HELP-ing Extragalactic Surveys in the Netherlands

I spent the (mostly rainy, apart from a sun-kissed conference dinner on a “party boat” cruise on the canals:-) week at Leiden’s Lorentz Center with 50-odd jolly astro folks discussing extragalactic surveys within a workshop I helped organise as part of the HELP project.


The sometime confusing dynamic agenda allowed for plenty of opportunities to get together in small groups in our cosy shared offices to discuss recent progress of and future prospects for our “grand plan” to bring together multi-wavelength surveys across the Herschel extragalactic sky and thus help clarify the history of cosmic star formation and black hole accretion density. A preliminary set of tools and data products was shared with the participants, so as to get their early feedback and encourage them to use them in their work in a timely manner. Needless to say, we received plenty of useful suggestions, some of which we may even get around to implement over the course of the project. Bookmark our web siteour data archive and our software repository and watch our for future data and code releases. Glad to be of help (poor pur intended;-)help-leiden-workshop-poster

Working on an IDIA

The first meeting organized by the recently established UCT/UWC/NWU/UP Inter-University Institute for Data-Intensive Astronomy successfully came to a close last night with a braai at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO). The Data Science Workshop held at UWC on 12/13 April 2016 brought together researchers from IDIA partners, affiliated research organisations and industry partners from IBM, SAP and SAS, to brainstorm research priorities and possible projects to be pursued within IDIA. If the enthusiasm (admittedly also fuelled by the abundant Shiraz) seen last night as SAAO was any guide, the South African Astronomical and Data Science community have embraced the goals of IDIA with gusto.




The Many Facets of Extragalactic Radio Surveys

I’m off to beautiful & lively Bologna later today for “The Many Facets of Extragalactic Radio Surveys” conference. It’s been an eventful few months for Italian Radio-Astronomy, with their much-praised but eventually unsuccessful bid to host SKA‘s permanent headquarters, a re-organization of most radio-astronomy research & development under a new institute, and now a radio-astronomer called upon to be INAF‘s new president.

“The purpose of this meeting is to explore new scientific perspectives offered by modern radio surveys, focusing on synergies allowed by multi-frequency, multi-resolution observations. We will bring together researchers working on wide aspects of the physics and evolution of extra-galactic radio sources, from star-forming galaxies to AGNs and clusters of galaxies, including their role as cosmological probes. The organization of this conference has been inspired by the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Northern Cross Radio Telescope in Medicina, whose pioneering B2 and B3 surveys provided a significant contribution to radio astronomical studies for many decades afterwards.”


Riunione Addetti Scientifici MAECI

In settimana ho trascorso un paio di giorni a Roma presso il Ministero degli Esteri (più precisamente il Ministero degli Affari Esteri e Cooperazione Internazionale, o MAECI) alla riunione degli addetti scientifici in qualità di rappresentante del neonato Network of Italian Researchers at the Cape (NIRC). L’addetto scientifico e’ (quasi sempre) un ricercatore impiegato presso un’universita’ e ente di ricerca italiano ma selezionato e assunto dal Ministero per un periodo che va dai 4 agli 8 anni presso una della Ambasciate Italiane nel mondo per pubblicizzare/stimolare le potenzialità/collaborazioni dell’Italia nel campo della Scienza, Tecnologia e Innovazione (STI).

A parte i miei problemi di stomaco e la consueta ‘meeting fatigue’ e’ stato un incontro utile, da un lato per la partecipazione di tutti o quasi gli enti di ricerca italiani chiamati a dire la loro su condizioni e prospettive dell’internazionalizzazione della ricerca italiana e dall’altro per aver avuto la possibilità di conoscere i ~25 addetti scientifici italiani e i rappresentanti delle associazioni di ricercatori italiani nel mondo (delle quali ~7 su ~15 associazioni erano presenti).

Non ho qui modo di riassumere i tanti e utili spunti di riflessione sollevati durante l’incontro. Diro’ solo che, come spesso succede in queste occasioni, si e’ più volte ricordato il netto contrasto tra la flessibilità e la velocità inerenti alla Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica e l’Innovazione con la maggiore inerzia e i tempi inevitabilmente più lunghi delle procedure ministeriali. Se si vogliono fare progressi nel lavorare meglio insieme, questi due mondi devono parlarsi di più e meglio, e l’incontro di Roma ha cercato di gettare le basi perché questo possa succedere.

A quest’ultimo riguardo, l’incoraggiamento dell’Ambasciatore Svizzero (il miglior oratore dell’incontro a mio modesto parere) di “non chiedere permesso, ma perdono” quando piccole forzature procedurali si rendono necessarie per velocizzare delle iniziative evidentemente necessarie, ha sinceramente scaldato il cuore a tanti tra ricercatori e funzionari presenti.


