Episode 62: Behind the Scenes of the SKAO with Phil Diamond

Above: Scrolling transcript. See below for static transcript.

Part 3 – SKAO Construction Commencement Ceremony

In the third and final part of the SKAO Construction Commencement Ceremony series, Jacinta sits down with Professor Phil Diamond, the Director-General of the SKAO to discuss his thoughts and feelings around the construction commencement ceremony in Australia and on the future of the project as a whole.

Professor Phil Diamond has been a strong supporter of the SKA (Square Kilometre Array) since it was first proposed in the early 1990s and officially joined the project in October 2012. He has led the project through its various design stages up until this point where construction is finally commencing.

In this episode, Prof. Diamond shares his experiences with the site selection, his thoughts on the commencement ceremony as well as insights into the intricate design of the “Christmas tree” antennas of the SKA-Low Telescope. Join us for this behind-the-scenes look at the SKA project!


Show notes created by Francois Campher.
Transcript by Emil Meintjes.

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[00:00:00] Tshia: Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr. Tshiamiso Makwela,

[00:00:08] Jacinta: Dr. Jacinta Delhaize,

[00:00:10] Dan: and Dr. Daniel Cunnama. Each episode, we’ll be giving you a behind the scenes look at world class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.

[00:00:17] Tshia: Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.

[00:00:25] Jacinta: Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.

[00:00:33] Tshia: Hello and welcome to today’s episode. And in today’s episode, our guest is none other than Professor Phil Diamond, who is the Director General of the SKAO, so the Square Kilometre Array Observatory. And this interview is more like a part three of the series, like this mini series that’s been going on where both Daniel and Jacinta went to the commencement ceremonies in Australia and South Africa, respectively.

[00:00:58] And so, Jacinta managed to catch up with Professor Phil Diamond to talk more about what this construction commencement ceremony. Why is it so important? Why do we need it? And why do we do this to connect with the people of the places where we are constructing our telescopes and our most amazing sciences will be coming from them.

[00:01:19] Jacinta: That’s right. Thanks for the great intro, Tshiamiso.

[00:01:26] Dan: Excellent intro.

[00:01:27] Jacinta: So, as you have heard, if you’ve listened to the previous two episodes, the SKA telescope, which is a massive new radio telescope, which has been in the planning for 30 years, is finally starting construction. And so Dan and I went to the construction commencement ceremonies in December, and we’ve been having a few episodes on the audio that Dan recorded in South Africa.

[00:01:50] That I recorded in Australia, because of course the SKA telescope is split between two sites, both in South Africa and Australia. And this is kind of a follow up on this. The next day after the ceremony, I managed to have a whole 30 minutes of time with Professor Phil Diamond, the Director General, which is a lot if you’re a Director General.

[00:02:08] And we got to have a chat and he joined us again on the Cosmic Savannah.

[00:02:12] Dan: Yeah, so we’ve had Phil before, some time back, but it was great to get an update.

[00:02:15] Jacinta: Yeah, it was actually episode, wait, I’ve got it written down here. It was episode 37, which was the first episode of season four.

[00:02:21] Dan: Shoh, but that was some time ago.

[00:02:23] Jacinta: It was it was actually August 2nd, 2021.

[00:02:29] Dan: So, we had Phil on then talking about, you know, what was going to be coming in the, in the next few years, and great to get an update from him here.

[00:02:37] Jacinta: It was actually in commemorating that the SKA actually got the go for construction. So it was like signed off by the board and it was officially was going to happen.

[00:02:44] And then however long later, this was the actual construction commencement ceremony and now it’s under construction.

[00:02:49] Dan: And, we assume that two years was exactly to plan.

[00:02:52] Jacinta: Yes, we definitely planned it that way.

[00:02:56] Dan: Yeah, so great that you’ve managed to catch up with Phil again. I’m not entirely sure why he went to Australia, not South Africa.

[00:03:02] Jacinta: Oh, because it’s the best.

[00:03:05] Dan: We’re going to get into that.

[00:03:06] Jacinta: It’s two against one here guys, I have to stick up for myself.

[00:03:10] Dan: But yeah, thanks so much for catching up with him and looking forward to hearing the interview.

[00:03:14] Jacinta: Yeah, let’s just hear from Phil.

[00:03:22] Back with us now is Professor Phil Diamond, the SKAO Director General. Welcome back to the Cosmic Savannah, Phil. It’s great to have you back.

[00:03:31] Phil: Thanks, Jacinta. Yeah, it’s good to be here.

