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Dr. Kartik Sheth, ALMA, and SKA March 19, 2013

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by JC Holbrook

National Society of Black Physicists members Eric Wilcots and Kartik Sheth were part of a new initiative to foster radio astronomy collaborations with South African astronomers and students. Last week marked the official inauguration of ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, in the high altitude Atacama desert of Chile, South America. I was able to sit down with Dr. Sheth to discuss the broader issue of radio astronomy and South Africa.

“I think this celebration was the culmination of thirty years worth of work from a lot of different people. The inauguration of the array was a chance for us to celebrate how much hard work has gone into it.” Dr. Sheth said of the inauguration ceremony in Chile. “We started science operations September 30th of 2011. We have been collecting data for over two and a half years, because even with a small ALMA it is still the most powerful [millimeter/submillimeter] telescope in the world.”

Since ALMA is an array of dishes similar to the radio dishes of the Very Large Array in New Mexico, even during construction as each dish was put into place and connected, the astronomers were already using what was available to collect data. Thus, the months of science data collection with ALMA before the official inauguration.

I pointed out, “You were not even there!”

Dr. Sheth laughed, “Only the dignitaries were invited, so a lot of people from the political arena in the twenty-five plus countries that are part of ALMA. President Piñera inaugurated ALMA…For me it doesn’t mean much… but I’m kinda sad that I’m not there because I really wanted to be there. But I knew that I wasn’t going to be invited, so coming here [to South Africa] really was driven by the NASSP deadline for Master’s proposals.” NASSP is the National Astrophysics and Space Sciences Programme in South Africa. In 2010, I began writing a book about NASSP. The program is a dramatic success story about educating underrepresented groups in astrophysics and space sciences. NASSP include one honor year and a two year masters of science degree. Nearly all NASSP students are funded by the program.

Dr. Sheth explained, “The idea is to foster bridges between the faculty here that are taking on students who eventually want to work with MeerKat and SKA. But MeerKAT and SKA are not built, yet. So, what we would really like the faculty to do is to think about including radio data from existing telescopes and NRAO operates four of them.”

The SKA is currently under construction, yet the South African astronomy students need to learn everything about radio astronomy and the analysis of radio data. Dr. Sheth along with other American radio astronomers is here to encourage South African astronomers and their students the opportunity to learn by working with the existing facilities and their archival data. The four facilities are ALMA, the Robert C. Byrd Greenbank telescope a single dish in West Virginia, the Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA or EVLA) which is the enhanced VLA in New Mexico, and the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA) which is spread across the Northern Hemisphere. Thus, the visit before the NASSP deadline for submitting Masters of Science thesis proposals. Dr. Sheth hopes that a few NASSP students will propose radio astronomy projects including using NRAO facilities for their Masters work.

According to Dr. Sheth the JVLA is the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of what MeerKat will be. MeerKat is the precursor to the SKA, the Square Kilometer Array.  It is a new state of the art radio observatory currently being built in South Africa. The SKA array itself will consist of 3000 dishes spread across nine African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Zambia, Ghana, and Kenya. The SKA Africa headquarters are in Cape Town, South Africa, and they will be coordinating all of the African construction. A question I thought would be uppermost in the minds of South Africans was: Will ALMA be competition for SKA?

His response, “No, not at all. ALMA operates at higher frequencies than what the SKA will operate at. They are not looking at the same part of the electromagnetic spectrum but they will be looking at the same type of objects. EVLA is a mini version of SKA. With the SKA, it will be observing thermal emission and synchrotron emission from sources…” In an email he added, “We are looking at electrons energy as they cool around star forming regions or zip around magnetic fields. So you can get a real idea of the magnetic field that pervades the Milky Way and with the SKA across cosmic time. ALMA cannot really look at atomic gas unless its at very high red shift (i.e. the lines are red shifted into the regime that ALMA can observe) and only using atomic gas tracers like ionized carbon, nitrogen, or oxygen. ALMA cannot look at the atomic hydrogen gas which is emitting in the wavelengths that MeerKat and SKA will work at. So SKA & Meerkat are looking at the atomic gas from which molecular gas forms. And the molecular gas is what ALMA looks at which from stars form. And the stars are what HST and JWST look at. So it is a nice transition.  Together these are giving you the full picture of what the universe looks like. Additionally there is a lot about magnetic fields and transient phenomena — these are also MeerKat and SKA’s core strengths. For instance, these will be excellent instruments for looking at the timing of pulsars.”

Trying to put it altogether I asked, “So, anything that is hot and has electrons moving around will be able to be studied by SKA?”

