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Public Outreach

The Square Kilometre Array: Building the World's Largest Telescope in our Backyard


Dr. Lisa Harvey-Smith

Research Astronomer and CSIRO's Project Scientist for the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)
CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science


As astronomers learn more about the cosmos and our place in it, we become less certain of our traditional model of the universe. Cosmologists now believe that only 5% of the universe is made from normal 'matter' - the stuff that makes up you, me, and everything we see on earth. The rest is labelled as mysterious "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy". Our only hope to understanding these unseen forces is to measure the invisible pushes and pulls that affect the stars, galaxies, and gas in the universe - the normal, everyday stuff that we can see.

To tackle these problems and more, an international team of astronomers is planning to build a radio telescope so vast and distributed, it will comprise over 10,000 antennas and span hundreds of kilometres in Australasia and Southern Africa. This resulting telescope, dubbed the 'Square Kilometre Array' (SKA), will be able to detect the faint radio signals from the edge of the universe.

In this talk, Dr. Harvey-Smith will discuss the major science topics the SKA will tackle, describe the enormous practical challenges of building this telescope, and predict some of the more surprising spin-offs expected in areas as diverse as image processing, supercomputing, telecommunications, and green energy.


Lisa studied Astrophysics at the U.K's Jodrell Bank Observatory, and undertook a short research position at the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. On completing her PhD, she worked as a Support Scientist at the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe, the centre for high-resolution radio astronomy in The Netherlands. In 2007 she took up a position the University of Sydney, diversifying her research to study the nature of elusive magnetic fields that thread our universe. Dr. Harvey-Smith joined CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science as a Research Astronomer and CSIRO's Project Scientist for the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) in 2009.