[00:03:33] Jacinta: You’re an old hat at this now, Phil. We seem to kind of cross each other’s paths in various parts of the world and now you’re here in Western Australia.

[00:03:40] Phil: Yep, here for the Construction Commencement Ceremony for SKA-Low.

[00:03:44] Jacinta: So we were both out in the Murchison, yesterday, at the commencement ceremony. Can you describe that ceremony for our listeners and what it was about?

[00:03:53] Phil: So yesterday there were two events, but the most significant was the event out at the future SKA site.

[00:04:02] If I remember correctly, if my pronunciation is correct, it’s in Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, CSIRO Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory. Which is the site on which SKA Observatory will be hosted. And we had a tremendous event out there. We had, I think about 40 or 50 people, plus about 40 or 50 of the Wajarri Yamatji people came along to commemorate the start of construction of the SKA.

[00:04:32] We had the Federal Science Minister, Ed Husic, came out there as well and participated in the events. I mean, I must admit it was a perfect day. Started off at, well, my alarm was at 5 a. m., which is fairly typical actually with this project. And we had charter plane out to the site.

[00:04:52] Various speeches.

[00:04:53] Welcome to country, of course, from the Wajarri people. A dance by by some of the Wajarri. Fantastic welcome from the local people there.

[00:05:03] A few speeches.

[00:05:05] Speeches can be boring, but , I found these fascinating, just because of the environment, the event.

[00:05:11] And then a visit to the prototype SKA-Low’s station, that is out there to give the press and the minister some idea of what it is we’re building.

[00:05:21] Then back to Perth and an evening reception at the WA Museum to top it all off.

[00:05:27] And then I collapsed into bed at the end.

[00:05:29] Jacinta: I was going to say, you must have been exhausted by the end of all of that.

[00:05:32] Phil: I was. I was. It was a long day. But very well worth it, and great to see so many friends and colleagues.

[00:05:40] Jacinta: Yeah, it was. At least the part in the Murchison that I got to attend was really something special that I think that will stick in the memory for a really long time.

[00:05:48] Phil: Oh, it will do. It will do. And of course, we had exactly the similar analogous event happening in South Africa at the same time. With an event on site, of course, some hours later because of the rotation of the Earth.

[00:06:04] And instead of an evening event today, the 6th of December, they’re having a breakfast event as part of the World Science Forum in Cape Town. So that part of the celebration is yet to happen in South Africa.

[00:06:18] Jacinta: Yeah, wonderful. So Dan is over in South Africa and he went to the event yesterday in the Karoo. I was here in the Murchison, so we’re kind of, you know, spreading across the two continents just like the SKA itself.

[00:06:31] So can you tell us a bit more about what was the actual purpose and the meaning behind the commencement ceremony?

[00:06:38] Phil: So the ceremony was important for us. First of all, to commemorate effectively a groundbreaking, although no ground was formally broken yesterday. In fact, that part was symbolized by the gift of Wajarri Digging Sticks to some of the Participants at the event.

[00:07:00] We still have some bureaucratic permitting issues to go through. So the actual deployment of the contractors will probably be in February, but the importance of yesterday was to to thank the watery, the traditional owners of the land there for giving us the permission to construct the SKA on their land.

[00:07:22] And they have a very active involvement in the project. Wajarri elders have walked 400 kilometers of the Murchison out there, in all of the areas where we plan to disturb the ground, put roads in, trenches for power and fiber, the SKA- Low Stations. And they’ve walked the land with us to make sure that there are no cultural artifacts or heritage matters that we might disturb.

[00:07:52] And if there are, if something of significance is found that can’t be easily relocated, then we actually have the ability to move the SKA-Low stations modestly to cope with that. So that’s been a very intensive effort. In effect, the Wajarri are co- designing the telescope with us as we do that. So, I saw yesterday as thanking them for their efforts so far, for the unanimous approval of the Wajarri in signing the Indigenous Land Use Agreement and commemorating that fact. That was the most important part of it.

[00:08:28] Jacinta: Yeah, I thought that was really beautiful. It really came across the thanking of the First Nations people for sharing their land.

[00:08:35] And I love the meaning of the name Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara: Sharing our land, Skies and Stars. You know, this is an ancient culture with their own indigenous knowledge from from tens of thousands of years ago. And now we’re kind of on the same land, you know, moving forward, our knowledge of astronomy, which I thought was a really nice sort of circle, if you will.

[00:09:00] You mentioned the Indigenous Land Use Agreement. Can you explain a bit more about what that is?