Kartik Sheth clarified, “No, I wouldn’t call it ‘hot’. The atomic gas is quite cold as well. It is hotter than the molecular gas but not hot compared to stars.”

As a student of astronomy, I had always had a fascination with the connection between wavelengths of light or color, physical properties, chemistry, and celestial bodies. Planetary nebulae, which are mentioned in my last Vector blog, in visible light appear greenish in color. The color is the result of a specific atomic transition in the oxygen atom that occurs under very low density conditions. First the oxygen has to be ionized twice, i.e. it has to have lost two electrons, then it is through collisions that the transitions producing the characteristic green lines emit. A rule-of-thumb temperature for planetary nebulae is 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Thus, if there is a celestial body that appears ‘green’ in visible light you can conclude that it might include oxygen especially if it is a nebula which tends to have low density and it should be around 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Hydrogen is also found in planetary nebulae and the strongest transition line, known as H-alpha, occurs when its electron goes from an excited state to a less excited state releasing energy in the form of red light.

In the case of ALMA and SKA, they are probing two different sections of the electromagnetic spectrum similar to studying green light or red light. In the fullness of time, SKA will cover the same wavelengths and types of celestial bodies as the EVLA but focused on the Southern sky rather than the Northern, but also be more sensitive revealing more physical details. ALMA will add to our understanding of the same region of the sky but is studying different physical properties of celestial bodies. Both will add to our understanding of the Milky Way and the Universe.

NSBP members visit South Africa to strengthen ties March 15, 2013

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NSBP members Kartik Sheth and Eric Wilcots along with National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) astronomer Scott Ransom have been in South Africa to cement linkages for a NRAO’s faculty bridge program. NSBP, the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP), NRAO and others are working together on the science dimension of the US-South Africa Bilateral Strategic Dialogue.

The visit is intended to foster partnerships in multi-wavelength astronomy research.  Last week they had meetings with astronomers and cosmologists at University of Cape Town, University of Western Cape, SAAO, the SKA Africa Project Office and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).  This week they will also meet with high energy astrophysicists at the Potchefstroom campus of North-West University, University of Johannesburg, and University of Witswatersrand, as well as astronomers at the North-West University campus in Mafikeng, and the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO).

As South Africa builds a second NASSP site, teaching and research partnerships with NRAO will be beneficial on both sides of the Atlantic. NRAO currently operates four premier radio astronomy observatories: ALMA, JVLA, GBT and the VLBA.  NRAO is likely to also be a partner in helping to train scientists across the continent to be operators and users of the African VLBI Network (AVN). The AVN project consists of converting large, redundant telecommunications dishes across Africa for radio astronomy. The AVN will become part of the global VLBI network.

In addition to major radio astronomy successes, South Africa’s strategic plan for astronomy calls for its institutions to be active in multiple wavelengths including radio, optical, gamma/x-ray, and near IR. South Africa is the host of the Southern Africa Large Telescope (SALT), the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Wilcots is a member of the SALT board. South Africa is also supporting the Namibian bid to host the Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), the next generation success to the H.E.S.S telescope that has been in Namibia since 2002. Following an exchange at the 2011 NSBP conference, South Africa and the LIGO Collaboration have begun exploring opportunities in gravitational wave astronomy. Already LIGO and SAIP have convened a faculty workshop and a student summer school, both in Pretoria.

In a separate but simultaneous visit, Jim Gates participated in South Africa’s National Science Festival (SciFest), giving talks at several venues around the country on science policy and supersymmetry.  ScieFest was established in 1996 to promote the public awareness, understanding and appreciation of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation. The main event in Grahamstown, held in March every year, attracts 72,000 visitors from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Several government departments, listed companies, museums, NGOs, research facilities, science centers, science councils, universities, as well as small, medium and micro enterprises, both from South Africa and abroad contribute to the success of the event.

Gates was on the same program as South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom.  Each discussed science and innovation policy and gave their perspectives on aligning science with national priorities. Additionally Gates participated in three formal policy meetings, including one with Simphiwe Duma, CEO of the Technology Innovation Agency, and two more informal policy meetings.  In a lecture at the University of South Africa (UNISA) he and Dr. Rob Adam, former head to South Africa’s National Research Foundation, spoke on the efficacy of policy-formation surrounding STEM fields and the innovation cycle.

In other events around the country Gates met 45 students spanning the 8th through 11th grade levels at the Mae Jemison Science Reading Room in the Mamelodi township.  At Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and the University of Johannesburg he gave talks on the strange mathematical objects found in the equations of supersymmetry.

