South Africa’s HIRAX telescope driving industry engagements

The Hydrogen and Real-time Analysis eXperiment (HIRAX), led out of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), has deployed two new prototype telescope dish designs, one aluminium and the other fibreglass, at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) Hartebeesthoek site near Johannesburg. The fibreglass dish was designed and manufactured by MMS Technology in Pretoria, and the aluminium dish was designed and manufactured through a partnership between NJV Consulting and Rebcon in Durban. Funding for the HIRAX prototype dishes was provided by UKZN and the Department of Science and Technology through the National Research Foundation.

This milestone marks the successful completion of months of collaboration between the HIRAX project, and local engineering and manufacturing firms, and brings HIRAX one step closer to the installation of the full 1024-dish array in a compact configuration on the HIRAX main site in the Karoo.  This telescope will enable research in the evolution of dark energy through hydrogen intensity mapping, and research on transient radio sources such as fast radio bursts (FRBs) and pulsars. Dark energy is a mysterious force in the universe that scientists believe is acting against gravity to cause an accelerated expansion of the universe. FRBs are mysterious millisecond extragalactic flashes in the sky of unknown origin.

Collaboration on the dish design started in the beginning of 2018 with the purpose of defining final dish requirements for the project. The design of these 6-metre dishes has strict tolerances on the shape, surface accuracy, and receiver position. The mechanical design also allows for the manual repointing of the dishes every few months, enabling the instrument to map about a third of the sky over a five-year period while minimizing cost by eliminating the need for active drive mechanisms.

HIRAX will instrument and analyse the two new prototype dishes over the next few months to develop the final requirements for an open tender for the first 256 dishes to be installed at the HIRAX main site in the Karoo. SARAO Managing Director Rob Adam said: “After the successful testing at our Hartbeeshoek site we are looking forward to hosting HIRAX at our site in the Karoo. We always had the idea that the SKA site would prove to be an attractor for other leading-edge global astronomy projects and this is turning out to be the case.”

This installation could not have been achieved without the support of the professional staff at the SARAO Hartebeesthoek site. In this context the experience and domain knowledge of SARAO staff have been harnessed to provide support and technical assistance for various aspects of the HIRAX project.   All of the current antenna prototyping work is being conducted at the SARAO Hartebeesthoek observatory site, and SARAO staff at the site have assisted with the installation and testing of the dishes, and the execution of the associated civil infrastructure work.

Cynthia Chiang, HIRAX Instrumentation Lead, Professor at McGill University and Fractional Professor at UKZN, said: “In order to deliver high-precision science, HIRAX has stringent specifications that require custom-built telescope dishes. The two new dishes from MMS and Rebcon represent a significant milestone toward achieving HIRAX’s goals, and they will be crucial for informing the final instrument design”. Both MMS and the NJV/Rebcon collaboration worked hand-in-hand with the HIRAX project to produce prototype designs that will inform final dish requirements for the HIRAX project.

Kavilan Moodley alongside the newly installed MMS prototype dish at the SARAO Hartebeesthoek site.

The MMS dish was installed in August 2019 by their team led by Heinrich Bauermeister and consists of a fine aluminium mesh embedded in fibreglass. The MMS dish can tilt in elevation 30 degrees either side of zenith. MMS director Heinrich Bauermeister said: “Designing and manufacturing this dish was a serious trade-off between performance and cost. For this reason, the mount was kept as low and simple as possible and the dish itself as thin as possible without compromising too much on performance. The single piece composite material dish does not need any post-manufacturing setup, and the mount is low enough to facilitate easy adjustment of the dish elevation by one person.”

The 10-dish HIRAX prototype array in the foreground featuring the newly installed NJV Consulting/Rebcon dish at the front and centre. The 26m dish at the SARAO Hartebeesthoek site is visible in the background.

The NJV/Rebcon dish was installed in October 2019 by their team, led by Warren Butler, who indicated that “team input of the design development was dynamic to incorporate practical solutions regarding assembly/disassembly, transportation, ease of installation on site in a remote location and serviceability of the prototype once installed”.

“The design intent was realized by a form of laser-cut profiled aluminium elements which provided the parabolic accuracy the project required. The appropriate skills and collaboration has resulted in a practical buildable and easily erectable structure, that is fully recyclable”, he added.

