From the Director

The last few months have seen a number of major developments at the ATNF.

In October last year The Hon. Julie Bishop, Minister for Education Science and Training, announced new investment for the Mileura International Radio Array (MIRA) totalling $19.2M as part of the $45M new investment in optical and radio astronomy as part of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) investment plan. Of this, an amount of $14.6M is earmarked to develop 30 12m-diameter antennas with smart-feeds operating in the range 0.8-1.6 GHz; the large N small D component of MIRA, or MIRA-NdA (large N, small D array). Coupled with further investment from CSIRO, the State Government of Western Australia and Canadian collaborators, this will deliver an important new component to the National Facility, capable of addressing key questions in galactic structure, galaxy evolution and fundamental physics. We can look forward to developing further scientific and engineering collaborations with key partners at the "Focal Plane Array and Science with MIRA" workshops which will be held at the ATNF in mid-March.

A further $4.6M were earmarked in the NCRIS investment package for the low-frequency MIRA Wide-Field Array, or MWA. The MWA will probe the formation of the first structures in the Universe, explore the largely uncharted territory of radio transients and study solar/heliospheric physics. It is a joint collaboration between MIT/Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics and a number of Australian Universities, the ATNF, and India. The Australian effort is led by the University of Melbourne. The investment in radio astronomy, and indeed in Australian astronomy as a whole, demonstrates both the high regard for, and strategic importance of, Australian astronomy at the very highest levels of government.

Working with the State Government of Western Australia (WA), CSIRO recently advised on the suitability of a site located some 75 km from the originally proposed SKA site, Mileura. This new location, still within the region originally encompassed by the area protected for radio astronomy by Section 19 of the WA Mining Act in Australia's original proposal to site the SKA, is more compatible with the emergence of mining activities in the area, and the associated infrastructure. The revised site is on the Boolardy station and offers a 70-km buffer to enable radio astronomy and mining activities to co-exist in the Mid-West region of Western Australia. In a statement earlier this month, the Premier of Western Australia, the Hon. Alan Carpenter, MLA, said the State Government would continue to work with the Commonwealth to develop appropriate mechanisms, including legislation, to protect the radio quietness of the new site.

In support of these developments the ATNF continues to attract excellent individuals. Over the past three months I have been delighted to welcome Dave DeBoer (Assistant Director: MIRA), Robert Braun (Assistant Director: Astronomy) and Phil Crosby (Business Strategist) to the Leadership Team. Furthermore, the ATNF also has six outstanding new postdoctoral appointments arriving over the next few months to further strengthen our astrophysics group.

The Leadership Team has also seen one further change. Warwick Wilson has signalled his wish to move on from his position as Assistant Director: Engineering to focus more intently on the delivery and implementation of the Compact Array Broadband Backend (CABB) system in the years ahead. While I am sorry to lose Warwick's experience and managerial skills as Assistant Director: Engineering, freeing up more of Warwick's world-class engineering ability to focus on the vitally-important CABB project represents an excellent outcome for the ATNF. Graeme Carrad has agreed to fill the position of Assistant Director: Engineering on an acting basis, while we conduct a recruitment process. Over the past few years, Graeme has had considerable success as Project Manager of the ALFA project, the 7-mm receiver project — now undergoing integration at the Compact Array — and the CABB project. I look forward to working with Graeme as part of the Leadership Team over the coming months.

Brian Boyle
ATNF Director