03-05-2013African-European Radio Astronomy Platform celebrates first anniversary

Brussels, May 3rd – the African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) will be celebrating its first anniversary at the end of May. AERAP is a response to the calls of the European Parliament, which through the adoption of the Written Declaration 45/2011, and of the Heads of State of the African Union, through their decision "Assembly/AU/Dec.407 CXVIII", called for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa-EU cooperation. AERAP provides a framework for stakeholders from the scientific community, industry and academia on both continents to initiate cooperation initiatives across the wide range of scientific disciplines and technological areas which are essential for the future of radio astronomy in both Africa and Europe.

At the recent Brussels conference, "EU Science: Global Challenges & Global Collaboration" (ES: GC2), held March 6th and 7th, AERAP discussed its vision for the future of radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe. In the framework of the conference in the European Parliament, during a two-day workshop, scientists, engineers and industry representatives came together with European and African policy makers including several Members of the European Parliament. In his speech at the conference, Irish Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello championed the contribution of science to development cited the EP’s Witten Declaration as an important milestone. These events were part of the process to prepare the AERAP Framework Programme for Cooperation.

The AERAP Framework Programme for Cooperation will now be further developed through consultation of African and European experts. The Framework Programme, which is to be presented to the European Parliament’s AERAP Group in May, describes AERAP’s vision for the future of African-European radio astronomy cooperation. This vision is shaped around eight thematic priorities: Research Infrastructures; Instrumentation, Research and Development; Support for Global Projects; Human Capital Development; ICT and Big Data; Renewable Energy for Radio Astronomy; Astronomy as a Tool for Science Education and Public Outreach. As foreseen by the Written Declaration 45/2011, the document will also be submitted as a contribution to the process of developing the future Africa-EU cooperation instruments forming part of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. In order to implement the key actions described in the AERAP Framework Programme (see link below), two Implementation Workshops are planned for June and October 2013.

Last month, South African Minister for Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, was in Brussels for a series of strategic engagements with EU policy- and decision-makers. Minister Hanekom’s visit aimed at strengthening cooperation in science, technology and innovation between South Africa and the EU. During his visit, AERAP hosted a high-level dinner in honour of Minister Hanekom. The theme of the dinner was science capacity-building in Africa.  Senior representatives of several European Commission services and European research funding organisations joined the Minister in an informal exploration of how Africa’s research and innovation capacities could be fostered through enhanced partnership with the European Union. These discussions specifically interrogated the role of cooperation in radio astronomy could play to advance science capacity-building in Africa.

The development of large scale radio astronomy facilities is a powerful driver of socio-economic development in Africa. It boosts the continent's human capital by training a new generation of highly qualified scientists and engineers, technicians and professionals. In addition to producing ground-breaking science, radio astronomy is driving innovation in several technological fields including ICT, advanced materials and renewable energy, both in Europe and Africa.

On this point Minister Hanekom said while in Brussels, “Developing human capital for science and technology, is a policy priority of the utmost importance in South Africa and Africa.  Our radio astronomy initiatives are playing an important part to contribute to these objectives and we have seen some exciting results already with students from African countries following post-graduate courses at South African universities and then returning to their countries of origin to establish astronomy courses at local universities.”

In Europe, Ireland aims to play a significant role in radio astronomy by building a Low Frequency Array (I-LOFAR) Station (www.lofar.ie). LOFAR, a next-generation radio telescope currently being deployed across Europe, with stations already operating in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the UK and France, allows to revolutionize studies into transient stars and galaxies; conduct the first studies into the early Universe after the Big Bang, complete the most extensive surveys of galaxies at low frequencies; and provide a new insight into the Sun-Earth connection. This project will build new links between university researchers and industry, inspire young scientists and engineers in areas like geophysics, meteorology, and agriculture, and give Irish scientists new views of the Universe using the international network of LOFAR radio telescope. LOFAR is a stepping stone in EU's ambitious Square Kilometre Array project, known as SKA, which will be built in African and Australia.

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Jessica Hadjis
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Declan Kirrane
ISC Intelligence in Science
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For the Irish LOFAR Telescope:

Peter Gallagher
Physics & Astrophysics Course Director Irish LOFAR Telescope
Trinity College Dublin
Email: peter.t.gallagher@gmail.com
Phone: +353 (0)1 896 1300

Editor’s Note

The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) is a response to the calls of the European Parliament, through the adoption of the Written Declaration 45/2011, and of the Heads of State of the African Union, through their decision “Assembly/AU/Dec.407 CXVIII”, for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa—EU cooperation. AERAP is a new stakeholder forum of industry, academia and the public sector established to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe. The overall goals of the platform are to leverage radio astronomy, advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across both continents. The platform will also enable effective dialogue to build a shared vision for international cooperation in radio astronomy.
Further information on AERAP: www.aerap.org 

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