South Africa and the United Kingdom have joined hands in an interesting project of astronomical proportions. The newly funded initiative involves bringing radio astronomy to Africa with incredible benefits. Led by Professor Melvin Hoare, the Development in Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) project aims to provide training to a new group of sub-Saharan African radio astronomers. The project involves 10 scientists from each country undergoing basic radio astronomy education every year. The trainees will then be given the opportunity to earn bursaries for further research at participating universities as well as further training and prospects for entrepreneurship.
DARA belongs to an international scientific group named Square Kilometre Array. The group’s goal is to build the biggest radio telescope in the world.
Professor Hoare, an astrophysicist, started working with trainees in Ghana with funding received from the Royal Society. In 2015 he was awarded a more substantial grant by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Newton Fund. Professor Hoare and DARA started training scientists in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. After an additional £2.7 million from the fund, the initiative is being expanded to include Mozambique, Madagascar, Ghana and Mauritius.
According to Professor Hoare it is incorrect to assume that developing countries should rather have programs that promote education in agriculture and business, instead of scientific programs involving subjects like radio astronomy. After all, one of the major differences between developing and already developed countries is on-going science. Furthermore Professor Hoare states that the training provided by DARA plays a vital role in a ‘bigger picture’, because it provides students with highly valuable and transferable skills that ultimately benefit developing countries by driving economic growth. The program has been well received by participants and by local governments.