-square-kilometre area is home to just 113 people – most in the local Pia Wadjarri Indigenous community as well as a few remaining station owners – the chances of unwanted radio activity are slim.

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    Dr Balthasar Indermühle and Brett Hiscock in front of some of CSIRO’s 36 ASKAP radio telescope dishes in the Murchison scrub. TREVOR COLLENS

    Still, visitors aren’t encouraged. An “emergency flipchart” on the wall of a site office has instructions for dealing with an “unaccounted visitor” alongside “fire and explosions” and a “bomb threat response”. Disrupt the science at your peril.

    In the airvconditioned comfort of a control building buffered by two double-door “airlocks”, CSIRO experimental scientist Dr Balthasar Indermühle is working on a radio-frequency interference (RFI) monitoring system he is building. The Swiss-born scientist is here from his home in Sydney and his job is to keep the two radio telescopes that currently occupy the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) as clean of radio interference as possible.

    Indermühle was an airline pilot in Switzerland. Flying through the sky at night is about as close as you can get to space travel without leaving the planet and from his vantage point in the cockpit, he would regularly contemplate the universe. After exchanging airplanes for software development and founding a company called Inside Systems, Indermühle was drawn back to the night sky. Having already tinkered away at a Masters in astronomy online, he left for Australia to undertake a PhD in astrophysics at the University of New South Wales.

    Indermühle’s main interest lies in making this pursuit as easy as possible by minimising the amount of “earth noise” the radio telescopes pick up. This is no easy feat. To detect such weak radio signals from space, the telescopes need to be ultra-sensitive.

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    The MRO is at the centre of a 500km wide radio quiet zone where no mobile phones are allowed. TREVOR COLLENS

    “The entire energy that has been received by all the radio telescopes on the planet since the beginning of radio astronomy, the energy equivalent of that is ash from a cigarette dropping one centimetre in height,” Dr Indermühle explains as we circle one of the dishes hard at work.

    “That is how sensitive our equipment is. We could see a mobile phone that is a light year away.” A mobile phone on the moon heard via these telescopes would be booming, let alone one at Boolardy.

    Indermühle is one of a small crew of engineers and scientists, from the CSIRO and The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), who are pushing the frontiers of astronomical science at the MRO, which will host the SKA and is already home to the MWA and ASKAP telescopes.

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia
    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    Horsley, his ICRAR colleague Mia Walker and Dutch intern Ric Budē are braving the heat at the MWA to undertake repairs and prepare for the rollout of an expansion. The remainder of their team, former firefighter Dave Emrich and intern Kim Steele, who was part of a “student army” that helped build the array and is now working on the project full time, are in the MRO’s control building working on the spaghetti strands of cables that feed the data from the MWA into a complex computing system. Steele’s own journey is about to take a new turn when she jets off to Finland to undertake her PhD.

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    Former firefighter Dave Emrich says “when you look up at the sky at night and see all the stars; it makes you think”. Trevor Collens

    Everywhere else is dead quiet.

    Dark stuff

    If a mechanic told you he only understood about 5 per cent of your car, you wouldn’t be filled with confidence. Unfortunately, this is the awkward situation astronomers are in.

    “Astronomers are incredibly ignorant of the universe we live in,” explains ICRAR executive director Peter Quinn, an astrophysicist who once worked on the Hubble Telescope with NASA. “There’s about 95 per cent or more of it that’s been called ‘dark’.” Roughly 25 per cent of that is considered dark matter and 70 per cent dark energy. Scientists have little idea what they are.

    Quinn heads up ICRAR in Perth, a research facility set up specifically to help interpret data from the Murchison telescopes and run jointly by Curtin University and the University of Western Australia. It is part-funded by the WA government. Like so many of the others I meet while researching the SKA, Quinn’s journey into the deep space world has – much like the project itself – had unlikely stops and starts but never been short of interesting.

    Quinn began at the University of Wollongong and moved on to the prestigious California Institute of Technology before joining the Hubble institute at NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. He returned to Australian National University to lead a global search for dark matter. His work did indeed find early evidence of dark matter and in 1991 graced the cover of Nature. From there Quinn went to the European Southern Observatory headquarters in Munich and ultimately to ICRAR. He has spent the bulk of this career trying to crack the “dark” mystery.

    “I wanted to understand why all these galaxies looked like they looked,” Quinn tells me. “Why are some round and some flat and some green and some blue? When you start down that path, you all of a sudden realise what you’re looking at is just the frosting on the cake.

    “What the universe really made is all this black stuff which sits underneath. This dark stuff is driving everything, its presence, its shape, its physics. If you want to understand galaxies, you have to understand this dark stuff.

    “That’s probably the biggest, in my mind, unsolved mystery in the universe.”

    He is hopeful the SKA might provide an end to the “frustrating search” during his lifetime. Resolving this mystery is one of the five core science drivers of the project.

    A movie of the deep past

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    Murchison Widefield Array Project Manager Randall Wayth switched from computers to space. TREVOR COLLENS

    After the Big Bang, which is thought to have occurred about 13.7 billion years ago, the universe was transformed from an expanding ball of hot particles into a cool sea of gas, predominantly hydrogen. This is thought to have occurred over about 380,000 years.

    Inflation to gravitational waves derived from ESA/Planck and the DOE NASA NSF interagency task force on CMB research, Bock et al. (2006, astro-ph/0604101); modifications by E. Siegel.
    Inflation to gravitational waves derived from ESA/Planck and the DOE NASA NSF interagency task force on CMB research, Bock et al.

    There was no light during this time, aptly known as the Dark Ages, so no optical telescope has ever been able to observe this phase of the universe’s evolution.

    At some point – probably about 400 million years after the Big Bang – there was the “cosmic dawn” when the first galaxies and stars are thought to have burst into existence.