[00:09:04] Phil: So this is an agreement that the federal Australian government have established with the Wajarri. It’s taken, I think, in total seven years to negotiate from a standing start interrupted, of course, by COVID because the last two years of the negotiation, they, the Wajarri, their preference is to have community meetings to discuss such things, which of course has been disrupted by COVID.

[00:09:32] But what it does is it encapsulates, provides commitments for the various benefits that will come to the Wajarri. The most significant, I think, are in jobs, contracts, education, training. There are other benefits as well that actually we in the SKA Observatory are not privy to. That’s something that the government have negotiated with the Wajarri.

[00:09:55] But from our side, we’ve signed up to various commitments, which of course we will keep. And actually, there will be contracts that come to the Wajarri, there will be subcontracts from the big infrastructure contractor that we’ve appointed. So, I’m looking forward to turning all of those words into a reality and as we build on that relationship.

[00:10:17] Jacinta: Yeah, that’s great. And as you kind of mentioned, actions are more important than words, and so we really need to make sure that this kind of translates into actual actions. And you mentioned yesterday, again, making sure that the SKA and the SKAO are good neighbours. Can you expand a bit about what you mean?

[00:10:34] Phil: Yeah, so that’s sort of shorthand for we want to work very closely with that particular local community also with the broader community in the Midwest and again across the Indian Ocean with the local community in the in the Karoo. It’s exactly analogous everything I’m saying about the Australian site applies in the Karoo as well.

[00:10:56] Different context, there’s no Indigenous Land Use Agreement, but there are the local stakeholders and local residents. So it’s building on that commitment, but it’s also making sure we support businesses in Geraldton, that we provide whatever opportunities we can for local employment. But also in the broader sustainability issue.

[00:11:19] We want to make sure our impact on the land is minimal. We intend to be as green a telescope as it’s possible to be. You may have noticed out there, there’s already the power station, the solar power station that CSIRO have put in for the current Murchison operations. We need something three times that.

[00:11:39] Plus smaller power stations out along the spiral arms off the SKA-Low configuration. So in all of these respects, we want to be with visitors where we’re temporarily on the land are 50 year residents in terms of the 40/50 thousand years of the the Wajarri in places is minute. So we don’t want to have a negative impact on the land or the neighborhood or the culture.

[00:12:08] So yes, we intend to be good neighbours.

[00:12:11] Jacinta: That’s wonderful to hear, and I’m glad you mentioned also what’s going on in the Karoo in South Africa. And as you said, no official Indigenous Land Use Agreement, which is something that’s kind of particular to Australia, but the same intention over there. So, what happens now?

[00:12:25] We’ve had the construction commencement ceremony, we have thanked the First Nations’s people, the First People from both sides. We spoke to your boss, Catherine Cesarsky, on our previous episode. And, she mentioned that from now there’s the infrastructure with the roads and job contracts. Can you expand a bit more about that and the sort of timelines involved?

[00:12:47] Phil: Yeah, so, in both countries, South Africa and Australia, there’s these final bureaucratic hurdles that we have to go through to get the formal construction permits. All the big legal agreements are now settled. The contracts with the infrastructure providers assigned. So once we get over this final hurdle, and actually, we’re not too worried about it, you know, waiting two months, because it’s the heat of the summer in both the Murchison and the Karoo, and that’s not the greatest time to be deploying construction crews. So I anticipate early February we’ll see deployment of diggers and bulldozers and everything else. The establishment of the construction camps. It’ll be a hive of activity in both the Karoo and in the Murchison as the work starts., And it’s all been minutely planned :where everything’s going where the overall schedules on this. Also on Friday, contracts were signed with Syrio, an Italian company, to deliver the SKA-Low antennas. So that work will happen in Italy and the UK, actually. UK is also involved in that and those antennas will come out to Australia and similarly with the CETSI with The Ministry of Science and Technology and CETSI 54 in China, contract was signed on Friday for the dishes to come to South Africa.

[00:14:13] So, everything is converging as per Joe McMullin’s master plan. Joe McMullin is my deputy and the program director and he’s like the puppet master in this whole thing. He and his team. Pulling this all together, and they’re doing a tremendous job, as you can see just by the convergence, the happy convergence of all of these contract signings at the times of the ceremony.

[00:14:38] Which was not an accident, by the way. It was all planned.

[00:14:42] Jacinta: Very well planned. We actually had the Swiss ambassador with us yesterday in the Murchison, and I believe the Swiss are, quite appropriately, providing some timing devices.