These meetings and exchanges involving NSBP and South African colleagues are all part of the evolution from ideas put into motion by the Nobel Laureate, Abdus Salaam, and the founders of the Edward Bouchet-Abdus Salaam Institute (EBASI). Over a decade ago former NSBP president, Charles McGruder, traveled to South Africa to explore possible linkages between astronomers.  That visit led to Khotso Mokhele’s participation in the 2004 NSBP conference.  At the time he was the head of South Africa’s National Research Foundation. Later NSBP won a grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation to support NSBP’s participation the NASSP program. In the year’s since, NSBP has partnered with SAIP on a number of projects, and the relationship was codified in at MOU signed at the 2011 NSBP conference and witnessed by Minister Naledi Pandor.  The relationships between NSBP, SAIP as well as colleagues across the entire continent continue to evolve and vistas are opening up in the realms of geophysics, biophysics and medical physics, nuclear and particle physics, mathematical and computational physics, as well as physics education at all levels.

Unfinished Business in Astronomy March 11, 2013

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JC Holbrook

My master’s thesis in astronomy at San Diego State University focused on the electron temperature structure of the ionized gas of planetary nebulae. I focused on two planetary nebulae: NGC 6572 and NGC 6543. I observed using the one meter telescope at Mt. Laguna Observatory with a CCD detector. Planetary nebula are created as low mass stars throw off their atmosphere during their transition to white dwarfs. My observations and analysis of NGC 6572 revealed a knot of high temperature gas well away from but connected to the nebula. I could not explain what the knot was but submitted the paper in 1992 to ApJ with my advisor Theodore Daub. The referee reports insisted that we take spectra of the knot. JPL’s Trina Ray took spectra but we still could not identify the hot knot. The project was left behind as I left SDSU for NASA and a doctorate. However, a week ago I looked up images of NGC 6572 and got a big surprise! The Hubble Space Telescope image showed a far bigger nebula than what we could detect twenty years ago! Though it has been several years, looking at the contours I estimate that the hot spot I found, which at that point was at the edge of the nebula, I have marked with a circle in the second image. The structure of NGC 6572 is much more complicated than what I was working with and it is clear that some of the assumptions that went into the temperature would need to be updated to fully determine if the knot was indeed as hot as calculated. Certainly, some eager young astronomy student has already unraveled this bit of unfinished business!

The First Telescope Has Arrived for the Total Solar Eclipse in Cairns and “Black Sun” November 11, 2012

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by JC Holbrook

Dr. Alphonse Sterling arrived safely in Cairns with telescope, mount, filters, cameras, and a suitcase. His excess baggage fees were unmentionable. The blue case is the body of the telescope. Alphonse is staying about 30 minutes to the west of Cairns in the Trinity Beach area in a very swank three bedroom apartment with ocean views. He will be sharing the apartment with scientific teammembers students Amy Steele and Roderick Gray.

In preparation for the eclipse, Alphonse has to create a ‘flat’ image as part of the calibration of the flaws in the telescope. When doing traditional night observing at an observatory, flats are taken of the dome. That is, before you start observing you put diffuse light onto the dome of the telescope and take a series of images. What is revealed is any specs of dust in the optics and other flaws. Next, the astronomer would go on to observe the celestial bodies and at dawn take another series of flats. When processing the images of the celestial bodies these flats would be used to remove the optical flaws thus flattening the images. This way what you have is just what is found in space not some artifact left by the optics of the telescope.

When doing observations of the Sun, daytime observing, creating a flat is not so simple. Alphonse has experimented with multiple different light sources to determine which is the best for creating a good flat.
What he found is he has to rig something up himself. That meant that we had to go to the hardware store to find the parts he needed!

After a long search we found: exacto knife, white cardboard, LCD flashlight, masking tape, electrical switch, compass. He had his own wire to create an external switch for his new light source. Over the next couple of days he will be putting everything together. I can’t wait to see what the final device will look like!

Be part of “Black Sun” donate today at
https://www.austinfilm.org/film-black-sun.

NSBP members descend upon Australia for more than just a total solar eclipse November 2, 2012

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The Total Solar Eclipse is just days away and will cut a path through the South Pacific. This week sees the start of NSBP members traveling to exotic locations to do more than bask in the unique environment of totality. NSBP members will meet in Cairns, Australia, which is predicted to have the best eclipse viewing. Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi of the Florida Institute of Technology will be using the eclipse to study the lower atmosphere of the Sun. He will be working with a group of students and telescopes and cameras to capture scientific images that will inform his research. Dr. Alphonse Sterling, who has yet to attend an NSBP meeting, of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center will be flying in from his assignment in Tokyo, Japan. He too will be taking images of the lower atmosphere of the Sun for his scientific research.