The dish is made of aluminium mesh with an aluminium backing structure. Furthermore, it is fixed in azimuth and can tilt in elevation down to the horizon. Of the collaboration between the HIRAX project and NJV Consulting/Rebcon, Linda Ness, Director of NJV Consulting (Pty) Ltd asserted: “Collaboration between designer and fabricator on unusual engineering fabrications at conceptual stage is invaluable, and this was one of those great opportunities. Early interaction like this allows cross-over of skills between the two companies, who have worked together for many years. With multiple units in mind, material optimisation, repeat fabrication and erection are key. Detailed structural modelling analyses and finer stress design work could then be downstream from wholly considered upfront thinking, sketching and deliberation together with the scientists.”

The HIRAX team hopes that these partnerships are the first of many to come between the project and South African industry. In addition to collaborating on HIRAX dish hardware, the project hopes to manufacture some of its subsystems in South Africa, work with local technology companies to develop big data analysis tools, and hire local labour for the deployment of the instrument in the Karoo. Kavilan Moodley, Principal Investigator of the project and Professor at UKZN, emphasised: “Through these and future collaborations with industry and the scientific community, the project endeavours to build technical capacity nationally as South Africa increases its radio astronomy portfolio through MeerKAT and the development towards the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).”

Prestigious Award for Astrophysicist’s Masters Thesis

S2A3 Medal winner, Ms Chevarra Hansraj.

The thesis Ms Chevarra Hansraj presented for her master’s degree has been selected as the best in the area of Sciences and Applied Sciences at UKZN in 2018, winning her an award from the SA Association for the Advancement of Science. The Association presents only one such award – the S2A3 medal – to each university in South Africa every year.

Read more: http://ndabaonline.ukzn.ac.za/UkzndabaStory/Vol7-Issue45-Scholarships-2019-CAES/Prestigious%20Award%20for%20Astrophysicists%20Masters%20Thesis/

Thrill-Seeking Problem Solver Awarded Scholarship

DVC Scholarship winner Mr Keegan Trehaeven with Professor Naven Chetty.

The thrill of finding solutions has always driven Mr Keegan Trehaeven’s interest in Maths and Physics. Trehaeven is a third-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Science qualification in Applied Maths and Astronomy, at the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.

Read more: http://ndabaonline.ukzn.ac.za/UkzndabaStory/Vol7-Issue45-Scholarships-2019-CAES/Thrill%20Seeking%20Problem%20Solver%20Awarded%20Scholarship/

All in the Stars for Prestige Award Winner

DVC Scholarship winner Ms Shavani Naicker with her proud family, father Karthigan, mother Soogandri and sister Lavanya.

Black holes in space are what fascinate Ms Shavani Naicker, a third-year Bachelor of Science student who received a College Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship in recognition of her top performance over two or more years of undergraduate study. Naicker is one of three top-ranked undergraduates in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science to receive this honour, awarded to students proceeding from second to subsequent years of study.

Read more: http://ndabaonline.ukzn.ac.za/UkzndabaStory/Vol7-Issue45-Scholarships-2019-CAES/All%20in%20the%20Stars%20for%20Prestige%20Award%20Winner/

“Big Data in Astronomy” Opens Doors for Honours Student

Computer Science Honours Student, Ms Lisa Dayaram.

Ms Lisa Dayaram, an Honours student in Computer Science on the Westville campus spent a study week at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in June. The visit was funded by the Swiss-South Africa bilateral agreement.

Read more:

http://ndabaonline.ukzn.ac.za/UkzndabaStory/Vol7-Issue41-translations/Big%20Data%20in%20Astronomy%20Opens%20Doors%20for%20Honours%20Student#

“Big Data” for Science and Society Launch Goes Big!

From left: Professors Deresh Ramjugernath, Francesco Petruccione, Onisimo Mutanga, Kavilan Moodley, Maheshvari Naidu and Kesh Govinder at the Big Data for Science and Society project launch.

With the launch of the Big Data for Science and Society (BDSS) project, UKZN’s Big Data and Informatics’ Research Flagship plans to transform research by creating scientific and socio-economic impacts.
Read more: http://ndabaonline.ukzn.ac.za/UkzndabaStory/isizulu/Big%20Data%20for%20Science%20and%20Society%20Launch%20Goes%20Big

Image credit: Albert Hirasen

Graduation 2019

Clockwise from top left: Denisha, Kabelo, Dalian and Scott

Our 2019 graduation was held this week. It was a happy occasion and the culmination of many hours of work. Below are links to articles about some of our students who graduated this year.

Sweet Tooth Leads to Passion for Astronomy

Who would have thought that Cadbury Astros sweets could spark a love of astronomy? But it did for Ms Denisha Pillay and eventually led to her graduating with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree cum laude, majoring in Mathematics and Astronomy.

