DARA is using astronomy to play a leading role in the emergence of new economies in Africa


Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) is a joint UK-South Africa Newton Fund human capital development project to help drive economic development in Africa.

This project aims to develop high tech skills using radio astronomy in a number of African countries. Radio astronomy encompasses all of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills that underpin the emergence of a strong developed economy. The modern astronomer needs knowledge in physics, mathematics, chemistry and computing. To develop, maintain and run radio telescopes and instrumentation requires key skills in technology and engineering. The targeted countries will be acquiring radio telescopes to form the African VLBI Network as part of their participation in the South African Square Kilometre Array project.

This project aim to inspire and train a new and diverse generation of young people to engage with these skills. The training programme engenders a research ethos as well as communication and diagnostic skills that are transferable to many aspects of a developing economy. The training team includes experienced entrepreneurs from the space sector to open the minds of the trainees to the possibilities in the industrial and commercial sectors. This Newton Fund programme will provide a pool of talented young people who have been inspired by astronomy to play a leading role in the emergence of new economies.

In November 2017, DARA announced an extension to the existing DARA program: DARA Big Data, designed to capture the data intensive side of radio astronomy. The DARA Big Data Advanced Training Programme fully fund four 3-year PhD studentships and two 1-year MSc studentships in the UK for students from AVN countries.

With a revolution in digital processing over the last decade, radio astronomy has become one of the most data intensive research areas in science. Historically, radio astronomy has been at the forefront of technological development for data and the future of radio astronomy looks no different, with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) forecast as one of the world’s biggest Big Data engines.

The DARA Big Data programme will focus on the data intensive aspects of science: data analysis, data visualisation & data systems and tools. However, we predict that developments in these areas will not only provide advances for astronomy science (Astro Big Data) but can have impact across a range of research fields. Consequently, DARA Big Data will also look at translating data intensive techniques between different fields where Big Data expertise is needed. This first round of the DARA Big Data programme will therefore also offer projects in Food Security/Sustainable Agriculture (Agri Big Data) and in Healthcare (Health Big Data). The cohort will be encouraged to collaborate across research areas in order to maximise the translation of expertise between fields.

Cross Section of Participants at the 2018 Annual Network Meeting

DARA currently runs a basic training programme in radio astronomy in Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Ghana.

This is an opportunity for any suitably qualified person to undertake the training and become familiar with the basics of radio astronomy and gain hands-on experience. Training will be provided by radio astronomy experts from the UK and South Africa.  Additional training in the commercial opportunities afforded by knowledge of radio astronomy techniques will be provided by experienced entrepreneurs from the satellite communications business.

On completion trainees will receive a certification of completion. Trainees will then be in a position to apply for advanced programme  training places in radio astronomy at Masters or PhD level, or use their new skills to aid the development of related high tech industries in the AVN countries. To apply for the 2018/2019 cohort, click here

With partners across the world, DARA is using astronomy to play a leading role in the emergence of new economies

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