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    Cosmic dawn. BBC

    But it took until about 1 billion years after the Big Bang for radiation from those stars and galaxies to clear the hydrogen “fog” and allow light to escape. That period of about 600 million years is known as the “Epoch of Reionisation” and it is one of the last frontiers in cosmology.

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    Epoch of Reionisation

    The MWA telescope is already working to define what happened.

    Trick of the light

    It may sound impossible to delineate something so massive but it works like this.

    Human eyes can only collect and focus a certain range of the electromagnetic spectrum – what we call visible light. But in order to understand the universe, we need to study astronomical objects over the broad range of wavelengths they emit – from the gamma rays emitted from emerging stars to the radio waves released from black holes.

    Radio waves are simply “invisible” light and astronomers have developed telescopes to pick up this light in wavelengths ranging from a fraction of a millimetre to metres long. The more sensitive the telescope, the clearer picture it can create of weaker signals. The older the signal, the weaker it is because it has stretched out as it has travelled – just like when you look at the sun, you are seeing it as it was 8.2 minutes ago because that is how long it takes sunlight to travel to Earth.

    Therefore, the most powerful radio telescopes are essentially time machines.

    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China
    FAST radio telescope located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China, the world’s most powerful radio telescope

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres
    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres, cureently the world’s most productive installation for millimeter and submillimeter astronomy

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    Dr Balthasar Indermühle’s main interest lies in minimising the amount of “earth noise” the radio telescopes pick up. Trevor Collens

    Time travel

    For scientists like MWA director Randall Wayth, time travel comes with its challenges.

    Wayth, a software consultant who followed his passion to become an astrophysicist, says the Epoch of Reionisation project is the most challenging project the telescope is seeking to complete.

    “It is really difficult because the signal we are looking for is about a million times fainter than all of the other stuff that’s in the sky,” he says.”This is like looking for a little torch next to a really big spotlight.”

    Wayth spent five years in software consulting before deciding to opt for “something a bit more meaningful” – a phD in astrophysics at the University of Melbourne. “It turns out that the whole radio astronomy side of things is an astonishingly good use of everything that you learnt in your engineering degree,” Wayth says. “And with modern radio astronomy as well it’s everything you learnt in your computer science degree because it’s all computers. No one actually goes and looks through an eyepiece anymore.”

    He returns to the Epoch of Reionisation.

    “We know about the very early universe. We know about today and halfway back in time,” he says. “Then there is this period that we almost know nothing about. That is what we’re trying to get to with the Epoch of Reionisation experiment.”

    At first glance the 2048 squat, spider-like antennas that constitute the MWA radio telescope are not at all impressive. But it is the MWA that has the honour of reaching back to the cosmic dawn and directly informing the design of the SKA’s future low-frequency antennas, which will be much more powerful. The MWA receives signals within the 80 to 300 megahertz bandwidth, the same low frequencies we typically broadcast FM radio and television signals on. It has been surveying the southern hemisphere since 2013.

    “The MWA would detect the Epoch of Reionisation and see things within it, but then the SKA would come along and see it in much greater resolution,” says Wayth.

    “We’re not sensitive enough to directly make images, which is kind of the holy grail, but SKA will be able to do that. What we can do is say, ‘yes, it happened over this time range and the kind of objects that are involved must have been X-ray emitting objects or small galaxies’ or whatever it was. So, we’ll be able to tie it down to some space and then SKA can go in.”

    So what has the MWA found in it’s three years of searching the southern skies? A big part of the answer is its GaLactic and Extragalactic All-sky MWA (GLEAM) survey. GLEAM produced a catalogue of 300,000 galaxies, picking up radio waves which, when translated into images, showed the sky in 20 primary colours – far better than the three humans can manage. With these images astronomers are already planning where to zoom in on when SKA comes online next year.

    Wayth and Emrich have similar backgrounds. Both studied electrical engineering, with Emrich tacking on computer systems and Wayth computer science. After years as a professional engineer and then bush firefighter, an opportunity came up for Emrich to apply his background to a persistent passion of his, astronomy.

    He can trace his fascination with space back to his grandparents who took him camping in Hyden, a small town about 300 kilometres south-east of Perth popular with tourists because of its large wave-shaped rock, when he was a child.

    “They used to take us out to Wave Rock and Hyden and things to look at the sky at night,” Emrich recalls. “I remember gramps rattling the tent at 3am when we were all asleep and saying ‘you have to have a look at this’ and all of us grumbling about how early it was.

    “I think there is something primitive about human beings that when you look up at the sky at night and see all the stars; it makes you think.”

    He has been involved in the MWA project since 2009 and says he has lost count of how many times he has travelled to the Murchison observatory, probably close to 100. His wife and three teenage children – who live in Perth – don’t mind the time away as much as they did when he was battling bushfires across Western Australia – at least these trips are planned in advance.

    8
    A “radio colour” view of the sky above a tile of the Murchison Widefield Array radio telescope.The Milky Way is visible as a band across the sky and the dots beyond are some of the 300,000 galaxies observed by the telescope for the GLEAM survey. Credit: Radio image by Natasha Hurley-Walker (ICRAR/Curtin) and the GLEAM Team. MWA tile and landscape by Dr John Goldsmith / Celestial Visions. Curtin/ICRAR/JohnGoldsmith

    Kelly’s input

    Patricia Kelly is as responsible as anyone for Australia being chosen to co-host the SKA. A career public servant whose early work included developing social policy, Kelly’s journey took a turn towards science when she she moved to the Industry department in 1995 and began working with the research sector and on innovation policy. In 2007 she became involved with the SKA bidding process through her role as deputy secretary responsible for the department’s science and research streams.

    As the big idea crystallised into action Kelly led a joint bid by Australia and New Zealand to host the entire project. She was in Amsterdam advocating Australia’s case in 2012 when the SKA Organisation decided to split the project between Australia and South Africa. There was, Kelly says, an element of politics in that call. “But I think in the end it has not been a bad outcome. It has made it a truly global project in a way I think it wouldn’t have been if it had gone one way or the other.”