The opportunity to see two African American astrophysicists leading research teams and doing their science was too much for NSBP member Dr. Jarita Holbrook.  She is making a film, Black Sun, to chronicle this event. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Dr. Holbrook and her documentary film team from KZP Productions began by filming Dr. Sterling during the May annular eclipse in Tokyo. After an amazing experience, an 8-minute short film was made chronicling the event. Now it is time to bring Hakeem into the picture!

Black Sun is still seeking funding to complete this ground-breaking film project. Donations are tax deductable via . Help Jarita to inspire the next generation of African American astrophysicists by donating today – no donation is too small!  Jarita is on her way today to lay the groundwork for the documentary. Follow her tweets @astroholbrook.

Dr. Alphonse Sterling making observations

Dr. Alphonse Sterling analyzing data

Interview with Tony Beasley: New director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory August 17, 2012

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Last February the Associated Universities, Inc. appointed Dr. Anthony Beasley as the next NRAO director. Originally from Australia, Beasley has had a distinguished career in radio astronomy. He has played a key role in the planning and commissioning of several major instruments and facilities. In his most recent appointment his skills were used in ecological research, where those colleagues too have large networks of major scientific facilities. In a wide-ranging interview with Waves and Packets, Beasley discusses the future of NRAO and of radio astronomy in general, global collaborations like the Square Kilometer Array and VLBI, the U.S. astronomy portfolio in tough budgetary times and the promise of citizen-science in making profound discoveries.

Listen to interview

NSBP Member, Hakeem Oluseyi, selected to be a TEDGlobal 2012 Fellow March 31, 2012

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Earth and Planetary Systems Sciences (EPSS), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Photonics and Optics (POP), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment
Florida Institute of Technology professor, Hakeem Oluseyi, has been selected to be 2012 TED Global Fellow.  He will participate in the TED conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, June 25-29.  Dr. Oluseyi is an astrophysicist, inventor and science educator whose research focuses on measuring the structure and evolution of the Milky Way galaxy and characterizing new planetary systems.  Oluseyi has lectured widely in the US and Africa.  He was one of the founding members of the African Astronomical Society and is currently an officer of the National Society of Black Physicists.  TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.  Past TED Fellows include CERN’s Bilge Demirkoz, Harvard’s Michelle Borkin, and NASA’s Lucianne Walkowicz.
 
Dr. Hakeem M. Oluseyi is an astrophysicist with research interests in the fields of solar and stellar variability, Galactic structure, and technology development.   After receiving his B.S. degrees in Physics & Mathematics from Tougaloo College in 1991, he went on earn his Ph.D. at Stanford University with an award winning dissertation, "Development of a Global Model of the Solar Atmosphere with an Emphasis on the Solar Transition Region."  His Ph.D. adviser was legendary astrophysicist, Arthur B. C.  Walker.
 
During his tenure at Stanford, Oluseyi participated in the pioneering application of normal-incidence, EUV multilayer optics to astronomical observing as a member of the Stanford team that flew the Multi-Spectral Solar Telescope Array (MSSTA) in a series of rocket flights from 1987 to 1994.  This technology has now become the standard for solar EUV imaging.  He was a major contributor to the analyses that illustrated flows in solar polar plumes for the first time and also showed for the first time that plumes were not the sources of the high-speed solar wind as was believed.  He also led the effort that discovered the structures responsible for the bulk of solar upper transition region (plasmas in the temperature range from 0.1 – 1.0 MK) emission and ultimately presented a new model for the structure of the Sun's hot atmosphere. 
 
After leaving Stanford in 1999 Dr. Oluseyi joined the technical staff at Applied Materials, Inc. where he invented several new patented processes for manufacturing next-generation, sub 0.1-micron, refractory metal transistor gate electrodes on very thin traditional and high-k dielectrics.  He also developed patented processes for in-situ spectroscopic process control and diagnostics, facilitating elimination of test wafers in semiconductor manufacturing.  This work has resulted in 7 U.S.  patents and 4 E.U.  patent.
 
