Excitement around the potential of SKA

06 Jul, 2018
Excitement around the potential of SKA

New Zealand’s contribution to the world’s biggest science project last night received a top honour for research and innovation.

The KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards is New Zealand’s premier event celebrating the achievements of individuals, teams and organisations actively commercialising publicly funded research.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is the world’s largest mega science project of the next decade. It will see two very large radio telescope arrays built, one in South Africa and one in western Australia. The data that these arrays will collect will help answer some of the world’s biggest science questions like, what are the flow-on effects from the Big Bang? How do different galaxies evolve? And, is there extra-terrestrial life?

The SKA represents numerous firsts for New Zealand, being the world’s largest big data project, the largest science project NZ has ever been able to participate in on a national scale, and likely NZ’s largest involvement in an international ICT project.

In April, the government announced that it would be downgrading NZ’s membership in the project from a full member to an associate.

Dr Andrew Ensor, a computer scientist in AUT’s School of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences is also the lead for New Zealand’s involvement in the project.

He said the biggest flow on of the SKA for New Zealand isn’t even in space, but rather on the ground.

“The SKA is the biggest ICT project in the world, encompassing big data science, high-performance computing and software engineering. Radio astronomy is thus not the major benefactor of New Zealand’s SKA investment – it’s largely the ICT sector and ultimately, through its innovation, the wider economy: expertise development, growth and jobs.”

He says last night’s win shows overwhelming support for the potential opportunity for New Zealand scientists and engineers.

"The problem we now face with the government’s decision to downgrade New Zealand’s membership is that we are unlikely to be able to lead any of the SKA’s future development. This means top scientists and engineers will leave New Zealand and it will be very hard to attract others to replace them. Two of AUT’s key scientists have already been approached and more approaches are sure to follow."

Dr Ensor is hoping that the Minister will reconsider New Zealand’s membership status before September when it is finalised.