SKA SA fellow is lead author of first scientific paper from KAT-7 results

03 June 2013

Assoc Prof Patrick Woudt and Dr Richard ArmstrongFirst paper: Dr Richard Armstrong (right) and Assoc Prof Patrick Woudt. Armstrong is the first author of a scientific paper based on observations performed with South Africa's new KAT-7 radio telescope. Woudt and Prof Rob Fender (not in picture) of the University of Southampton, and a SKA visiting professor at UCT, are co-authors.

The first author of a scientific paper based on observations performed with South Africa's new KAT-7 radio telescope is alumnus Dr Richard Armstrong, a Square Kilometre Array (SKA) SA Fellow at UCT.

The paper, A return to strong radio flaring by Circinus X-1 observed with the Karoo Array Telescope test array KAT-7, has just been accepted by the prestigious journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomy Society (MNRAS). This follows a thorough peer review and referee process.

Two of Armstrong's co-authors are Professor Rob Fender, head of the Astronomy Group at the University of Southampton (UK) and an SKA visiting professor at UCT, and Associate Professor Patrick Woudt, deputy head of UCT's Department of Astronomy, also a UCT alumnus.

South Africa is constructing MeerKAT, the 64-dish radio interferometer that serves as a precursor to the SKA. UCT researchers are leading four of the approved MeerKAT Key Science Projects, representing a quarter of MeerKAT time.

One of these projects is the 3 000-hour ThunderKAT survey for astrophysical transients. Armstrong has been working on the design of this survey together with Fender and Woudt, the leaders of the ThunderKAT project. This will search for all types of radio bursts and flashes in KAT-7 and MeerKAT data on timescales from seconds to years.

Armstrong left the United Kingdom 18 months ago to join a steadily growing UCT radio astronomy group as a SKA SA Fellow. UCT and the Western Cape have become a preferred education destination for astronomers, drawing postdoctoral students and researchers from around the world.

"With the SKA and MeerKAT being developed on our doorstep, Cape Town is the hottest place to be in radio astronomy in the world at the moment," said Armstrong.

UCT is rapidly also becoming a hub for astronomical and astrophysics research in Africa, channelling resources and outreach to neighbouring countries. The university is a partner in research projects involving eight other African countries, and has led research outreach to Mozambique and Ethiopia in recent years. The university's goal is to train future leaders in radio astronomy.

Armstrong obtained his BSc (Hons) in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCT in 2006, after which he worked as a software developer in the UK. He went on to obtain a DPhil in astrophysics through a Dorothy Hodgkin Postgraduate Fellowship at the University of Oxford in 2011.

Publishing on this particular area of research for the first time, 29-year-old Armstrong says it is a great opportunity and honour to be working on a South African scientific instrument, and congratulates the MeerKAT engineering team on this milestone.

Woudt obtained his PhD in Astronomy at UCT in 1998 and has published 74 peer-reviewed journal articles (27 as first author). His teaching and research career at UCT spans more than 12 years and includes supervising various BSc Honours, MSc and PhD students. A member of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Commission 19 (Astrophysics) of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and the council of the South African Institute of Physics, Woudt is the co-principal investigator of ThunderKAT.

A member of the IAU, Royal Astronomical Society and the UK Institute of Physics, Fender has been involved in undergraduate and graduate teaching for over 15 years, including successfully supervising more than 10 PhD students. He currently chairs the SKA Transients Science Working Group. Fender is a world leader in the areas of accretion (primarily, but not exclusively, onto black holes) and wide-field searches for radio transients.

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