[00:14:51] Phil: Yeah, I think they quite enjoy that aspect of it. Yeah, it’s the hydrogen mazes which are the atomic clocks at the heart of the timing system, come from Switzerland.

[00:15:02] But yeah, the Swiss are very enthusiastic. New members, they’re the most recent country to ratify the observatory. The Swiss ambassador was there in person, she loved it, she had a great time. Various consular officials from other countries were at the evening event in Perth yesterday. In South Africa, there’ll be other ambassadors. The ceremony there is adjacent to the World Science Form, so there are many other senior policy makers from member countries there who will be engaged in the breakfast event. And then on Monday, I’m giving a talk at Manstromlo in Canberra to the Diplomatic Corps. So other ambassadors who couldn’t make it across the country will give them a briefing of the current status of the project in person.

[00:15:51] Jacinta: Wonderful. So that’s Canberra, the capital city of Australia. So it’s really awesome to see that, you know, this really is a truly international project with all of the other member countries also contributing, you know, constructing different parts of the SKA. And we saw yesterday in the Murchison the SKA-Low prototype.

[00:16:10] Can you explain a bit more about that and also what is on site already in the Karoo?

[00:16:14] Phil: So, yes, the prototype out in the Murchison is called, has the grand acronym AAVS2. It’s the Aperture Array Verification System No. 2. No. 1 no longer exists. In fact, I was slightly sad to see it had been dismantled.

[00:16:33] I quite like seeing it because there was an enormous difference between AAVS 1 and AAVS 2, showing the evolution of our design as we learnt how to operate and calibrate the low frequency antennas. But what AAVS 2 consists of is 256 of these 2 meter tall log periodic antennas. Christmas trees is the easiest explanation to the public.

[00:16:57] They do look like Christmas trees! And what we’ve been able to do remotely during COVID. So this was put together by Curtin along with Italian and UK partners, of course, with SKAO involvement as well, but it’s been a superb test bed for us to test the equipment, the software, the techniques, and we’ve learned so much from this.

[00:17:21] We’re now building AAVS3. Which will be the final tweaks on the design. The design has evolved slightly. Hugely between 1 and 2, slightly between 2 and 3. So 3 is being constructed shortly. We’ll do our final tests on that, and then we’ll move to the first six stations of SKA-Low, and those six stations will have the full SKA system around them.

[00:17:50] And once we’ve tested all of that work satisfactorily, we press the button on the big production runs and the installation. Well, so in the Karoo right now, of course, Meerkat exists, as you well know, and is, is an operational instrument doing superb science. But shortly, very shortly, we’ll start building the SKA dishes out there.

[00:18:13] First four of those will be equivalent to that. First six in the Murchison, full test of the system, and then the big rollout following that. So that’s the plan for both of these. So we hope to have these advanced prototype systems, the four dishes and the six stations, around the middle of 2024, operational and tested, and the rollout following that with the completion of construction in 2028.

[00:18:42] Jacinta: Wonderful. So exciting. Just with the metal Christmas trees, we had a lot of questions from listeners. You said it was a log periodic design, which looks like this metal Christmas tree, which we’ll put a picture on our website of. Briefly, could you explain why that shape?

[00:18:57] Phil: So. Well, I’m not an electrical engineer, so I’m not sure I understand all the technical details of it.

[00:19:05] But what we have encapsulated in that one, two meter tall antenna is a receptor, as we call them, that is sensitive to radio waves between 50 Megahertz and 350 Megahertz. Now that’s a 7 to 1 range, which is huge. Typically, radio astronomy receivers are maybe 2 to 1, 3 to 1. And even that is stretching the envelope.

[00:19:31] So it’s been a significant engineering challenge to build a system that has a seven to one range of frequencies and produce, you know, a very smooth profile, more or less equal receiving power across that whole bandwidth. And so, if you’re showing your readers a picture of this, the big prongs, I’ll call them prongs, at the base of the antenna, those are the ones that are sensitive to 50 Megahertz.

[00:19:57] And as you move up the Christmas tree, the much smaller receiving elements at the top are those sensitive to 350 Megahertz. And, of course, the ones in between the other frequencies. So that’s broadly how it works. But it’s a very complex system because of the electromagnetic nature of all of these, they interact closely with their neighbours. And so they’re all being very carefully positioned and the, the characterization of each station is a significant job. But, we pretty much have that under control, not me personally, but the guys working on it. And, yeah, we know how the whole system behaves quite well now.

