A brief history of Switzerland's involvement with the SKAO
Switzerland had a long history of significant involvement in the SKAO prior to becoming a full member in January 2022. Switzerland gained observer status in 2016 and participated in the telescope design phase of the SKA Organisation (the Observatory’s forerunner). In April 2020, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) became a member of the Organisation, representing the Swiss academic community, and in June 2021, the parties signed a Cooperation Agreement. Switzerland is a member of the European SKA Forum (ESKAF) and the Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC), the independent advisory body to the SKAO Council and SKAO Director-General.
Science objectives for the Swiss community
A 2020 white paper titled Swiss Interests and Contribution to the SKA detailed the national motivations behind joining the SKAO, and outlined the wide range of fundamental SKA science in which the Swiss astrophysics community will be taking part. Indeed, scientists at Swiss institutions are already participating in seven of the SKAO’s Science Working Groups, including those focusing on cosmology, gravitational waves, and galaxy evolution. Swiss researchers are strongly involved in various astrophysics topics including dark energy, cosmic reionization, dark matter, galaxy evolution, cosmic magnetic fields, tests of gravity, solar physics, and others, for which the SKA will be a major key facility.
Building the SKAO
Switzerland has world-class industry expertise in high-performance computing, data processing, antennas and radio receivers, and precise time management through the use of maser atomic clocks, and plans contributions to the SKA telescopes in these and other areas.
The Swiss scientific community is involved in multi-wavelength observations with the world’s leading facilities and satellites covering the vast electromagnetic spectrum from high energies to the radio domain. Swiss groups are also participating in the construction and science of the upcoming SKA pathfinder telescope HIRAX.
Developing new technologies
The first SKA contract in Switzerland was awarded in May 2022 to Cosylab for software integration. Additionally, Switzerland, which is well-known as a world leader in clocks, are set to provide the clocks for the SKA instruments.
Benefits for Switzerland
Beyond astrophysics, the SKA also poses major challenges for data science, which represent a unique chance for Swiss research groups (and companies) in fields, such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, signal processing, and others. The expertise of groups at UniGE, EPFL, and FHNW is built on numerous projects in this field. Research groups in Switzerland are among the world leaders in numerical simulations for astrophysics, a fundamental topic for future experiments such as the SKA.
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