In 2001 Dr. Oluseyi joined the staff of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) as an Ernest O. Lawrence Postdoctoral Fellow.  There he established a new laboratory, the CCD Production Facility, and developed new techniques for characterizing and packaging large-format, thick (300 micron), p-channel charge coupled devices (CCDs).  As a member of the SuperNova Acceleration Probe (SNAP) satellite collaboration and the Supernova Cosmology Project at LBNL, Dr. Oluseyi participated in the development of high-resistivity p-channel CCDs and performed spectroscopic observation of supernovae utilizing the Shane Spectrometer on the Lick Observatory's Nickel 3-m telescope. 
 
In January 2004 Dr. Oluseyi joined the physics faculty of The University of Alabama in Huntsville where he continued his research in solar physics, cosmology, and technology development but also focused on increasing the number of Black astrophysicists.   His efforts have thus far resulted in producing one of only two Black female solar physicists working in the U.S., mentoring a total of three African American graduate students, and six African graduate students. 
 
Oluseyi also began working extensively in Africa beginning in 2002.  He visited hundreds of schools and worked directly with thousands of students in Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya as a member of Cosmos Education in the years 2002, 2003, 2004.  In 2005 he began working with the South African Astronomical Observatory.  In 2006 he was the co-organizer of the 2006 Total Solar Eclipse Conference on Science and Culture.  Also in 2006, he co-founded a thriving Hands-On Universe branch in Nairobi, Kenya.  In subsequent years he worked with other teams dedicated to improving science research in Africa including the 2007 International Heliophysical Year conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the First Middle-East Africa, Regional IAU Meeting in Cairo, Egypt in 2008. 
 

 
Also in 2008 he began working with at-risk graduate students in the Extended Honors Program at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in collaboration with the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and the National Society of Black Physicists.  Oluseyi lectured physics and cosmology to UCT students in 2008 and 2009.  In 2010, he lectured and mentored students in the SAAO/UCT Astronomy Winter School. 
 
During 2010 and 2011, Oluseyi played a central role in establishing the African Astronomical Society (AfAS), the first continent-wide organization of African astronomy professionals.  He was a participant in the IAU-sponsored meeting of the Interim Leadership Group for forming the AfAS, and subsequently served as the Interim President of the AfAS until its official launch in April 2011. 
 
In May 2011, Oluseyi conducted a 6-city tour of South Africa as a Speaker & Specialist for the U.S. State Department.  During his visit he visited dozens of schools, museums and science centers, working with thousands of students, and a multitude of teachers, education administrators, and researchers.  In fall 2011 Oluseyi and professors at the University of Johannesburg won a grant from the U.S. State Department to found a Hands-On Universe branch in Soweto, South Africa. 
 
Oluseyi plans to return to South Africa to work with UCT students including leading observational research projects at the SAAO observatories in Sutherland.  Oluseyi also has ongoing research programs in collaboration with SAAO and University of Johannesburg scientists.
 
In January 2007 Dr. Oluseyi was invited to join the Department of Physics & Space Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology.  He has since established a large research group that studies solar variability using space-based instruments, studies Galactic structure and stellar properties using periodic variable stars as probes, and is measuring the characteristics of extrasolar planetary systems using data from the LINEAR and KELT surveys and meter-class telescopes in North America and Chile.  He is a member of the Variables & Transients science collaboration for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.  Oluseyi recently founded the first observational astronomy consortium consisting primarily of minority-serving colleges and universities.
 

 
Dr. Oluseyi has won several honors including selection as a TED Global Fellow (2012), as a Speaker & Specialist for the U.S.  State Department, Outstanding Technical Innovation and Best Paper at the NSBE Aerospace Conference (2010), NASA Earth/Sun Science New Investigator fellow (2006), the 2006 Technical Achiever of the Year in Physics by the National Technical Association, selection as the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation Astrophysics Research Fellow (2003-2005), and as an E. O. Lawrence Astrophysics Research Fellow (2001-2004), and winner of the NSBP Distinguished Dissertation award (2002).
 

 

Statement by South African Institute of Physics on the KAT-7 Milestone March 20, 2012

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO) , 3comments

“The South African Institute of Physics is very pleased to see the announcement of the scientific commissioning of a new and exciting mode of the KAT-7 radio telescope, the precursor to the more powerful MeerKAT telescope now under construction. The first images represent high resolution velocity measurements of hydrogen gas clouds within a nearby galaxy, which is a remarkable early achievement. Such measurements contribute to the most fundamental questions in physics, related to the existence of Dark Matter and possible new models for gravity. These are exciting times for physics and astronomy in South Africa. With the Southern African Large Telescope, the KAT-7 and MeerKAT arrays, the HESS facility in Namibia, and with our colleagues on the continent and around the world, Southern Africa has already achieved a multi-wavelength capability in astronomy that is world-class. We are grateful for the support our government has given to these endeavors. This has led to a massive growth in globally competitive research capacity, which is in fact spreading throughout Africa. We look boldly to the future not only for the scientific results that will be achieved, but the overall public benefits from spin-off innovation and high level capacity building that these projects will continue to bring.” – SAIP President.

