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Government to announce new investment for UK science

11 Mar 2014

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts will announce a significant new package of investment for cutting-edge science projects during a speech at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre this afternoon (Tuesday).

David Willetts announced £100m for SKA at Jodrell Bank today

Among the projects, Mr Willetts will pledge £100million to the construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – a radio telescope array across South Africa and Australia with headquarters at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, hosted by The University of Manchester.

The SKA will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10,000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes.

The SKA radio telescope project will produce around 20 times the current global traffic of the internet in its internal telecommunications system. In fact, to play back a single day’s worth of SKA data on an MP3 player would take 2 million years. Thanks to the investment being made in the design phase, British scientists and industry partners are already helping to develop the central computing and data handling systems which will read the huge volume of new data, meaning this project could lead to faster smartphones and increased internet speeds across the UK in the future. The global market for data analysis is also expected to be worth £31 billion by 2016.  With the additional resources being announced today by the Minister, Britain will be in a prime position to dominate the market and exploit the spin out technologies and knowledge that will arise from tackling the huge technical challenge of the SKA.

Dr Keith Grainge, Head of the SKA group within the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “This is an important step forward in realising this extremely exciting project, which promises to transform our view of the Universe. The University of Manchester is looking forward to playing a leading role in the design, construction and operation of the telescope, focusing particularly on the Big Data aspects.”

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will manage the UK role in the project, and it confirmed an additional investment of £19M over the next four years in the SKA project, made up of a capital investment in Big Data of £11M and a further £2M a year in the ongoing core programme. STFC Chief Executive, Professor John Womersley, said: “For the SKA, today’s announcement allows the UK astronomy research community the chance to address some of the fundamental questions in research on the origin and evolution of the Universe. At the same time the technical innovations needed for the project will transform the capabilities of high-performance computing.”

Professor Phil Diamond, Director General of the SKA Organisation, said: “This is a really exciting announcement for the SKA and solid proof that the project is now really underway. With such a major investment secured there is no stopping it."

During this afternoon’s announcement, Mr Willetts will also earmark £165million of UK investment for the European Spallation Source, a project to build a ‘super microscope’ in Sweden, as well as a further £25million for a European Space Agency mission, called Plato, to build a giant space telescope to find and study planets capable of supporting life.

Mr Willetts said: “Investment in science is a crucial part of this government’s long-term economic plan. It’s about investing in our future, helping grow new industries and create more jobs – and that will mean more financial security for people across the country.”