[00:20:37] Jacinta: Certainly some extremely complicated engineering going into this, so we’re glad to have just some really clever people working on this. So of course we’ve got the two host countries, South Africa and Australia, but also the UK, where the headquarters are. What’s the latest from SKA Headquarters?

[00:20:56] Phil: Well, yeah, the headquarters, of course, we have the group that’s overseeing the whole activity. Although, increasingly now we have groups, our teams established in Perth and in Cape Town, well, Perth and Geraldton, Cape Town and Carnarvon in the Karoo. We’re seeing much more activity centered on the sites as it should be.

[00:21:17] But the, you know, the key design teams, all the functions required to run the observatory sit at the headquarters. And there’s a palpable sense of excitement there as well that we’re finally, finally on the road to construction. You may have noticed that there was a tweet yesterday from Jason Spyromilio.

[00:21:35] Do you know Jason?

[00:21:37] Jacinta: Yeah, I’ve heard of him.

[00:21:38] Phil: So, in 2013 ESO kindly lent us Jason for a year. To kick off the detailed design process and he became famous, for very shortly after he arrived, he came to our first engineering meeting at Old Trafford in Manchester. I’m just United .And he stood up and he spoke very directly to people.

[00:22:03] He said look, “Do you want to talk about building the SKA or do you want to build the SKA?” And that sort of resonated for years through the project. And yesterday he tweeted quote, “Do you want to talk about building it or do you want to build it? ” and then he said, “Question answered.” Which was, I thought really cute of Jason.

[00:22:26] Yeah. So I congratulated him on that message.

[00:22:29] Jacinta: That’s really awesome! It’s like just showing how we’ve finally come to this point after all this time. Absolutely. Yeah. All right, so thank you so much, Phil, for your leadership throughout this whole time and congratulations on getting the project to this point now.

[00:22:44] Just, I can’t say the word exciting enough to express how we’re all feeling about this. Ed, do you have any final messages for listeners?

[00:22:52] Husic: Look, it’s, it’s been a long road. Some of us have been involved in the project right from the early, crude, concept thinking 30 years ago.

[00:23:02] Yeah, yeah, I felt like a baby then as well.

[00:23:06] Yeah, we’ve got there. The first decade was thinking, concept building. The second decade was technology development. Third decade we really got real. Organization established, money starting to flow, detailed design, site decisions, setting up of an observatory, and now fourth decade we’re building it. But it takes that long for these big, I mean this is one of the largest scientific enterprises people have ever tried to do, and it just does take that long to pull it together.

[00:23:39] But we’re there, and yeah, thanks to the huge efforts of an enormous, enormous number of people.

[00:23:46] Jacinta: Wonderful. Thanks so much for speaking with us today, Phil.

[00:23:48] Phil: No, you’re very welcome. Thank you.

[00:23:57] Tshia: Thank you Jacinta for catching up with Professor Phil Diamond. I guess as you said before that, you know, Director Generals are mostly busy. And I must say that the interview is very interesting and intriguing. Also… taking us back to how our own sciences just does not influence the policymakers, but also the people involved.

[00:24:19] So looking at our science in a way that it also involves people influences people’s life was very nice that it came out from this. And also both of you sound really tired during this interview.

[00:24:36] Jacinta: No, you’re actually spot on there. It was, we were both really exhausted. We had massive days the day before, as you’ll know if you, if you listened to part two previous episode. So yeah, Phil and I both like kind of dragged ourselves out of bed. This was 9am, which was, I’m sure Phil had already had a few meetings that day.

[00:24:54] I was certainly just dragging myself

[00:24:55] Tshia: I’m glad you made it on time.

[00:24:57] Jacinta: Thank you. I was proud of myself. I think I was slightly late, but you know. So yeah, we were both pretty tired, but it was great that we managed to fit in some time to have this good chat and bring it to you all.

[00:25:08] Dan: Yeah, thank you very much.

[00:25:09] I think it was really cool. Great to hear his perspective. I mean, we heard yours before.

[00:25:14] Tshia: They were both great.

[00:25:18] Jacinta: Thank you. Thank you.

[00:25:24] Dan: I was just great to hear from Phil. And, you know, it’s always great to hear from Phil. I think he, you know, he speaks really, really well. And, you know, I think we feel Not directly working on SKA, but I feel quite privileged to have him heading up this project. He really seems to be doing a great job.

[00:25:38] Jacinta: Yeah. It’s always great to chat with Phil and Phil came to our hour of the Australian ceremony and the chair of the SKA board, Professor Catherine Cezarski, obviously, came to South Africa.