Pillay’s passion for astronomy began after she started collecting astronomy trivia printed on boxes of her favourite candy – Astros, sparking curiosity about the universe. Read More

MSc Research Contributes to Ground-Breaking Radio Telescope

Mr Kabelo Kesebonye of Botswana graduated with an MSc in Applied Mathematics from UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science for work done on the HIRAX radio astronomy project.

‘Kabelo was the first student on the HIRAX experiment to receive his postgraduate degree,’ said his supervisor, Dr Cynthia Chiang. Read More

Multiple Scholarship Recipient Maintains Winning Streak

For those who know him, it came as no surprise when multiple scholarship winner, Mr Dhaneshwar Dalian Sunder, graduated with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Applied Mathematics summa cum laude. Despite taking an additional module, Sunder still managed to bag eight Certificates of Merit for his degree! Read More

From Engineer to Astrophysicist

Mr Scott Eyono was fascinated with computers and technology from a young age and with his father being a professor of Computer Science, technological problem solving became almost a family hobby! Thus it is no surprise that the young Eyono is now a proud UKZN BScEng (Computer Engineering) graduate.

Arriving at UKZN fresh from high school at Highway College in Pinetown, Eyono enjoyed his studies in the School of Engineering. ‘My undergraduate degree prepared me mentally, physically and emotionally. Although demanding and difficult, it has made a big impact on my life and opportunities,’ he said.

Eyono became adept at solving problems – both scientific and technological – and this growing interest in the interaction between technology and science has now led him to postgraduate studies in Astrophysics. He has registered for an MSc degree, specialising in astrophysics and, in particular, radio telescopes. Read More

Lead Student on Radio Astronomy Experiment Awarded PhD

Lead student on the PRIZM radio telescope project Dr Liju Philip – who specialises in radio astronomy – graduated with a PhD in Physics from UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics.

PRIZM is a new radio astronomy telescope that has been installed on Marion Island, one of the most remote and radio-quiet locations in the world, to search for the birth of the first stars. Read More 

From Electrical Engineering Degree to Honours in Physics

With a National Diploma and BTech degree in Electrical Engineering from the Durban University of Technology already in the bag, Ms Tankiso Moso has now graduated from UKZN with a BSc Honours degree in Physics sponsored by the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP).

Moso’s research project focused on the PRIZM radio telescope, a new radio astronomy telescope on Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean being used to search for the birth of the first stars.

‘Tankiso is setting an inspiring example for others to follow,’ said her supervisor, Dr. Cynthia Chiang. ‘In transitioning to NASSP astrophysics, she overcame the formidable challenge of teaching herself several years’ worth of physics material while taking on honours level classes. I’m delighted that she not only passed everything but also received a certificate of merit in her physics research project class for her excellent work on PRIZM.’ Read more

Ecstasy as Chevarra Sets New Record

Ms. Chevarra Hansraj was over the moon to learn that she got 93% for her MSc degree specialising in general relativity – the highest mark ever recorded for an MSc completed in one year in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

In line with her undergraduate and honours degrees, the former Eden College pupil was once again capped summa cum laude. Read More

All images and articles from UKZN NdabaOnline

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Astronomers On Safari

Delegates at the 2019 Cosmology on Safari Conference

Combining a safari with a group of leading astrophysicists does not happen often but UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit did just that when they held another instalment of their extremely popular Cosmology on Safari conference. The conference was attended by local astronomers; as well as astronomers from Harvard University, the University of Cambridge, the University of Sydney, and many other leading institutions who presented their research, discussed problems and during their downtime, went on safari together. The Cosmology on Safari 2019 Conference took place from the 3rd to the 9th of March 2019 and was held at the Anew Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris, near the popular Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park.

An enormous amount of data about the Universe has been collected in the past decade. Therefore the conference was held in order to discuss relevant theories, datasets and the future direction of cosmology- the study of how the Universe is expanding. The scientists discussed fascinating topics such as dark matter and dark energy, supernovae, and the large scale structure of the Universe. Since the conference brought together experts in a wide variety of fields, the discussions that ensured were effective at shedding more light on these phenomena as well as generating possible solutions for important questions in astronomy.

The Conference gave South African postgraduate students the opportunity to interact with distinguished international research leaders in astronomy. In particular, students who are being trained to work on UKZN’s HIRAX telescope, engaged in face-to-face collaborations with colleagues based in the U.S., Canada and Switzerland.

“At the conference, a wide variety of topics in cosmology were covered by leading experts. A particular highlight for me was to see the latest results reported by cosmic microwave background experiments, searching for the polarised signal due to primordial gravitational waves” said UKZN astrophysicist and member of the local organising committee, Prof Matt Hilton.