    Today Kelly chairs the Australia-New Zealand SKA Co-ordination Committee (NZ remains involved despite missing out on hosting the science) and is Australia’s representative on the board of the international SKA Organisation, which includes members from Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and is co-ordinating the whole project.

    There’s a lot to do.

    Two-phase approach

    The SKA is to be constructed in two phases. The first phase, SKA1, will constitute about 10 per cent of the full array and is about three-quarters of the way through its final design phase.

    SKA1 will see about 200 dishes rolled out in South Africa’s Karoo, a lightly populated semi-desert region north of Cape Town, including 64 dishes known as “MeerKAT” that have been acting as a local precursor project. The dishes will cover the 350MHz to 14 gigahertz range of the spectrum.

    SKA South Africa Icon
    SKA South Africa

    9
    Solar panels will provide power for the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. Until now it has relied on diesel-powered generators. Trevor Collens

    In Australia, about 130,000 low frequency antennas will be constructed to cover the 50 to 350MHz range. Although the MWA’s “spiders” have been informing their design, the SKA antennas more closely resemble Christmas trees. The cost of constructing SKA1 has been capped at €675 million, with operations expected to cost another €100 million a year.

    Phase two will see the collective array expand to more than its namesake square kilometre, with a total 2000 dishes in South Africa and other African countries, including Botswana, Ghana and Kenya, and a staggering one million Christmas tree antennas creating a forest above the Murchison scrub.

    It is undoubtedly a huge endeavour with a significant cost. But everyone AFR Weekend speaks with is confident there will be payoffs beyond understanding what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

    Wi-Fi was the result of CSIRO radio astronomers seeking to detect tiny, exploding black holes. A scientist at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, invented the World Wide Web in 1989 to meet the demand for information sharing between scientists. Hierarchical Segmentation software developed by NASA is now used in medical imaging. Surely the SKA will be no different.

    Kelly, who is also the director-general of IP Australia, says it is most likely the SKA’s spin-offs will be things we are not able to predict.

    “Certainly the amount of data the telescope will generate and how to handle that data will be something that will generate a great deal of information and learning,” Kelly says.

    “The technologies being developed in terms of sensors … will have much broader implication for a range of industries and there is also a real need for ways of powering this telescope in an affordable way, so there is also a lot of work being done on remote energy solutions that, of course, are very much in the national mix at the moment.”

    Hitting top gear

    10
    There are 36 ASKAP dishes dotted across the MRO. Designed and built by the CSIRO, the organisation hopes the pioneering technology will be used by the larger SKA array in South Africa. Trevor Collens

    January has been an exciting month for the CSIRO’s Antony Schinckel. The man responsible for the design, construction and commissioning of the $165 million ASKAP telescope has just seen it click into top gear after extensive testing. And already the results, and the way they are being processed, is encouraging.

    ASKAP, Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, is the more familiar looking telescope at Murchison. It consists of 36 large, white dish antennas that work together as a single instrument. Each one bears a local Wajarri name – including Bundarra (stars), Wilara (the Moon) and Jirdilungu (the Milky Way) – an honour also afforded to Schinckel himself.

    “My Wajarri name is Minga, which is the Wajarri word for ant,” he explains from his office in Sydney. “I am certainly quite honoured to be one of the few people that was given a name.”

    The ASKAP telescope is mapping space out to about 3 billion light years away, using neutral gas to reveal hundreds of thousands of galaxies. The project, expected to take five years, is creating mind-boggling amounts of data. Even operating well below its full capacity the antennas are now churning out 5.2 terabytes of data per second. That’s about 15 per cent of all the data bouncing around the internet on any given second.

    From the telescope, the data goes down an 800km fibre optic cable to the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and into a new, near automatic data-processing system Schinckel and his team have developed.

    “It’s like a 24/7 prestige car manufacturing plant – the raw materials flow in at one end, you decide what type of car you want to roll off the production line, and therefore what parts you need, and let it go to work overnight. Next morning you get a brand new, never been seen before, high-performance car.”

    While the ASKAP will not be directly used in Australia’s end of the SKA (that job’s for the “Christmas trees”), it as an important demonstrator of a key technology the CSIRO has designed and is being considered for the SKA mid-range telescopes to be rolled out in South Africa.

    Called a phased array feed (PAF), the technology is essentially an advanced version of a traditional radio telescope receiver, which detects and amplifies radio waves. Traditionally receivers have only been able to take snapshots of small pieces of the sky at once but the PAFs, with 188 individual receivers positioned in a chequerboard, allow a dramatically wider field of view.

    Schinckel, who spent 17 years at high-profile observatories in Hawaii, says the CSIRO has already sold one PAF to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany and is building a second for the Jodrell Bank Observatory in England. The next step could be its use in other fields.

    “In many ways we don’t know enough to know what those other uses might be,” Schinckel says.

    “They might be in medical imaging, for example, in tomography. It might be in ground imaging from aeroplanes or satellites. It could be in communications in cities where you have extremely high density communications and there are limits that that imposes. We simply don’t know at this juncture.

    “When you typically look back about five or ten years after a telescope was built, and you look to see what was the really exciting science that came out of it, often only about 30 per cent of the science that’s come out of it was what you had predicted or planned right back at the start,” he says.

    The big challenge

    Making sure the SKA has the computing power and data processing systems to handle the deluge of data is the big challenge for ICRAR’s director of data intensive astronomy, Andreas Wicenec.

    Phase one of the SKA alone will produce five times 2015’s global internet traffic. The data collected in a single day would take nearly two million years to play back on an iPod and will require the power of computer processing systems around ten times the size of today’s biggest machines.

    “This is a very important part of the project because this is the limiting factor essentially,” ICRAR’s Quinn says. “Unless they can manage the data, then the telescope doesn’t work.”

