Dongarra Named to Key Advisory Committee for Telescope Project

DongarraJack Dongarra, director of the Innovative Computing Laboratory at UT, is no stranger to massive technology.

In this case, it’s the type of technology that makes his recent selection for a key research advisory panel remarkable: A massive radio telescope.

Dongarra has been named to the Scientific and Engineering Advisory Committee for the Square Kilometer Array, a project to build a telescope with a total collection surface the size of one square kilometer.

“SKA will be used to answer fundamental questions of science and about the laws of nature,” said Dongarra. “Examples such as How did the universe, and the stars and galaxies contained in it, form and evolve? Was Einstein’s theory of relativity correct? What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? What is the origin of cosmic magnetism? Is there life somewhere else in the universe?

“Some of the biggest scientific questions of the day.”

The project is an international effort to build a radio telescope many times more sensitive and faster at mapping the sky than existing telescopes.

SKA is not a single telescope but a collection of various types of antennas, called an array, to be spread over long distances. It uses arrays at two sites, one in Australia and one in South Africa.

The Australian site will have 130,000 antennas spread over sixty-five kilometers, while the South Africa site will have 200 antennas spread over 150 kilometers.

This arrangement will allow the radio telescope to detect very faint radio signals emitted when galaxies and stars began forming billions of light years away from Earth.

When complete, it will be not only the world’s largest radio telescope but also the world’s largest public science data project.

“It will generate data at a rate more than ten times today’s global Internet traffic,” said Dongarra, who is also a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “This is a mega-science project, which will test the limits of engineering and scientific endeavor over the coming decades.”

Dongarra said that the project requires substantial technology development, particularly in his areas of expertise: big data and ultra-fast computing.

He said that in the first phase alone, the telescope will produce some 160 terabytes of raw data per second and will need supercomputers to process the data.

In addition to Australia and South Africa, other collaborators include researchers from Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

 

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)