R9m Boost to Big Data Research Flagship Project

Principal Investigators on the Flagship project (from left) Professor Kavilan Moodley, Professor Maheshvari Naidu and Professor Onisimo Mutanga.

UKZN has invested just over R9 million to kickstart the Big Data for Science and Society (BDSS) Flagship Project – one of three such projects to receive financial backing from the programme.

The Research Flagship Programme concentrates on four broad areas: Social Cohesion, African Health, Big Data and Informatics, and African Cities of the Future.

UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Deresh Ramjugernath emphasised the purpose of the Flagship Programme was to ‘promote research that has socio-economic impact and relevance to society and UKZN stakeholders, with the emphasis being on projects which are impactful, implementable and spur economic growth and social upliftment.’

The BDSS Project will support this mission through multi-disciplinary, cross-flagship, and cross-college collaboration in big data research that will have a significant scientific and social impact. The benefits of the cross-disciplinary approach include leveraging big data expertise to advance University-wide big data research projects in disciplines where large datasets currently exist but are not being fully exploited.

Three Principal Investigators (PIs) will lead the flagship project. They are Professor Kavilan Moodley – Astrophysics; Professor Maheshvari Naidu – Geospatial Humanities, and Professor Onisimo Mutanga – Earth Observation. In addition, the project has a number of Co-Investigators (Co-Is) from the fields of computer science and computer engineering, physics, statistics, psychology, management and information systems, and information and communication services.

The BDSS team comprises members from three Colleges: the College of Law and Management Studies, the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, and the College of Humanities.

The project will deploy interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary data-driven techniques that will blur the boundaries between disciplines resulting in scientific and societal benefits spanning a wide variety of topics ranging from dark energy, to climate change and urbanisation, to mobility and migration.

Professor in Anthropology, Academic Leader of Research in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and PI on the BDSS project, Professor Maheshvari Naidu, highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the BDSS Flagship project. ‘This particular Flagship Project cements meaningful collaboration among a wide spectrum of disciplines. It’s particularly exciting for aspects of what can be described as computational social sciences,’ said Naidu.

‘One of the initiatives will be to work with colleagues from Physics and Computer Science to explore machine learning (ML) tools in the context of social science narrative data. The aim is to work towards a model that is adapted to heterogeneous and unstructured social science textual data. This kind of work will, in turn, allow social scientists to probe social science issues on a scale not imaginable in the past in the context of ML, Geographic Information System (GIS) and data mining,’ she said.

Innovative research in the BDSS flagship project will include:

  •  Utilisation of big data from key Astrophysics telescope projects, such as the Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment (HIRAX), the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and the Meer – Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT) to develop big data pipelines, which will allow scientists to perform cutting-edge science in the topics of dark energy and fast radio bursts.
  •  Extraction and analysis of big data from Earth Observation sources to conduct invasive species mapping in the context of climate change for better understanding of the ecological impacts of invasive species and the overall impacts of climate change.
  •  Curation and analysis of big data from Geo-Spatial Humanities to map spatial patterns and human mobility through GIS.
  •  The utilisation of large datasets from Twitter to develop new and expand on existing ML sentiment algorithms that will provide insights into social enactments, raced, and gendered relations.
  •  Development of domain-specific ML and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques and algorithms that are tailor-made to discover patterns in data sets, intelligent data mining, and quantum computing techniques for big data analysis
  •  The utilisation of statistical clustering and data mining techniques for big data analysis including spatial clustering and data mining methods that will create a cohesive ‘picture’ that can be used to investigate selected social science phenomenon

Associate Professor in Astrophysics at UKZN, HIRAX PI and PI on the project, Professor Kavilan Moodley, extolled the benefits of this substantial project. ‘The BDSS flagship project will support big data research in a number of high-profile astronomy projects that seek to uncover the secrets of the universe. New techniques developed for these projects will also be applied to big datasets in other disciplines, resulting in important scientific and societal advances,’ said Moodley.

The scientific and socio-economic impact of this research will be magnified through collaboration with a strategic group of partners who will enable project sustainability and broaden the impact of programme outputs. These partnerships and key links include national government organisations such as the National Research Foundation, South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and South African National Parks. These organisations will support big data research in a multitude of topics and disciplines such as radio astronomy, biodiversity, land use planning and management, and wildlife management.

There will also be partnerships with local government through shared collaborative centres that will promote human capital development through big data innovations and technology spin-offs into industry. BDSS will also work with a number of multi-disciplinary research centres including the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research, the Astrophysics Research Centre, and the UKZN-based Andrew Mellon funded Spatial Humanities Project. These research centres provide data processing, ML, and AI expertise and linkages with governments and end users.