    The challenge of ensuring the SKA can process this unprecedented volume of data in near real-time is being tackled by institutes and companies across the globe, including tech powerhouses Amazon, Intel, IBM and Cisco Systems which are all providing input into how the systems should function.

    The brain – data flow

    From Perth, Wicenec is sharing valuable insights with the SKA design teams from the data journey of the spidery-MWA. He is also taking a leading role in designing the “brain” of the SKA – the science data processor.

    After a correlator on site at the MRO has conducted a first filter of the mass of data, reducing it in size, it will travel down the fibre optic cable to Perth’s Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

    12
    SKA correlator

    Here the “brain” extracts unwanted radio noise, from an errant mobile phone or the odd aircraft that flies overhead, and turns the data into something scientists can use, such as an image which can then be distributed to scientists across the globe,

    In terms of data flow, the MWA is a factor of 20 larger than the last project Wicenec worked on, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile, an ambitious array perched atop a plateau more than 5000 metres above sea level.

    “That’s already a big step but what we are talking from MWA to SKA is actually a factor of 1800 in terms of data flow,” Wicenec says, explaining the SKA’s jump in scale also delivers an increase in resolution, compounding the data deluge.

    And if that wasn’t hard enough, scientists from across the globe, ranging from the Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden to the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics of India, need the data to be sent out again.

    “We are actually sending about three to four times more data out [from the MWA] than what we are receiving, so that means about a good gigabyte or 1.2 gigabytes a second out to people every single day,” Wicenec says.

    Managing the project

    If you think managing tradies on your home renovation is tough, spare a thought for David Luchetti. As general manager of the Australian SKA Office, he heads the agency responsible for co-ordinating Australia’s commitment to the project – everything from federal funding to site access – and has unrivalled knowledge on its progress. For a public sector veteran who took on the role with little understanding of astronomy, building knowledge of the science has been a learning curve.

    “Even now, after my eight years [in the role], it makes you realise that there’s some seriously smart people out there,” Luchetti laughs. “There’s been a certain process of osmosis, I think, in actually absorbing some of the collective wisdom of the people.”

    He says the biggest challenge in a role co-ordinating a highly complex, multibillion-dollar project has been to keep momentum going on its many and varied streams of work. There’s finalising the design, securing funding, signing the Indigenous Land Use agreement and liaising with the WA government.

    “It’s not a sequential project, in the sense that once you do ‘A’ then you move on to ‘B’,” he says. “Keeping all of them moving at the same time is probably the main challenge.”

    Luchetti says the global effort is like a duck, “it’s quite serene on top but there is a lot happening below the surface”. He has also been responsible for translating “scientist” into “politician”. A key hurdle for sciences such as astronomy is to translate researchers’ excitement about the unknown into funding. The idea of “we will find something or there will be a spin-off but we can’t tell you what it will be” does not sell easily.

    The Australian government has understood the vision, contributing about $400 million to SKA-related activities to date, with the West Australian government spending about a further $111 million on radio astronomy, most linked to the SKA. Premier Colin Barnett says the SKA could add more than $100 million to the state’s economy over the next 20 years through locally supplied goods and services. And managing all those terabytes of data would bring valuable experience to WA.

    Alien life

    But what about the aliens? The first thing that comes to many peoples’ minds when they think about what else could be out there is aliens. Is there other intelligent life? SKA could provide an answer.

    The man heading the entire SKA project, Phil Diamond, director general of the SKA Organisation.

    “The public think that [looking for aliens] is what we do,” Diamond says. “It is not actually what radio astronomers do. However, SKA will be the most capable machine that human kind has ever developed to hunt for that signal from intelligent extraterrestrial civilisations.

    “We do have people within our science working groups who are focused purely on that aspect but it is definitely not the main stream of what we do.

    “However if we detect the signal, I think the interest will rise enormously.”

    Enormously is an understatement. If an artificial signal which suggests intelligent life, for example a distant airport, is detected by the SKA, another radio telescope would be used to verify the signal. And then, Diamond explains there is actually an astronomical protocol for how it should be dealt with.

    “There is no way it could remain secret because with the prevalence of social media these days, it gets out,” he says. “It would be global news within 24 hours.”

    For Diamond, a 35-year radio astronomer, his key interest is not in the extraterrestrial but rather how our own galaxy has evolved.

    “I am quite interested in the theme we have dubbed ‘the cradle of life’ which will look at how planets form and evolve, detecting the molecular signals of amino acids and things like that in space,” he says.

    Two key focuses

    But before the science, Diamond has a big job on his hands.

    “We are dealing with more than 600 scientists and engineers in more than 10 countries… people in almost every time zone you can imagine from New Zealand to Western Canada and all the cultural and language differences that go with that,” Diamond says.

    “Pulling all of that together has been one of the biggest challenges. I do say to my staff here that the communications in this project will be perfect the day we switch the telescope off,” which is expected to be about 50 years after it fires up.

    The SKA Organisation has two key focuses at the moment – signing off on a final design and inking a binding SKA treaty between the 10 member countries, committing them to funding and contracts for the commencement of construction, targeted for late-2018.

    But even Diamond admits hitting that construction target will be a tough ask.

    “That is going to be very tight,” he says. “There are multiple things that have to happen before we can start construction. On the design side we have to deliver a design that has been validated and is ready to go out to industry for tender. On the other side the governments have to deliver a convention, the governance structure and the legal organisation that enables us to receive money from the governments and go out and pay industry.

    “These things have to converge on the right time scale. So far everything is pointing in the direction that will happen … but it is very tight.”

    Diamond can control the design process but the speed of the governments is out of his hands. For example, all of the Brexit legislation that has to go through the British government could slow the nation ratifying its end of the treaty.

    As it reaches the end of the design process, the SKA Organisation is also re-examining its €675 million cost target for the construction of SKA1.

