The Botswana International University of Science and Technology’s (BIUST) Department of Physics and Astronomyhosted a 10-day training on the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) recently.
The DARA project was led by Professor Melvin Hoare of Leeds University. It is funded by Newton Fund from the United Kingdom in partnership with BIUST, through the leadership of Dr Ceren Ulusoy. Dr Ulusoy is the local host of DARA.The DARA initiative aims to support research communities in African countries by equipping a greater number of students with the skills needed to translate big data generated through radio telescopes into scientific results.
Each year, in each partner country, ten graduates in physics or other relevant disciplines follow basic training courses in radio astronomy, taught intensively in two weeks. This includes astrophysics, technical training in the use of a radio telescope, observing radio astronomy and reducing and analysing data.The current cohort from Botswana was formed by six students from the University of Botswana (UB) and BIUST. The six are Senate Pearl Lekomola, Lucky Mohutsiwa, Tlotleng Mpho Kaloso, Katlego Keganne and Boitumelo Gaolape.
Mr Onkabetse Sengate, a BIUST doctoral student in radio astronomy, tutored students during this training program, while Senior Technician in Astrophysics Mr Matthews Chose and Chief Technician Mr Thapelo Mabaka provided technical assistance to trainees during the training exercise.Dr Ulusoy explained that DARA participants were exposed to industrial opportunities and key figures from industry and academia. The DARA project identified the need for high-level training in applied data science in the African countries involved in constructing the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.
“Upon completion, the SKA will be the largest radio telescope in the world, and it would be co-hosted in partnership by South Africa and Australia, the Karoo region of South Africa and West Australia Murchison County,” Dr Ulusoy said.She also emphasised that other African countries, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia, would also participate in cutting-edge science and technology.Dr Ulusoy stated that as part of the transition of Botswana economy towards a knowledge-based economy and the expansion of its international relations; the country needed adequately educated personnel. “These are needed personnel to contribute to the faster creation of new knowledge and help others develop skills and contribute to human capacity building,” she said.
Expressing gratitude towards BIUST Dr Ulusoy said that the Palapye based institution was leading the way in the DARA development and had been designated as the host institution in Botswana for the African very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) and Square Kilometre Array (SKA) projects. She further applauded everyone who had made this initiative possible and encouraged the students to apply for programmes like DARA and grab opportunities given by the international collaborations and networks.
Mr Chose stated that playing a part in such an impactful initiative as DARA not only edified him as a scholar but Botswana at large. On the same note, the expert explained that as a DARA trainee himself he was looking forward to seeing Botswana successfully taking part in radio astronomy science and becoming one of the leading states in research science through the SKA.“I am more than happy to have been and most importantly still being a front liner in the development of such research initiatives. I believe with such initiatives, Botswana could achieve more international recognition and benefit both economically and socially,” he said.
He reckoned full participation in such scientific initiatives would market both the learners and the country at large to the international community, therefore, make Botswana a globally recognised leading scientific research field that would alert big economies with the financial muscle to engage and do profitable scientific business with the sub-saharan nation. Since its launch in 2016, the DARA has organised various units and intensive workshops with partner countries in Africa. The project has also funded several scholarships for African Masters and PhD students at universities across the United Kingdom.