[00:25:50] And, we actually spoke to Catherine in episode 59, I think it was just a couple of days before the ceremony happened. So yeah, it was really cool that we could have this international event where everyone was there in one of the two sites.

[00:26:02] Dan: Now, quick aside. We won’t only be doing SKA content from now on. I know it’s been pretty heavy,

[00:26:08] It’s

[00:26:08] Jacinta: been SKA heavy.

[00:26:09] Dan: There’s a lot of excitement, but there’s a lot of other things going on and we’ve got a few great interviews lined up and we’ll be getting them to you soon.

[00:26:16] Jacinta: Yes, we will change topics soon, but we did think it was particularly cool for you to hear exactly what’s going on with the whole process of this massive international project from the ground up. So, yeah, we’re very privileged to be able to bring that audio to you. And just while we’re on the topic of the SKAO, Dan and I actually had an excursion today.

[00:26:33] Dan: Mm hmm.

[00:26:34] Tshia: Look at you.

[00:26:35] Jacinta: Well, you were invited.

[00:26:38] Dan: Too busy and important. But yeah, yeah, we went to the new SKA Mid headquarters in Cape Town. Very fancy buildings.

[00:26:46] Jacinta: Kind of like a Google office. Dan and I were a little jealous.

[00:26:50] Dan: Meeting pods.

[00:26:51] Jacinta: Yeah.

[00:26:52] Dan: A bowl of apples.

[00:26:53] Jacinta: And there’s like balloons in the kitchen. I’m not sure what that was about.

[00:26:56] Tshia: Do they have a nice coffee machine?

[00:26:57] Dan: They do.

[00:26:57] Tshia: Yes,

[00:26:58] Jacinta: they do.

[00:27:02] Dan: Very cool. And yeah, I think we will, you know,

[00:27:05] Jacinta: We’re looking into collaborations with them. Yeah.

[00:27:06] Dan: So a lot of stuff coming out of the SKA coming up, right. So not just the incredible construction and everything that’s going to happen, all of the science, but also a huge amount of science communication.

[00:27:17] You know, there’s a, there’s a huge amount of work to do in terms of community upliftment, human capacity development and outreach. And SKA is dedicated and committed to that. And we’re looking forward to working with them on that.

[00:27:27] Jacinta: Yeah, and I mean, Tshiami, so we haven’t really had a chance to speak to you much about your work and we will in an upcoming episode, but you kind of work on kind of the connection between the science and it impacting people’s lives.

[00:27:39] So what’s your impression about the SKA and what our hope for the future is in that regards?

[00:27:45] Tshia: Thank you for putting me on the spot.

[00:27:47] Jacinta: No big deal. Just like existential questions. Yes, we are recording this on a Friday afternoon.

[00:27:54] Tshia: Well, I think the first base as part of it is really the human capacity development, because we know that there isn’t enough people here to be able to do these sciences, but not just not that there isn’t enough people, but it would be nice that, you know, within the countries where both the SKAs are being built, I think it’s important for people to be involved in those discoveries in that science.

[00:28:17] And I think that’s exciting. I think just on its own, having, you know, Daniel and Jacinta being part of these discoveries is going to be amazing.

[00:28:26] Dan: I mean, I, I, Jacinta might be part of them. All I, all I do is report the news.

[00:28:33] Jacinta: That’s quite a way to describe your job.

[00:28:36] Tshia: But I think that’s really exciting to see those discoveries and actually be able to communicate these discoveries to the people who are living close to where these telescopes are being built basically.

[00:28:48] So I think that’s why it’s really important.

[00:28:50] Dan: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Very exciting times.

[00:28:52] Jacinta: All right. That was the end of the interview and the formal part of the episode. We go on to what, what have you all been up to and how are you this week?

[00:29:00] Dan: I went first last time.

[00:29:01] Jacinta: Oh, did you? Okay. Tshiami, so, how about you?

[00:29:03] Tshia: Okay. So I think now this kind of leads to what I’ve been saying previously. So next week I’m going to be involved in the National Science Week and I’ll be communicating astronomy. So that science week I’ll be in the city of Johannesburg. So I’ll be around the city center, Rheinberg. Park Town, Orange Farm, Soweto, Rodebart, so I’ll be around those areas for the Science Week.

[00:29:30] Jacinta: When is the Science Week?

[00:29:31] Tshia: Starting on the 31st of July till the 5th of August.

[00:29:34] Jacinta: Okay, so that’s the National Science Week.