    “Like all major scientific projects like this, our cost estimates are coming in a little higher than we had hoped,” Diamond says. About 30 per cent to be exact.

    “So we are looking at if there is any reuse of technologies and software from the precursors that can help us reduce the costs. This is a normal project process, it is nothing out of the ordinary.”

    While all of that is a long way from the MWA team assembling more spidery antennas in the scorching heat of the Murchison, there is a palpable excitement that their telescope could now play an even bigger role in the world’s largest science project.

    As they make the 40km drive back to Boolardy from the MRO, lightning flashes overhead. Everyone is praying the storm doesn’t target its science – last year it claimed thousands of dollars worth of antennas atop CSIRO’s radio interference tower.

    The night passes and while the lightning has not been an issue, the rain has. Horsley was right to be worried, all but one of the roads has been closed. And the forecast for tomorrow is no better.

    The ICRAR team cuts their site trip three days short and piles into the back of rented four-wheel drives, dodging lizards and kangaroos on their way back to Geraldton.

    The radio waves are from 13 billion years ago, they can wait another month.

    The reporter travelled to the MRO courtesy of ICRAR.

    See the full article here .

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    • richardmitnick 10:59 pm on February 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      The sciencesprings blog is shown on Twitter. The Twitter feed for this post resulted in 63 retweets.
      I am thrilled.

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  • richardmitnick 9:44 am on February 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Carbon fiber in Australia, CSIRO   

    From CSIRO: “Carbon fibre makes Australian debut” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    20 Feb 2017
    Chris Still

    Australia for the first time has the capacity to produce carbon fibre from scratch and at scale, thanks to CSIRO and Deakin University.

    1
    Image: CSIRO

    The “missing link” in Australia’s carbon fibre capability, a wet spinning line (above), has been launched today in a ceremony at Waurn Ponds just outside Geelong.

    Carbon fibre combines high rigidity, tensile strength and chemical resistance with low weight and is used in aerospace, civil engineering, the military, cars, and also in competitive sports.

    Only a handful of companies around the world can create carbon fibre, each using their own secret recipe.

    To join this elite club CSIRO and Deakin researchers had to crack the code.

    In doing so, using patented CSIRO technology, they’ve created what could be the next generation of carbon fibre that is stronger and of a higher quality.

    Director of CSIRO Future Industries, Dr Anita Hill, said the development was an important milestone.

    “This facility means Australia can carry out research across the whole carbon fibre value chain: from molecules, to polymers, to fibre, to finished composite parts,” Dr Hill said.

    “Together with Deakin, we’ve created something that could disrupt the entire carbon fibre manufacturing industry.”

    Deakin University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jane den Hollander AO said the development is a great example of what Deakin and CSIRO could achieve together, for the benefit of all of Australia.

    “Our two organisations share a long-standing and distinguished bond, one that our new Strategic Relationship Agreement (SRA) deepens even further,” Professor den Hollander said.

    “Together, we’re conducting industry focussed research with a profound and lasting impact, from the communities we serve, through to the world.”

    The wet spinning line machinery takes a sticky mix of precursor chemicals and turns it into five hundred individual strands of fibre, each thinner than a human hair.

    They’re then wound onto a spool to create a tape and taken next door to the massive carbonisation ovens to create the finished carbon fibre.

    The CSIRO/ Deakin wet spinning line was custom built by an Italian company with input from the organisations’ own researchers.

    The company liked the design so much it made another for its own factory and the the CSIRO/ Deakin machine has been described as “the Ferrari of wet spinning lines”.

    Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science the Honourable Craig Laundy MP officially launched the facility.

    “This is a great example of how collaboration in the Australian research sector can accelerate research, lead innovation and provide new job opportunities,” Mr Laundy said.

    “Geelong already has a global reputation for industrial innovation. Initiatives such as this enhance that standing.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:07 pm on February 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: CSIRO, sci-news.com, Zealandia   

    From CSIRO via SCI NEWS: “Meet Zealandia, Earth’s New Continent” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    SciNews bloc

    SCI NEWS

    Feb 14, 2017
    Natali Anderson

    Zealandia — a 4.9 million km2 region of the southwest Pacific Ocean — was once part of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana and today it is 94% submerged, according to a research team led by New Zealand’s geoscience agency GNS Science.

    1
    Based on various lines of geological and geophysical evidence, particularly those accumulated in the last two decades, Nick Mortimer et al argue that Zealandia is not a collection of partly submerged continental fragments but is a coherent 4.9 million km2 continent. NC – New Caledonia; WTP – West Torres Plateau; CT – Cato Trough; Cf – Chesterfield Islands; L – Lord Howe Island; N – Norfolk Island; K – Kermadec Islands; Ch – Chatham Islands; B – Bounty Islands; An – Antipodes Islands; Au – Auckland Islands; Ca – Campbell Island. Image credit: Nick Mortimer et al, doi: 10.1130/GSATG321A.1.

    Most people view the continents and oceans as discrete entities of land and water across Earth’s surface. However, even a cursory look at our world establishes the problem.

    Are North America and South America truly separate continents with their connection through the Isthmus of Panama? Where and why does one distinguish Europe, Africa, and Asia considering the Bosphorus and Sinai Peninsula?

    One might suggest a geological reason: continents are large, identifiable areas underlain by continental crust.

    A new paper by GNS Science geologist Dr. Nick Mortimer and co-authors follows this idea, but then throws a fascinating twist on the subject: Zealandia.

    “Several islands, notably New Zealand and New Caledonia, are connected by submerged continental crust across a large area of Earth’s surface,” the authors explained.

    “This region has elevated bathymetry relative to surrounding oceanic crust, diverse and silica-rich rocks, and relatively thick and low-velocity crustal structure.”

    “Its isolation from Australia and large area support its definition as a continent — Zealandia,” they said.

