“There is a real base for cooperation with the growing radio astronomy community in Africa”
1. What does your recently accepted FP7 project MIDPREP consist of and who are the consortium members?
MIDPREP is a three years project supported through the FP7-Marie Curie International Research and Staff Exchange Scheme (IRSES) and enables exchange of (young) scientists and engineers to/from all the partners between the partners in South Africa and the partners in Europe. The MIDPREP program supports and is “designed for” people exchanges for longer duration that could last from weeks to stays up to a year. Therefore, it is excellently tailored for intense knowledge exchange and collaborative networks to be build up in areas that are relevant for all participants and the (inter)national context they are working in. Specifically the program is coordinated by ASTRON (Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy) with other participants from Chalmers/Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden and the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University and the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. It aims for scientific and engineering actions “PREParing” toward the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in Africa in the so-called MID- frequency range hence the name MIDPREP.
2. How did the consortium members come together? Did you already work with them on previous projects?
The European partners are well known between them for a long time and are partners in e.g. the FP7 RadioNet program and in the European VLBI Network (EVN). Also, ASTRON and Chalmers/Onsala Space Observatory are both members of the international SKA project and both are leading complementary SKA packages of relevant technology concepts in the mid-frequency range. All three South African universities involved in MIDPREP and the two European partners ASTRON and Chalmers Technical University, have existing research relations. In view of the SKA decision to host the so-called mid-frequency SKA in Africa with its core in South Africa (now also working towards MeerKAT) and the AERAP context, the opportunity to strengthen these connections occurred “naturally”.
3. How can MIDPREP benefit from cooperation with African partners?
With radio astronomy tending to grow towards large international projects like SKA with Africa as one of the two hosting continents but also with the African VLBI Network complementing e.g. the European VLBI Network and all the international interactions through e.g. MeerKAT, there is a real base for cooperation with the growing radio astronomy community in Africa.The AERAP context offers the opportunity to strengthen this growth and enable scientific and engineering collaborations between Europe and Africa. An essential ingredient of this is strengthening relations with universities e.g. through MIDPREP but also to use this as stepping stone toward enhanced partnerships with collaborators in other African countries. But vice versa, emphasizing the European-African connection is expected to enlarge collaboration with other African countries from which the MIDPREP activities and possible follow-up activities can benefit. For example, there will be a dedicated workshop of the International Radio Science Union (URSI), in Mauritius early September, aimed at strengthening the Europe-Africa connection in radio science at which MIDPREP will show an active presence.
4. In what way can MIDPREP contribute to the development of the SKA?
Technical and scientific communities first and foremost need to grow where needed in view of new projects, but collaborations are also vital in support of those big programs like the SKA. This is exactly what MIDPREP, albeit on a relatively small scale but nonetheless focussed way, tries to achieve: collaborative research networks, knowledge exchange etc. in support of the SKA in Africa. MIDPREP will enable to exchange knowledge for the design and calibration of the instruments including newly acquired experience (e.g. through LOFAR as international instrument), calibration expertise and technological system design expertise of the European institutes. Conversely, the connection of the three South African universities in the context of MeerKAT will be shared. Such approach optimally prepares all participants in this proposal for contributions to the SKA project.
Coordination is provided by ISC Intelligence in Science as one of the initiators of AERAP, together with the South African Mission to the EU.
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