Finally, the project boasts a growing number of international partners that currently span nine institutions in six different countries.

Professor in Ecological Remote Sensing and GIS at UKZN, the SA Research Chairs’ Initiative Chair in Land use Planning and Management and project PI, Professor Onisimo Mutanga, said: ‘The 4th industrial revolution big data research direction opens up avenues to integrating rem

ote sensing data, advanced climate information, crop/agro hydrological models and machine learning tools for early warning systems on environmental perturbations. This makes informed decisions on climate risk and adaptive land use management.’

In addition to the societal and scientific impacts resulting from the research itself, the flagship’s projects are also geared at developing local staff and students. BDSS will focus on equity and gender transformation of students, postdoctoral fellows and senior researchers, and support the funding of additional postdoctoral fellows and graduate students to work together across disciplines and with the project’s many external partners. This cross-disciplinary co-supervision and collaboration model will promote skills development in both big data techniques and their application across disciplines. The training of transdisciplinary PhD-level students and postdoctoral fellows will have a long-term impact on society by boosting student entrepreneurship, increasing job growth and raising the local and national gross domestic product.

Article sourced from: http://ndabaonline.ukzn.ac.za/UkzndabaStory/Vol7-Issue5/UKZN%20Invests%20in%20Innovative%20Big%20Data%20Research%20to%20Boost%20Flagship%20Project

Swiss-SA Astronomy Big Data Workshop

UKZN’s Professor Kavilan Moodley and Dr Martin Kunz of the University of Geneva who are Principal Investigators for the Swiss/South African Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP).

Scientists and astronomers from Switzerland and South Africa recently discussed Astronomy Big Data were at a bilateral workshop which unpacked how challenging astronomy problems involving Big Data could be solved using Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Big Bata refers to the study and applications of data-sets that are so big and complex that traditional data-processing software are rendered ineffective. The key challenge surrounding Big Data is to turn it into information and knowledge that has commercial value, brings scientific and technological advances or has a broader impact on society.

The workshop was a part of the Swiss/South African Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP), a collaborative platform in astronomy to address the scientific Big Data challenge faced by pathfinder telescopes to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) such as UKZN’s HIRAX (Hydrogen Intensity Mapping and Real-time Analysis Experiment), MeerKAT (Meer Karoo Array Telescope), the BINGO (BAO from Integrated Neutral Gas Observations) telescope, and the DES (Dark Energy Survey) telescope.

The principal investigators for the projects in the SSAJRP- Professor Kavilan Moodley of UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research and Dr Martin Kunz of the University of Geneva (UNIGE)- have extensive expertise in the required methods and techniques and are well placed to make significant contributions to the project. The Swiss-South African collaboration entails scientists developing methodologies and tools to build a framework to solve the challenges they face. Developing this framework and associated methodologies will result in cutting-edge discoveries in fundamental science that will benefit other fields of science using Big Data such as geospatial sciences and climate science as well as a variety of industries.

The workshop comprised two days of information exchange and discussions about the plan for the projects and how they fit into the overall collaborative project. Some of the topics covered by the speakers featured 21cm cosmology, next-generation modelling for connecting HI (atomic hydrogen) to dark matter, data challenges relating to the HIRAX telescope, quantum machine learning and data processing in cosmology using the examples of Planck and Euclid.

The proposed workflow that was discussed incorporates a number of different aspects of the Big Data challenge, including a data acquisition layer which is proposed to validate the measured data through calibration and high-end instrument model calibration. The data measurement process also involves pre-processing and sampling of the large pathfinder datasets. These techniques will ensure a high fidelity of data and a model to test for systematic effects in the data measurement process. The data analysis layer involves theoretical modelling that involves mathematical and computational techniques. Machine learning techniques will extract significant value from the large pathfinder datasets and offer the promise of new scientific discoveries.

‘This bilateral project between South Africa and Switzerland represents a great opportunity for both countries to profit from each other in terms of experience, knowledge and access to astronomical data,’ said Kunz. ‘I should add that every visit to South Africa, like on the occasion of this workshop, is a pleasure thanks to the warm and kind hospitality that is unfailingly extended to us.’

“The workshop was extremely productive and resulted in knowledge sharing and collaborative plans to guide various projects. The Swiss-South African collaboration will create high-impact outcomes that will address astronomy big data challenges” added Moodley.

Article sourced from: http://ndabaonline.ukzn.ac.za/UkzndabaStory/Vol6-Issue53/Swiss%20SA%20Big%20Data%20Workshop%20at%20UKZN