[00:29:36] Tshia: That’s the national Science Week in South Africa. So I’ll be visiting schools and communicating astronomy to the learners, but also to their teachers, because it’s not always that they get such opportunities to see people who are doing astronomy, visiting their schools. And so I’m really excited to be going there and I’ll be taking a small telescope, the Galileo Telescope as well. I hope they get excited. I mean, they’re not going to see anything, but you know.

[00:29:59] Dan: Well, you’re not going to be in the evenings too.

[00:30:00] Tshia: So we’re not doing anything at night, but on the 5th, we hope that, you know, one of the local malls can give us a spot and we can kind of have an outreach event at a local mall where everyone goes most of the Saturdays in Joburg. So we’re hoping to get a nice little booth there for the Saturday, just to do some science communication.

[00:30:21] And I just hope to not only meet learners, but you know, their parents and their teachers. I’m so excited, actually. I’m really excited.

[00:30:28] Jacinta: Yeah, you’re glowing.

[00:30:30] Dan: That’s brilliant. Well done.

[00:30:33] Jacinta: Yeah. But most importantly, you’re going to be taking some Cosmic Savannah stickers with you.

[00:30:36] Tshia: Yep. I’m taking Cosmic Savannah.

[00:30:37] Jacinta: Yeah.

[00:30:38] Tshia: So, Cosmic Savannah is going to Jailbreak yard.

[00:30:45] Yeah!

[00:30:45] I don’t actually know if this episode’s coming out before or after National Science Week, but if it’s before, then go find Tshiamiso.

[00:30:53] I

[00:30:53] think even if it’s after, they can still find me.

[00:30:56] Jacinta: But, Tshiamiso, you also you had a busy week with submitting a paper, right?

[00:31:00] Tshia: Yes, I submitted a paper.

[00:31:01] Jacinta: Yay!

[00:31:03] Dan: Yay, papers.

[00:31:04] Jacinta: Okay, I don’t know if the audience understands this, but if you’re not in astronomy or you’re in science or academia, you may not understand how long the marathon is, this long slog before you can actually get your research submitted to the publication as a paper. So, well done! That’s a massive effort.

[00:31:20] Tshia: Thank you. Thank you. I thought just in the last two weeks that I’ll just be editing the contents of the paper only to realize that I’ll be working on a 200 word abstract for days.

[00:31:29] Jacinta: Oh, wow.

[00:31:31] Tshia: I’m glad it’s done.

[00:31:32] Jacinta: Oh, good.

[00:31:33] Dan: Yeah, well done. I think, I mean, as Jacinta said, like, I think that the, you know, there’s a reason that the process is hard because that’s how we peer review and how, you know, we know our science is good.

[00:31:42] But when you’re on the side of it trying to submit, it’s, it’s, it’s a long process and hard.

[00:31:47] Jacinta: So, well done. Yeah, and are you able to tell us a little bit about what the topic is?

[00:31:53] Dan: What? Are we getting a press release? Is it embargoed?

[00:31:56] Tshia: No.

[00:31:56] Jacinta: No. Okay. Well, Maybe when it’s accepted. All right. We’ll, we’ll ask you again.

[00:32:01] Dan: There we go.

[00:32:02] Jacinta: Okay, Dan, how about you? How was your week or last few weeks?

[00:32:05] Last few weeks? Busy. Always. Went to Poland, though, for the European Astronomical Society meeting, which was really, really cool. Very, very busy, a conference, lots of talk, had an entire day on Africa European collaborations, which was really, really cool and exciting and a great response.

[00:32:22] We were also promoting SALT, the Southern African Large Telescope, and the IAUGA, which is happening next year, the General Assembly, and a huge amount of interest from the European community for that. And hopefully we get a really good turnout next year. So that was that was pretty exciting. Exhausting.

[00:32:39] Tshia: Hmm. Sounds like a lot. Yeah.

[00:32:40] Jacinta: Always so intense. Yeah.

[00:32:42] Dan: Yeah, conferences are incredibly intense of dawn till dusk. And yeah, otherwise, otherwise, I’m pretty good You know keeping my head above water just.

[00:32:50] Jacinta: Great. Well done.

[00:32:52] Dan: How about you? Yeah.

[00:32:53] Jacinta: No, I’ve actually, I’ve been really, really good, but probably one of the biggest weeks probably of my career, actually, this week.

[00:33:01] So I started my first week of lectures in person yeah, for the semester. And this is the second time I’m lecturing this course, but the first time I’m lecturing the full course myself. So the first six weeks are going to be quite intense as I teach material that I haven’t taught before. But shout out to my third year Galactic and Extragalactic class from the University of Cape Town.

