Professor Govind Swarup; Photo: Govind Swarup
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The Grote Reber Medal is awarded annually for innovative lifetime contributions to radio astronomy, and commemorates the pioneering work of Grote Reber, the first radio astronomer. The medal is administered by the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston, Tasmania, in cooperation with the University of Tasmania, the Australia Telescope National Facility and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. The award of the Grote Reber Medal is made possible through funds provided by the Grote Reber Foundation.
Professor Swarup has had a long and productive career and he remains as dynamic and energetic as ever. India entered radio astronomy research with the construction of a large, steerable radio telescope at Ootacamund, in the Nilgiri hills of south India, which came to be known as “the Ooty telescope”. The telescope was designed and built by Professor Swarup. The innovative 530 m x 30 m Ooty radio telescope commenced operation in 1970.
The telescope was designed to use the technique of lunar occultations, the same technique that led to the discovery of the first quasar, to survey selected regions of the sky. This enabled the Ooty telescope to determine the angular structure and precise position of many faint radio sources with a precision and angular resolution not achievable by any other telescope at that time. One of the most successful programs was the determination of the angular structure and precise position of many distant radio galaxies and quasars, and the application of these results to cosmology.
Professor Swarup’s most significant contribution to radio astronomy has been through the major and innovative radio telescopes whose design and construction he has spearheaded in India. More recently, he has achieved considerable success and international recognition with the design and construction of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), near Pune, completed in 1997. The GMRT consists of 30 fully steerable parabolic dishes each of 45 m diameter, spread over distances of up to 25 km. The GMRT is one of the most challenging experimental programs in basic sciences undertaken by Indian scientists and engineers.
At the time of construction Professor Swarup said “GMRT is a marriage of the world’s two big radio telescopes, the Very Large Array in New Mexico, and Arecibo in Puerto Rico, with the advantages of both”. It is the largest telescope in the world for its wavelength range, and is used by astronomers from all over the world. The GMRT leads the world in the search for high-redshifted hydrogen and is actively involved in the search for the epoch of reionization.
By designing and building such distinctive and innovative telescopes Professor Swarup has shown immense determination and far-sightedness. He continues to produce remarkably innovative concepts and designs for new radio telescopes that address some of the most important scientific problems in astronomy; at the moment he is working on designs for the next generation international radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array.