African Physics Newsletter

Developing Africa with Radio Astronomy (DARA) - the Kenyan Experience

Based on the Square Kilometer Array facility, astronomy is developed in several African countries.

The DARA Project is a joint UK-South Africa Newton Fund human capital development project to help drive economic development in Africa, particularly in some of the African Square Kilometer Array (SKA) partner countries. The target countries are Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zambia.

The goal of the DARA project is to develop high tech skills, among student researchers, using radio astronomy in these African countries. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills underpin the emergence of a strong developed economy. The targeted countries will be acquiring radio telescopes to form the African Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI) network as part of their participation in the SKA project.

British universities

The DARA project’s Principal Investigator is Prof. Melvin Hoare from the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds. The University of Leeds is coordinating the project involving also a number of UK Universities: University of Manchester, University of Hertfordshire, Oxford University and University of Central Lancashire. The South African participation in the project is spearheaded by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO).

In Kenya, DARA basic radio astronomy training began in 2015 with 10 students finishing the whole course. Between 2015 and 2020, 40 Kenyans have been trained to completion.

Students training in Europe and in Africa

Out of these, about 14 have proceeded for further studies in astronomy/astrophysics, electrical engineering, and satellite systems development. A student completed a PhD at the University of Leeds in 2019, and PhD students are enrolled at the University of Manchester, the Technical University of Kenya, Kenyatta University, and in the Netherlands.

A new student will begin at Max Planck Institute in Germany in 2020. In addition, there are active Masters students across the European and African continents at the Technical University of Kenya (1), the University of Strathclyde (1), the University of Leeds (1), the University of Mauritius (1), Rhodes University in South Africa (2) and the University of Cape Town (1). Master’s degrees have already been completed at the University of Manchester (2) and Stellenbosch University (1).

Massive interest in astronomy

The DARA project has created massive interest in astronomy and astrophysics in Kenya, and the national training center is at the Technical University, where a well-equipped computational laboratory has been funded by DARA. The lab is also connected to the Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC) in Cape Town, South Africa. Currently, Kenya is working towards establishing an astronomical observatory in North Eastern Kenya, around Lake Turkana.

Paul Baki, Country DARA Project Coordinator, The Technical University of Kenya

This post has been first published by the African Physics Newsletter. ©American Physical Society, 2020.


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