Investment in research infrastructure vital to global development



Pretoria – Scientists at the international conference on research infrastructure in Cape Town have commended the efforts of governments to deliver on the global science facility, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.

The SKA radio telescope is one of the biggest international research infrastructures in the world and will assist scientists all over the world to work towards answering previously insoluble questions. The SKA has seen huge financial injections from the governments of South Africa, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom, among others.

The SKA has attracted great interest internationally. Already more than 500 astronomers, 58 from Africa, have submitted proposals to do scientific work using the SKA once it is complete.

Professor Philip Diamond, the Director General of the SKA Organisation in the United Kingdom, told the International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI 2016) that many governments across the world are beginning to support the project.

He was addressing over 500 scientists and researchers from 60 countries gathered in Cape Town for the event, which kicked off on 3 October. The researchers are deliberating on the relevance of research infrastructure, such as the SKA, to advance knowledge and technology.

The conference was officially opened by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor and the European Commission’s Director General for Research and Innovation, Robert-Jan Smits.

“I remain impressed that governments across the world are willing to make compromises to deliver on the global science facility,” said Prof Diamond.

He said a project like the SKA could not have been built without international collaboration. “It adds cost, complexity and risk – but it is worth it.”

The Deputy Director General for Large Research Infrastructure in Germany, Dr Beatrix Vierkorn-Rudolph, said such infrastructure is necessary to provide opportunities for training scientists and engineers, who will in turn contribute to economic development.

“People from different countries with different culture and backgrounds work together, learn to cooperate with each other and gain intercultural knowledge,” said Dr Vierkorn-Rudolph.

The conference will also see the launch of South Africa’s first own roadmap on research infrastructure as a guide to the country’s deployment of such infrastructures. The launch will take place this afternoon.

Minister Pandor said research infrastructures were the lifeblood of any successful system of innovation, and should be used to solve some of the challenges the world is facing today.