Synchrotron Science on the Move in South Africa February 4, 2012

Posted by International.Chair in : Nuclear and Particle Physics (NPP) , add a comment

By Sekazi K. Mtingwa
MIT and African Laser Centre
Consultant to Brookhaven National Laboratory

Excitement is growing within South Africa’s synchrotron light source user community. That excitement led to a two-day workshop, held December 1-2, 2011, in Pretoria to finalize plans for the drafting of a strategic plan document to be submitted to the government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), which is broadly responsible for science and technology in the country, and the National Research Foundation (NRF), which is responsible for the distribution of research funding similar to what the National Science Foundation does in the United States. Top officials from those agencies attended the workshop, including Romilla Maharaj, NRF Executive Director of Human and Institutional Capacity Development; Rakeshnie Ramoutar, NRF Program Director of Strategic Platforms; and Takalani Nemaungani, DST Director of Global Projects. Daniel Adams, Chief Director: Emerging Research Areas & Infrastructure at the DST, provided funding for the workshop and the South African Institute of Physics (SAIP), which is similar to our American Physical Society, handled the logistics.

The entity that mainly drove the convening of the workshop was the Synchrotron Research Roadmap Implementation Committee (SRRIC), which is chaired by Tshepo Ntsoane from the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA) and co-chaired by Wolf-Dieter Schubert from the University of the Western Cape.

Approximately forty scientists attended the meeting, including those from international facilities. Herman Winick of SLAC and Sekazi Mtingwa of MIT attended, and Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Erik Johnson and Ken Evans-Lutterodt joined via teleconferencing. Johnson and Evans-Lutterodt discussed the pros and cons of South Africa’s inheriting Brookhaven’s second generation light source called the National Synchrotron Light Source, which is soon to be replaced by NSLS II. However, the consensus of the workshop was that a new third generation facility would much better serve national and regional needs. The largest contingent of foreign visitors were from the various European light sources, including José Baruchel, Jürgen Härtwig, and the Laboratory Director General, Francesco Sette, from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France; Jasper Plaisier from Elettra in Trieste, Italy; Trevor Rayment from Diamond in Oxfordshire, UK; and Hermann Franz from Petra III in Hamburg, Germany. Oxford University’s Angus Kirkland did an outstanding job of facilitating the two-day meeting.

South Africa is relatively new to the international community of synchrotron light source users. Simon Connell, of the University of Johannesburg, has documented the history of South African scientists’ usage of synchrotron radiation. The first were Trevor Derry and Jacques Pierre Friederich “Friedel” Sellschop (deceased), both from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). In 1994, Derry performed studies of diamond surfaces at both the Synchrotron Radiation Source-Daresbury Laboratory and ESRF. During the same year, Sellschop participated in other diamond studies at ESRF. Then in 1996, Giovanni Hearne, currently at the University of Johannesburg, used the facility at ESRF to study materials under extreme pressures. Bryan Doyle, now at the University of Johannesburg, served as a postdoctoral researcher at ESRF around 1999. From those early efforts, the synchrotron light source user community started to grow.

Hearne’s early experiences at ESRF so excited him that, upon returning to South Africa, he wrote a two-page letter to Khotso Mokhele, then President of the Foundation for Research Development (now the National Research Foundation), to share those experiences and impress upon him that a synchrotron light source is a key single tool that could have wide impact across many scientific disciplines. Moreover, Hearne suggested that a long-term goal should be for South Africa to construct its own light source via a consortium of international partners, especially involving neighboring countries in Southern Africa.

In 2002, at the urging of the Edward Bouchet-Abdus Salam Institute (EBASI), which is an organization based at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste that promotes African – African American collaborations, the African Laser Centre included the design and construction of a synchrotron light source as a long-term goal in its Strategy and Business Plan. Next, Tony Joel and Gabriel Nothnagel of NECSA co-authored a motivational paper entitled, The South African Light Source: Proposal for a Feasibility Study for the Establishment of an African Synchrotron Radiation Facility (2003), followed by Tony Joel’s paper, The South African Synchrotron Initiative: The South African Light Source: A Synchrotron for Africa – Strategic Plan (2004). On another front, in 2004, the DST/NRF/SAIP commissioned an international panel of experts that released the report, Shaping the Future of Physics in South Africa, which called for consideration of new flagship projects to complement those in astronomy, such as the South African Large Telescope (SALT) and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). They used a synchrotron light source as a prime example of such a project. Key members of that panel from the U.S. were Ken Evans-Lutterodt, S. James Gates from the University of Maryland-College Park, and Guebre Tessema from the National Science Foundation.