    3
    Simplified map of Earth’s tectonic plates and continents, including Zealandia: continental shelf areas shown in pale colors; large igneous province (LIP) submarine plateaus shown by blue dashed lines: AP – Agulhas Plateau; KP – Kerguelen Plateau; OJP – Ontong Java Plateau; MP – Manihiki Plateau; HP – Hikurangi Plateau. Selected microcontinents and continental fragments shown by black dotted lines: Md – Madagascar; Mt – Mauritia; D – Gulden Draak; T – East Tasman; G – Gilbert; B – Bollons; O – South Orkney. Image credit: Nick Mortimer et al, doi: 10.1130/GSATG321A.1.

    Zealandia is approximately the area of greater India and, like India, Australia, Antarctica, Africa, and South America, was a former part of Gondwana.

    As well as being the seventh largest continent, Zealandia is the youngest, thinnest, and most submerged.

    “The identification of Zealandia as a geological continent, rather than a collection of continental islands, fragments, and slices, more correctly represents the geology of this part of Earth,” the scientists said.

    “Currently used conventions and definitions of continental crust, continents, and microcontinents require no modification to accommodate Zealandia.”

    Roughly 94% of the area of Zealandia currently is submerged.

    “It is not unique in this regard: an ice-free, isostatically corrected West Antarctica would also largely be submerged,” Dr. Mortimer and his colleagues said.

    “Zealandia and West Antarctica were formerly adjacent to each other along the southeast Gondwana margin and, prior to thinning and breakup, the orogenic belts, Cordilleran batholiths, and normal continental crustal thickness of eastern Australia would have projected along strike into these areas.”

    Zealandia once made up approximately 5% of the area of the supercontinent Gondwana, according to the team.

    “It contains the principal geological record of the Mesozoic convergent margin of southeast Gondwana and, until the Late Cretaceous, lay Pacificward of half of West Antarctica and all of eastern Australia,” the researchers said.

    “Thus, depictions of the Paleozoic-Mesozoic geology of Gondwana, eastern Australia, and West Antarctica are both incomplete and misleading if they omit Zealandia.”

    “The importance of Zealandia is not so much that there is now a case for a formerly little-known continent, but that, by virtue of its being thinned and submerged, but not shredded into microcontinents, it is a new and useful continental end member,” they added.

    “Zealandia illustrates that the large and the obvious in natural science can be overlooked.”

    The paper was published online first in the journal GSA Today on February 8, 2017.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:06 pm on January 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ASKAP finally hits the big-data highway, , , CSIRO, , , , , WALLABY - Widefield ASKAP L-band Legacy All-sky Blind surveY   

    From The Conversation for SKA: “The Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder finally hits the big-data highway” 

    Conversation
    The Conversation

    SKA Square Kilometer Array

    SKA

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia
    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    January 15, 2017
    Douglas Bock
    Director of Astronomy and Space Science, CSIRO

    Antony Schinckel
    ASKAP Director, CSIRO

    You know how long it takes to pack the car to go on holidays. But there’s a moment when you’re all in, everyone has their seatbelt on, you pull out of the drive and you’re off.

    Our ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) telescope has just pulled out of the drive, so to speak, at its base in Western Australia at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), about 315km northeast of Geraldton.

    ASKAP is made of 36 identical 12-metre wide dish antennas that all work together, 12 of which are currently in operation. Thirty ASKAP antennas have now been fitted with specialised phased array feeds, the rest will be installed later in 2017.

    Until now, we’d been taking data mainly to test how ASKAP performs. Having shown the telescope’s technical excellence it’s now off on its big trip, starting to make observations for the big science projects it’ll be doing for the next five years.

    And it’s taking lots of data. Its antennas are now churning out 5.2 terabytes of data per second (about 15 per cent of the internet’s current data rate).

    Once out of the telescope, the data is going through a new, almost automatic data-processing system we’ve developed.

    It’s like a bread-making machine: put in the data, make some choices, press the button and leave it overnight. In the morning you have a nice batch of freshly made images from the telescope.

    Go the WALLABIES

    The first project we’ve been taking data for is one of ASKAP’s largest surveys, WALLABY (Widefield ASKAP L-band Legacy All-sky Blind surveY).

    On board the survey are a happy band of 100-plus scientists – affectionately known as the WALLABIES – from many countries, led by one of our astronomers, Bärbel Koribalski, and Lister Staveley-Smith of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), University of Western Australia.

    They’re aiming to detect and measure neutral hydrogen gas in galaxies over three-quarters of the sky. To see the farthest of these galaxies they’ll be looking three billion years back into the universe’s past, with a redshift of 0.26.

    2
    Neutral hydrogen gas in one of the galaxies, IC 5201 in the southern constellation of Grus (The Crane), imaged in early observations for the WALLABY project. Matthew Whiting, Karen Lee-Waddell and Bärbel Koribalski (all CSIRO); WALLABY team, Author provided

    Neutral hydrogen – just lonely individual hydrogen atoms floating around – is the basic form of matter in the universe. Galaxies are made up of stars but also dark matter, dust and gas – mostly hydrogen. Some of the hydrogen turns into stars.

    Although the universe has been busy making stars for most of its 13.7-billion-year life, there’s still a fair bit of neutral hydrogen around. In the nearby (low-redshift) universe, most of it hangs out in galaxies. So mapping the neutral hydrogen is a useful way to map the galaxies, which isn’t always easy to do with just starlight.

    But as well as mapping where the galaxies are, we want to know how they live their lives, get on with their neighbours, grow and change over time.

    When galaxies live together in big groups and clusters they steal gas from each other, a processes called accretion and stripping. Seeing how the hydrogen gas is disturbed or missing tells us what the galaxies have been up to.

    We can also use the hydrogen signal to work out a lot of a galaxy’s individual characteristics, such as its distance, how much gas it contains, its total mass, and how much dark matter it contains.