Oh My God! – It’s Full of Bytes…

I spent the week in beautiful and (in spite of forecasts) mostly sunny Dubrovnik attending the AstroInformatics 2015 conference and the BigSkyEarth collaboration meeting catching up on the latest applications of Computer Science to Astronomy, Earth Observations as well as other disciplines. While everyone is seemingly into Big Data these days, a lot of the techniques & tools have long been available and (some) astronomers are only slowly catching up, but thanks to well-established Open Standards and the largely Open Data Policy within the astronomical community, however, progress looks more rapid than in most other disciplines. Which is very good news considering that today’s ‘big’ astronomical datasets will soon be dramatically superseded by eminently data-intensive projects such as LSST and SKA. A number of conference attendees will be visiting Cape Town next year for an IVOA Interoperability Meeting, which will hopefully allow the South African community to establish or strengthen collaborations in this fledgling field.

PS : while it appears that signature scenes from a TV series which I’m told is VERY popular in some circles have long been shot in Dubrovnik and more than a few pointers were available to remind the casual visitor about it, to my fellow astronomers’ defence (for a change) I’m glad to say that conversations were remarkably free of any related nonsense!;-)

That’s an IDIA

Celebrations were in order today at the South African Astronomical Observatory for the launch of the newly-established NWU/UCT/UWC Inter-University Centre for Data-Intensive Astronomy (IDIA).

The Institute aims to kickstart Big Data research and teaching initiatives across (South) Africa in collaboration with academic and industrial partners as well as (South) African and International government and funding agencies.

The Institute’s founding director, UCT/UWC’s Prof Russ Taylor, was joined at the agreement-signing and cake-cutting ceremony by the three founding partners’ Vice-Chancellors, South Africa’s Minister of Science & Technology Naledi Pandor and SKA South Africa Project Director Dr Bernie Fanaroff.

Netherlands / South Africa Radio Continuum Surveys Workshop

The more observationally inclined UWC-ers will be hosted by UCT tuesday-to-thursday this Easter week to attend the Netherlands / South Africa Radio Continuum Surveys Workshop co-funded by Netherlands’s NWO and South Africa’s NRF. LOFAR surveys and science and miscellaneous radio data reduction and analysis techniques are on show, looking forward to the MeerKAT and the SKA. I have just delivered my HELP talk and Jon is discussing stacking as I write. Oh, and there will be wine and cheese tonight as well as “theatrical dining” (!?) at  Star Dust tomorrow night. Too bad our illustrious leader who was going to visit us on the occasion was knocked out by a nasty bug and has thus not been able to join us. Get better soon!

And we are back (at the edge of the Universe)

Along with some UWC chums (i.e. Imogem, Kim & Mario) I spent a very pleasant (well, at least until I got a flu;/) week in Sintra (Portugal) attending the “Back at the edge of the Universe” conference. The meeting was devoted to discuss astronomers’ present and future studies of the high-redshift Universe, including their attempts at detecting the Universe’s ‘First Light’, i.e. the first galaxies and black holes to have formed after the Big Bang, and assessing their impact on the reionization of  the Universe. This followed a previous gathering from 9 years ago organized on the same grounds, and the meeting was thus also a chance to take stock of the substantial progress  made in tackling these questions over the last decade. The long science sessions in beautiful Sintra were made all the more pleasant by the terrific home team led by Jose Afonso and Portugal’s newly established Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences and by frequent generous helpings of Bacalau & Porto, and perhaps unsurprisingly everybody is now hoping to get a chance to make it back here for another conference much sooner than in 9 years time. We’ll see about that.

SKA South Africa Bursary Conference

Today marked the end of  SKA South Africa‘s Bursary Conference in Stellenbosch. Now in its ninth edition, the meeting brings together astronomy and engineering students and fellows from across South Africa presenting their work in front of their supervisors as well as some international guests. As it is often the case, this meeting of minds also involved a fair amount of alcohol and hugging!:-) See you in 2015 then!

High Performance Computing in the African Bush

I’ve been spending this past week at Kruger National Park’s Skukuza Rest Camp catching up with work while attending the yearly gathering organized by South Africa’s Center for High Performance Computing. I’ve eavesdropped on most sessions to get a feeling for the kind of problems facing contemporary high performance computing but also for the numerical scientific work being done in the country. I gave a talk about Big Data in Multi-Wavelength Astrophysics and managed to go on a couple (one disappointing, one very nice) of early morning game drives. Student participation was very much encouraged at the conference and about 10 student teams battled with a computing cluster building project to be completed during the conference. The winners were announced last night, and are going to be trained by Dell in their Austin headquarters to participate into the international finals in Frankfurt next year . A UWC team had won the past two editions but unfortunately this year’s aptly-named (uhm) “bi-winning” team didn’t make it this time around. Team SA also went on to win the international finals on the past two occasions, so no pressure on the Wits team;-). The conference will now be drawing to a close with a Q&A Sessions with the HPC Industry Vendors, and it’ll then be goodbye and see you all in Port Elizabeth on Nov 30 – Dec 4th 2015. In other news, a local water sports practitioner tragically died, apparently while taking a bath late at night in the nearby Golf Course’s Ninth Hole lake the other day. One can’t be too careful with crocs, I guess:/)

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