The first organizational structure for a synchrotron science community took shape in 2003, when a committee of synchrotron users established the South African Synchrotron Initiative (SASI). Van Zyl de Villiers of NECSA played a key role in getting DST’s participation in SASI activities. The leadership of SASI mainly consisted of Tony Joel; Simon Connell; Giovanni Hearne; and Lowry Conradie, an accelerator physicist from South Africa’s national accelerator center called iThemba LABS, located just outside of 3 Cape Town. As a result of its participation with SASI, in January 2005, the DST itself assumed a leading role in building the synchrotron science community by forming the Synchrotron Task Team (STT), with Tshepo Seekoe of the DST serving as Chair and Simon Connell leading the development of the science case. It was during this period that the synchrotron science community began to mobilize as a coherent group.

With the assistance of SOLEIL, ESRF and other organizations, the STT organized the first two of a series of roughly biennial Science @ Synchrotrons Conferences (S@S) in November 2005 and February 2007. Both conferences were extremely successful in developing new projects and sparking the interest of students in synchrotron light source training. Members of the U.S. physics community, including Herman Winick, Alfred Msezane of Clark Atlanta University, and Sekazi Mtingwa, participated in planning and giving presentations at those conferences, which helped to establish a close partnership between South African synchrotron users and their foreign colleagues, especially the French. After the second conference in 2007, the synchrotron community further empowered itself with the establishment of SRRIC, which succeeded the STT in championing synchrotron science in South Africa. The first Chairs of SRRIC were Simon Connell and Giovanni Hearne. Following the S@S conference in February 2009, Brian Doyle assumed the Chair, followed by Tshepo Ntsoane.

All the above-mentioned activities culminated in the excitement that birthed the December 2011 Strategic Plan Workshop. The NRF representatives requested that SRRIC document the outputs of the workshop by March 2012 in the form of a white paper strategic plan. Then it would study the white paper to determine if it would give the go-ahead for the development of a detailed business plan by June 2012. Those dates were selected to coincide with the dates of the various stages of the government’s budgeting process. SSRIC appointed a three-person committee to write the strategic plan, consisting of Brian Masara, Executive Officer of SAIP; Douglas Sanyahumbi, Director of the Technology Transfer Office at the University of the Western Cape; and Sekazi Mtingwa, with the latter chairing the committee.

Although the strategic plan has not been completed, there are some overarching comments that can be made. First, there is widespread agreement that the mission of SRRIC going forward will be as follows: To support and facilitate the development and growth of synchrotron science in South Africa in order to ensure that it contributes to excellence in science, innovation and industrial development by exploiting the benefits of synchrotron radiation in advancing fundamental and applied science through

1. Developing human capital, including attracting back the African scientific Diaspora (brain gain) and mitigating any threat of brain drain of young South 4 Africans who have recognized this as a key research tool for their career development;
2. Developing key and/or strategic international collaborations;
3. Ensuring financial support to South Africans whose proposals successfully compete for beam-time at international synchrotron facilities; and
4. Promoting awareness and use of synchrotron science and its capacity to enable the exploration of new frontiers of technology.

In pursuing this mission, the synchrotron science community and the government must undertake a number of key initiatives, including

1. Deciding at what level it should formalize its relationships with foreign light source facilities, especially with ESRF, which is the most heavily used by South African researchers; (Francesco Sette invited South Africa to join ESRF as a Scientific Associate at the 1% level, since its researchers’ utilization of that facility is already approximately at that level.)
2. Studying the feasibility of constructing South African or multinational beam-lines at foreign synchrotron facilities;
3. Promoting a significant growth in the number of synchrotron users, with a heavy emphasis on increasing the number of students being trained, such as at the many synchrotron radiation schools that are offered at a number of international facilities and institutions, such as ICTP;
4. Developing programs to preserve and expand the existing technical expertise, such as sending scientists and engineers abroad to join accelerator teams at foreign facilities to expand capabilities in areas such as ultra-high vacuum systems, radiofrequency cavities, magnets, power supplies, and controls;
5. Improving the local, critical feeder infrastructure that allows researchers to prepare and analyze samples before and after being shipped for studies at foreign synchrotron facilities
6. Promoting greater involvement of industrial users;
7. Studying the feasibility for constructing a third generation light source;
8. Developing mechanisms to educate the public about the revolutions in science and technology, such as the discovery of new pharmaceuticals, that synchrotrons afford.

