Top Swiss research institute EPFL joins the SKA Observatory

© 2021 EPFL

© 2021 EPFL

The prestigious Swiss science and technology university École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has signed an agreement to cooperate with the SKA Observatory (SKAO) on behalf of the Swiss astronomy community.

The agreement between the SKAO and EPFL, which is one of two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology will allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision by the federal government on Switzerland joining the Observatory as a full Member. The institute will also be responsible for coordinating Swiss contributions to the construction of the SKAO telescopes.

Under the agreement, EPFL joins member states Australia, China, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom on the SKAO Council, the Observatory’s governing body. More countries that took part in the pre-construction phase of the SKA project are expected to become SKAO members in the coming weeks and months, once their national processes are complete.

“Good news keep coming in for the SKAO and after the accession of France and China in the Observatory in the last ten days, I am very happy to welcome EPFL, with its renowned reputation for world-class science, to the SKAO” said Director-General Prof. Philip Diamond. “Alongside its own contributions, EPFL has coordinated the involvement of several Swiss institutions and industry partners that have played and will keep playing a critical role going forward. We are thrilled to continue to benefit from our Swiss colleagues’ experience and technical expertise as we prepare for the start of construction.”

Swiss involvement in the SKA project has been significant in recent years; under the Observatory’s forerunner, the SKA Organisation, Switzerland gained observer status in 2016 and played a vital role in the telescope design phase. In April 2020, EPFL became a member of the Organisation representing the Swiss academic community.

Switzerland’s extensive motivations for involvement in the SKAO were outlined in the 2020 white paperSwiss Interests and Contribution to the SKA. It outlines the wide range of fundamental SKA science, from exo-planets to cosmology, in which the Swiss astrophysics community will be taking part as well as highlighting national interest in contributing to distributed radio frequency systems, high performance computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence for the SKA. The paper also noted Swiss industry expertise in data processing, system control and supervision, antennas and radio receivers and precise time management through the use of maser atomic clocks.

On the science front, scientists at Swiss institutions are participating in eight of the SKA’s Science Working Groups, including those focusing on galaxy evolution, cosmology and cosmic magnetism.

“I’m extremely happy that after many years of preparatory work, we are able to join the SKA Observatory adventure”, said EPFL President Prof. Martin Vetterli. “This is fantastic news not only for EPFL but also for Switzerland. The SKA is a very innovative project, bringing many countries together to tackle an unprecedented data science challenge, with the ultimate goal of increasing our understanding of the origin of our universe. I’m looking forward to a fruitful collaboration of our researchers at EPFL and across Switzerland to contribute to the success of the SKAO.”

The signature comes a few days after the Federal Council -the country’s highest executive authority- confirmed their intention to eventually join the SKAO as full member, pending approval from Parliament.

About the SKAO

The SKAO, formally known as the SKA Observatory, is a global collaboration of Member States whose mission is to build and operate cutting-edge radio telescopes to transform our understanding of the Universe, and deliver benefits to society through global collaboration and innovation.

Headquartered in the UK, its two telescope arrays will be constructed in Australia and South Africa and be the two most advanced radio telescope networks on Earth. A later expansion is envisioned in both countries and other African partner countries. Together with other state-of-the-art research facilities, the SKAO’s telescopes will explore the unknown frontiers of science and deepen our understanding of key processes, including the formation and evolution of galaxies, fundamental physics in extreme environments and the origins of life. Through the development of innovative technologies and its contribution to addressing societal challenges, the SKAO will play its part to address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and deliver significant benefits across its membership and beyond.