MeerKAT advances cutting-edge expertise

Article republished with kind permission from SKA Africa.

South Africa’s MeerKAT project – and the prospect that the continent could possibly also host the SKA – is becoming a major catalyst for developing new skills and expertise around the globe, and to support development in Africa in particular.

Students supported by SKA South Africa doing a “spiral galaxy activity” with children at a school in Carnarvon

“MeerKAT attracts and excites talented young scientists and engineers because it is something entirely new and extremely ambitious and challenging,” explains Dr Bernie Fanaroff, Director of SKA South Africa. “The young people working on this project, both in our MeerKAT team and in the universities, are becoming experts in next-generation technologies that will be in high demand around the globe.”

Through its human capacity development programme, SKA South Africa funds students across a wide range of study levels, including artisan apprentice, technicians, undergraduates, MSc and PhD students and postdoctoral fellows.

To date, 293 students have benefited from SKA South Africa bursaries and scholarships, including many students from other African countries. Bursaries go to physics and engineering students and a special effort is made to attract women and black students to these fields.

Support for artisan training focuses on bringing students from the towns around the MeerKAT/SKA site to study at the Northern Cape Further Education and Training Urban College in Kimberley, the capital city of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province.

Throughout their studies, students are involved in workshops and site visits, often accompanied by foreign collaborators. The postgraduate students and some of the undergraduates participate in the annual bursary holders’ conference, where they get the opportunity to interact with world leaders in the development of the science and instrumentation of the SKA. There are also summer and winter schools for the undergraduates.

During site visits to the Northern Cape, the undergraduate students get the opportunity to participate in educational outreach activities designed to excite the learners of the Northern Cape about the leading role that their province is playing in the future of astronomy – in South Africa, Africa and the world.