    This information is often used in combination with characteristics we learn from studying the light of the galaxy’s stars.

    Oh what big eyes you have ASKAP

    ASKAP sees large pieces of sky with a field of view of 30 square degrees. The WALLABY team will observe 1,200 of these fields. Each field contains about 500 galaxies detectable in neutral hydrogen, giving a total of 600,000 galaxies.

    3
    One of the first fields targeted by WALLABY, the NGC 7232 galaxy group. Ian Heywood (CSIRO); WALLABY team, Author provided

    This image (above) of the NGC 7232 galaxy group was made with just two nights’ worth of data.

    ASKAP has now made 150 hours of observations of this field, which has been found to contain 2,300 radio sources (the white dots), almost all of them galaxies.

    It has also observed a second field, one containing the Fornax cluster of galaxies, and started on two more fields over the Christmas and New Year period.

    Even more will be dug up by targeted searches. Simply detecting all the WALLABY galaxies will take more than two years, and interpreting the data even longer. ASKAP’s data will live in a huge archive that astronomers will sift through over many years with the help of supercomputers at the Pawsey Centre in Perth, Western Australia.

    ASKAP has nine other big survey projects planned, so this is just the beginning of the journey. It’s really a very exciting time for ASKAP and the more than 350 international scientists who’ll be working with it.

    Who knows where this Big Trip will take them, and what they’ll find along the way?

    See the full article here .

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    Our team of professional editors work with university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.
    Access to independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversation.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:52 pm on January 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CSIRO, Gold,   

    From COSMOS: “Gold untold: trees and termite mounds hold clues to riches below” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS

    03 January 2017
    Kate Ravilious

    1
    Termite mounds, such as this one at the Bee Hive formations at Purnululu National Park in Western Australia, and acacia trees churn soil and minuscule chunks of gold up from below. John Crux Photography / Getty Images.

    It’s no good heading to the hills to look for gold these days. Instead, modern prospectors might do better to sample termite mounds and acacia trees, according to a new study carried out in Western Australia.

    Most of the easy gold spilling out at the Earth’s surface has been found, but there are still undiscovered veins of riches, hidden beneath sediments deposited over the past few million years. But how can a modern gold hunter work out where to start digging?

    To answer this question, Ravi Anand from the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation [CSIRO] in Western Australia and colleagues gathered hundreds of samples of sediment, soil and acacia leaves from Moolart Well gold deposit, 400 kilometres northeast of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

    After analysing the samples’ gold content, they discovered that regions were gold-poor, while others contained clusters of nanometre-sized spheres and rods of the precious metal.

    The sediments where gold clustered were rich in organic carbon (carbon made from once-living material). “This gold is derived from the decay of the biomass created by the past vegetation in humid conditions,” Anand explains, whose findings were published in the journal Geology.

    Better still, the areas containing clusters of gold may hint at deeper riches. Anand and his colleagues believe that the gold they found near to the surface had gone through several stages of recycling.

    First, physical, chemical and biological processes moved gold from gold veins in the underlying bedrock into iron-rich sediments during humid climate conditions, more than 10 million years ago.

    These little flakes of gold were transferred upwards again into younger sediments by the action of burrowing creatures, erosion and flooding, during the dry phase of the past few million years.

    Finally, acacia trees and termites that thrive in the arid climate conditions continue to shuffle tiny flakes of gold around, diluting and dispersing the gold further still.

    Any mounds or trees that are unusually rich in gold are likely to be lying above gold rich sediments, which in turn may well be hiding a valuable vein of gold. In other parts of the world, with different environmental processes and history, the recycling stages will differ.

    Nonetheless, the clues are there for those who know what to look for, Anand says: “By studying soil and sediment formation, organisms and landscape evolution we can determine how gold has been dispersed, to help us narrow down the best places for mineral exploration.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:16 pm on December 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , CSIRO, , WTF - Widefield ouTlier Finder   

    From CSIRO: “A machine astronomer could help us find the unknowns in the universe” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    13th December 2016
    By Pr[o]fessor Ray Norris, Honorary Fellow – CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science, and School of Computing, Engineering, & Maths – Western Sydney University.

    1
    Part of CSIRO’s ASKAP antennas at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Western Australia. Australian SKA Office/WA Department of Commerce, CC BY-ND

    What have pulsars, quasars, dark matter and dark energy got in common? Answer: each of them took the discoverer by surprise. While much of science advances carefully and methodically, the majority of truly spectacular discoveries in astronomy are unexpected.

    Many of our telescopes are built to discover the known unknowns: the things we know we don’t know, such as identifying the stuff that makes up dark matter.

    But the real breakthroughs are the unknown unknowns. These are the things we don’t even suspect are out there until we accidentally find them.

    For example, of the ten greatest discoveries by the Hubble space telescope, only one featured in the proposal used to justify its construction and launch. That one, measuring the rate of expansion of the universe, is a known unknown.

    In other words, we had a question about something that we knew about, and we thought Hubble could answer the question. Most of the other discoveries are unknown unknowns: we didn’t know what they were until we stumbled across them.

    They include the discovery of dark energy, the only Hubble discovery (so far) to win a Nobel prize, in 2011.

    A chance discovery

    Consider pulsars. They were discovered in the 1960s when a bright young PhD student in the UK, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, was studying the twinkling of radio waves by electrons in space (a known unknown).

    She noticed odd bits of what she called “bits of scruff” on her chart recorder, and realised they were something much more startling than mere tractor interference, and thereby discovered pulsars – an unknown unknown – for which her supervisor Antony Hewish won the 1974 Nobel prize for physics.

    So how did she make that discovery?

    Apart from being a bright, persistent, open-minded student, Bell Burnell was also observing the universe in a way in which it had never been observed before. By looking at rapid changes in the radio waves, she was observing the universe using a parameter – in this case short timescale observations – that hadn’t been used before.