The figure appended provides a plot of South Africa’s synchrotron light source usage in terms of the number of users, beam-line shifts, graduate students trained, and visits to synchrotron facilities. The data represent a rough approximation, based on preliminary surveys; however, note that the 2011 data represent only part of the year, since 2011 had not ended by the time of the workshop. According to the data, the number of students trained at foreign facilities has increased from six (6) in 2005 to thirteen (13) in 2011, thus showing a growth in human capital, especially over the past three years. The long 5 distances and substantial travel expenses are major factors that impede the increase in the number of students being trained. A local facility would be most advantageous to address this need.

Synchrotron Usage in South Africa

Among the workshop presentations, two were especially notable, since they involved applications of synchrotron light source techniques to disciplines for which many are not aware. One involved research in paleontology, for which Kristian Carlson from Wits discussed his collaboration with Lee Berger, also from Wits, and Paul Tafforeau from ESRF. Among other things, they perform dating and craniodental investigations of the possible human ancestor, Australopithecus sediba, which is the much-publicized fossil remains that Berger’s nine-year-old son, Matthew, discovered in 2008 while assisting his father in field work. In a presentation involving light source applications to heritage science, Leon “Jake” Jacobson from the McGregor Museum (Kimberly), discussed his applications of light sources to study rock art, namely ancient paintings on stones. He investigates such issues as the composition of the paints and how their interactions with rock substrates contribute to the art’s conservation. There is increasing worldwide interest in the use of synchrotron radiation in art and archaeology.

Finally, it is notable that Esna du Plessis and Bruce Anderson attended the workshop to represent the oil and gas company, Sasol Technology. They reported on their use of synchrotron radiation in pursuing extended X-ray absorption fine structure techniques for the study of H2, CO and synthetic gas activation of nano iron. They also made a strong case for a local source to enable more industrial use of light sources.

In conclusion, the momentum is building rapidly within the South African synchrotron science community. SRRIC, as its representative, is committed to maintaining, and indeed intensifying, that momentum. Based upon the Strategic Plan that summarizes the outputs of the December 2011 workshop, SRRIC is looking forward to a favorable decision from DST/NRF requesting it to proceed to the development of a detailed Business Plan by June 2012 in order to move synchrotron science in South Africa to the next level of international prominence.

January 30, 2012

This article is also published in the Spring 2012 Newsletter of the Forum on International Physics of the American Physical Society.

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholders’ Workshop – Day 1 December 13, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 13, 2011

The first day was an opportunity for stakeholders to provide quick descriptions of their activities and how they wish to contribute to OAD or make use of OAD. Each person was to have five minutes and two slides. All of the presentations were interesting. What I found informative was the reports from the various divisions within the International Astronomical Union: IAU Commission 46: Education and Building Capacity and IAU Commission 55: Communicating Astronomy with the Public. Both of these have several working groups doing work relevant to OAD. Where the American Astronomical Society is very active regarding the direct needs of research astronomers, these two IAU commissions have been far more active socially beyond the needs of astronomers.

There were several groups focused specifically in Africa: AIMS-Next Einstein, the African Astronomical Society, South African Astronomical Observatory, and there was an artist group doing work in the town closest to the Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

I was given two minutes to represent the National Society of Black Physicists. I shared the following:

  • 1. The National Society of Black Physicists is a global professional society based in the United States.

    2. We are active participants in the African Astronomical Society.

    3. We are interested in international scientific collaborations.

    4. We are interested in international exchanges.

    5. We are exploring forming a regional node in the United States. We aren’t the only ones there is also Steward Observatory and the Vatican Observatory.

    6. We have a long-term investment in the development of astronomy in Africa.

    7. We offer our services to help OAD anyway we can.

  • There are three established task forces:

    1. Astronomy for Universities and Research

    2. Astronomy for Children and Schools

    3. Astronomy for the Public

    Today we will be meeting within these task force to brainstorm, keeping in mind the OAD mission: To help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realize its scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society. OAD Director Kevin Govender reminds us that astronomy is not the silver bullet to solve all the problems fo the world. We are also to consider the economic impact of our activities.