Advanced telescopes need advanced astronomers to run them. Australia is matching the millions of dollars it is investing in new telescope technology with funds to help train the rising stars of Australian astronomy.
“We’ve had big investments in infrastructure, and now we need young scientists with the expertise to use them,” says Elaine Sadler, professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney and chair of the National Committee for Astronomy.
One new tranche of research funding for early career astronomers comes in the form of three-year Super Science Fellowships from the Commonwealth Government. In 2011, 14 young astronomers became Super Science Fellows, joining the 17 who started work in 2010. All up, astronomy will receive one-third of the Federal Government’s $27 million commitment to the Fellowships program.
Four of the fellowship winners will join the Galaxy Genome Project, which builds on the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) survey (see Ten times more galaxies) at the Australian Astronomical Observatory. The project will characterise galaxies by the spectrum of light they emit— just as genomes characterise individuals—to create a definitive source for studying galaxy evolution, cosmology and the large-scale structure of the Universe.
One Super Science Fellow, James Allison, has joined Elaine in her hunt for faint galaxies. Elaine is leading one of the major surveys to be carried out by CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope, FLASH, which will study galaxy evolution by looking for the faint signal of hydrogen gas. Another Fellow will join Bryan Gaensler on his POSSUM sky survey of the Universe’s magnetic fields (see Mapping magnetism reveals cosmic history).
Bryan is also directing another new initiative that will help to train young astronomers—the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO). Launching in 2011, the Centre will use Australia’s new generation of advanced telescopes to help answer unsolved questions about the Universe, from galaxy evolution to the nature of dark energy and dark matter. “The focus is on research, but also on training the next generation of Australian astronomers,” adds Elaine, who is also a CAASTRO chief investigator.
CAASTRO, which is set to receive more than $28 million in funding over the next seven years, is led by the University of Sydney, in conjunction with the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Swinburne University of Technology, CSIRO, and the Australian Astronomical Observatory. Institutions from Germany, France, the US, Britain and Canada are also partners.