    Other discoveries happen when people observe with a different parameter, such as faintness, or area of sky, that hasn’t been observed before. Together, these parameters make up our parameter space.

    Most major astronomical discoveries seem to happen when somebody observes a new part of parameter space; observing the universe in a way it hasn’t been observed before.

    This new way might consist of looking more deeply, or with better resolution, or on a larger scale, or maybe just seeing much more of the universe. Extending any of these parameters into their unexplored regions is likely to lead to an unexpected discovery.

    Right now several next-generation telescopes are being built, boldly going where no telescope has gone before. They will significantly expand the volume of observational parameter space, and should in principle discover unexpected new phenomena and new types of object.

    For example, CSIRO’s A$165-million ASKAP telescope, now nearing completion, is exploring several areas of uncharted parameter space, with an excellent chance of stumbling across a major unexpected discovery that could shake the scientific world.

    But will we recognise it when we see it? Probably not.

    Bell Burnell discovered pulsars by laboriously sifting through all her data, and noticed a tiny anomaly that didn’t fit her understanding of the telescope.

    How much data?

    If Bell Burnell were observing with ASKAP, she would have to sift through about 80 petabytes of data a year, from a machine that is so complex that nobody truly understands every bit of it. Sorry, not even Bell Burnell’s brain is up to the task of sifting through that amount of data.

    We cannot possibly examine all that data by eye. So the way we do our science is that we decide on the scientific question we are asking, and turn it into a data query.

    We then mine the database looking for those bits of data that will answer our question.

    This is a very efficient way of answering the known unknowns. Sadly, it is useless at finding the unknown unknowns. We only receive answers to the questions that we ask, and not to the questions that we didn’t know we ought to ask.

    Now remember the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy science fiction/fantasy series by author Douglas Adams? When a giant computer, Deep Thought, found the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” to be 42, another, even bigger, computer had to be built to find out what the actual question was.

    So can we design a machine, or a piece of software, to replicate Bell Burnell’s brain in detecting unknown unknowns but working comfortably with petabytes of data and unbelievably complex telescopes?

    WTF into the unknowns

    I think we can, and we’ve already started the project WTF, which stands for Widefield ouTlier Finder, with the progress so far published just last month. The WTF machine will sift through the petabytes of data, searching for something unexpected, without knowing exactly what it’s looking for.

    The trick is to use machine learning techniques, where we teach the software about all the things we know about, and then ask it to find things we don’t know about.

    For example, it might plot a graph of radio brightness against optical colour. On that graph, it would find a cluster of quasars grouped together, another cluster of galaxies like the Milky Way, and so on.

    Maybe it will find another cluster of objects that we didn’t expect and didn’t know about. Our puny brains couldn’t make more than a small dent into all the possible graphs that need to be plotted, but WTF will take these in its stride.

    This process won’t be easy. At first, WTF will probably turn up things we forgot to tell it, and it will also find radio interference and instrumental artefacts.

    As we gradually teach it what these are, it will start to recognise truly new objects and phenomena. More significantly, it will start to learn new things from the data that are made invisible to our brains by their sheer multidimensional complexity, but will be grist to the mill for WTF.

    We expect WTF to become smarter than us, able to find those rare discoveries buried in the data. Perhaps WTF may even win the first non-human Nobel prize.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

     
    • Greg Long 4:49 pm on December 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      The sad thing is that history demonstrates that evidence does not change people’s beliefs 😦

      Like

  • richardmitnick 5:45 pm on December 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , CSIRO, Designer Crystals for Drug Advancements, Metallic Organic Frameworks (MOFs)   

    From CSIRO: “Designer Crystals for Drug Advancements “ 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    6 December 2016
    Mr Chris Still
    Chris.Still@csiro.au
    +61 3 9545 2267

    1
    A chaotic MOF. No image credit

    A breakthrough in chemistry led by Australian scientists could revolutionise healthcare by fast-tracking the development of vaccines and tiny devices that give real-time information about a patient’s condition.

    Collaborating with teams in Japan, Austria, Monash University and The University of Adelaide, CSIRO scientists led by Dr Paolo Falcaro have found a way to harness the potential of designer crystals known as Metallic Organic Frameworks (MOFs) – the most porous materials on the planet.

    MOFs have so many holes inside that a single teaspoon of the powdery material has the same surface area as a football field.

    Since their discovery in 1999, they have been used in an array of fields including pharmaceutics, electronics and horticulture.

    Although the novel materials exert a powerful appeal for scientists, one of the roadblocks to realising the full potential of MOFs is their erratic structure, which makes it difficult to integrate them into functional devices.

    “We’ve found a way to control the structure of MOFs and align them in one direction, creating a MOF film,” CSIRO scientist Dr Aaron Thornton, co-author of the paper published today in Nature Materials said.

    “Having the MOFs in alignment means they conduct a current far better, opening up more electrical uses such as implantable medical devices that give real-time information about someone’s health.

    “It also gives researchers more control in the development of vaccines, which will fast-track the process.

    “MOFs could also be structured in such a way that they’d only react with certain compounds or elements – for example, miners could wear clothes impregnated with a layer of MOFs that tell them when dangerous gases are building up.

    “The possibilities are endless.”

    Once the hard work was complete the scientists had to prove that the MOFs were in alignment.

    This was achieved by placing a polarisable fluorescent molecule in aligned MOFs.

    If the MOFs were all in perfect alignment then they would only be able to make them light up along the one axis, in line with the MOFs so you could turn the light on or off by rotating the film.

    CSIRO has already used MOFs to develop a molecular shell to protect and deliver drugs and vaccines, a ‘solar sponge’ that can capture and release carbon dioxide emissions and plastic material that gets better with age.

    Find out how we’ve been applying these clever MOF crystals to other industries, including potential opportunities for your business – MOFs – next generation smart materials.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

     
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