[00:33:23] I hope you’re listening to this. I’ll test you. No,

[00:33:28] I haven’t taken stickers yet, but I’m going to take them as prizes for people who answer questions correctly. So…

[00:33:32] Dan: Especially ones from the Cosmic Savanna.

[00:33:35] Jacinta: …the contents of this episode are gonna be in your exam, so. No, I’m joking. I’m joking.

[00:33:39] Dan: Half joking

[00:33:40] Jacinta: Half joking.

[00:33:42] And I did start my own research group for the first time, which is exciting.

[00:33:46] Dan: Go on, tell us the name.

[00:33:47] Jacinta: Yeah, it’s called RADHIANCE thank you for asking, Dan .

[00:33:50] Tshia: Oh!

[00:33:50] Jacinta: It’s an, it’s a contrived acronym as we love in astronomy. It stands for Radio-based Analysis and Detection of HI AGN and star formatioN, where the N is used, and their cosmic evolution.

[00:34:04] Dan: Can you hear me and Tshia rolling our eyes?

[00:34:18] Jacinta: Don’t! Guys, it’s a good Gosh, so much hate in this room!

[00:34:19] We

[00:34:19] Dan: Definition of a shoddy acronym is having to read it yourself when you came up with it.

[00:34:25] Which you did.

[00:34:26] Jacinta: No, look at my notes. Look at my notes. It’s not written there. I remembered it.

[00:34:31] I’m sorry. I

[00:34:32] Dan: mean, well done. I mean, let’s focus on the positives. A research group.

[00:34:36] Jacinta: Yes. Yes.

[00:34:37] Dan: So you’ve got enough students and postdocs

[00:34:39] to sort of…

[00:34:39] Jacinta: No postdocs yet, but if you’re interested, contact me. I would like one. No, I have one PhD student, three master’s students, and an honors student.

[00:34:47] Dan: And a critical mass.

[00:34:48] Jacinta: Yes, a critical mass to form a research group. We’ve talked about how all of our projects are overlapping and how we can help each other and who can help who on what skills.

[00:34:55] And yeah, it’s a really, really exciting and now I just need to find funding.

[00:35:00] Tshia: That’s really cool actually. Research groups are really nice. I enjoy those meetings.

[00:35:04] Dan: Yeah. It’s great for everyone, yeah.

[00:35:05] Jacinta: Yeah, it’s good. It helps you to not feel so isolated. Yeah. In your research, I think. So, yeah. That’s a big development and, yeah, I’ve had a good week.

[00:35:13] Busy. I’m definitely going to crash this weekend, though.

[00:35:16] Tshia: Please do. But not too hard.

[00:35:18] Jacinta: Sleep is important, folks.

[00:35:19] Dan: Look after yourself.

[00:35:20] Jacinta: Yeah. Okay.

[00:35:21] Tshia: And I think that’s it for today. Thanks very much for listening. And we hope you’ll join us again for the next episode of the Cosmic Savannah.

[00:35:27] Jacinta: You can visit our website, thecosmicsavannah. com, where we’ll have the transcript, links, pictures, and other stuff related to today’s episode.

[00:35:35] Dan: You can follow us on x slash Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at Cosmic Savannah that Savannah spelled S A V A N N A H. You can also find us on YouTube where audio only episodes are uploaded with closed captions, which can be auto translated.

[00:35:48] And to many different languages, including Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

[00:35:52] Tshia: Special thanks to today’s guest, Professor Phil Diamond, for speaking with us.

[00:35:56] Thanks to our social media manager,

[00:35:58] Jacinta: Sumari Hattingh, our audio editor, Jacob Fine, Mark Allnut for music production, Michal Lyzcek for photography. Carl Jones for Astrophotography, Susie Caras for Graphic Design, and to Moses Mokongo and Abigail Chenet for transcription.

[00:36:11] Dan: We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, the South African Astronomical Observatory and the University of Cape Town’s Astronomy Department.

[00:36:22] Tshia: You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:36:27] And we’d really appreciate if you could rate and review us, and recommend us to a

[00:36:30] friend.

[00:36:31] Jacinta: And we’ll speak to you next time on the Cosmic Savannah.

[00:36:41] Tshia: Okay, and that’s it for the, for the day? For today.

[00:36:46] Dan: I mean, it is for the day too. I really

[00:36:48] want to go home.

[00:36:49] Jacinta: Your first, your first one was good. We’ll use that to start from the thanks very much. No, don’t, don’t. No, why not? It was good.