Radio astronomy facility costing €1.4m to be built in Birr

Project one of 21 investments in advanced scientific research funded by SFI programme

Astronomers will be getting a sharp new view of the stars with the announcement that Ireland is to build a world class radio astronomy facility in Birr, Co Offaly. File photograph: Getty Images

Astronomers will be getting a sharp new view of the stars with the announcement that Ireland is to build a world class radio astronomy facility in Birr, Co Offaly. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Irish astronomers will be getting a sharp new view of the stars with the announcement that Ireland is to build a world class radio astronomy facility in Birr, Co Offaly.

The €1.4 million project is just one of 21 investments to be made in advanced scientific research equipment funded by the Science Foundation Ireland’s Infrastructure Awards programme.

The combined grants worth €28 million range in value from a few hundred thousand euro up to more than €3 million.

They are clustered in five priority research areas of interest to the Government.

The awards range across a number of disciplines from the radio telescope project to the creation of a biobank at the Infant Research Centre, University College Cork, with a grant of €355,000.

‘Open ocean emulator’

A grant of €2.2 million went to the building of an “open ocean emulator”, a wave tank that can be used to test marine power systems.

Other projects have received funding for electron microscopes, x-ray CT scanners, nanotech manufacturing facilities and high-speed wireless communications systems, amongst many others.

The research community will be happy to see the investments support both applied and basic research. “It is a welcome sign that they are putting money into blue skies research,” said Prof Luke Drury, director of the school of cosmic physics at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

The investment in the Low Frequency Array (Lofar) radio telescope project is very important, Prof Drury said.

“It is a big deal because for the first time we will have a modern, cutting edge research facility here,” he added.

It also makes us part of the wider €150million international Lofar project, currently the biggest radio telescope in the world.

‘Huge astronomy project’

“The Lofar array is a huge astronomy project across Europe,” said Prof Lorraine Hanlon, professor of astronomy at University College Dublin.

“The beauty of it is each element combines across Europe to produce a telescope of much greater size. Birr is relatively small but can be combined through software into a single giant telescope that becomes enormously sensitive,” she said.

Ireland needed more involvement in research and innovation in order to deliver the jobs the country needs, said Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton.

“By investing in world-class R&D infrastructure, both at a regional and national level, this will ensure that we can compete at the highest levels internationally and continue to turn more good ideas into good jobs,” he said.