Big-data champion for UCT

The UCT Astronomy Department and the University of the Western Cape (UWC) Department of Physics earlier this year welcomed the appointment of Professor Russ Taylor to the joint UCT/UWC Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Research Chair. Professor Taylor will play a key role in building big-data research capacities and expertise in the region and the continent.

Professor Taylor, coming from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary, has a wealth of experience and expertise in radio astronomy, in particular wide-field polarisation, cosmic magnetism and big data, and has played a prominent role in the SKA project since its inception. He was the founding international SKA project scientist and co-authored the first SKA science case. He represented Canada as one of the national members on the SKA Organisation Board. Previously he served as the founding Executive Secretary of the International SKA Steering Committee, the predecessor to the International SKA Science and Engineering Committee.

There is likely a limited window of opportunity to establish national leadership in big data and a global presence in this emerging field.

Professor Taylor’s research covers the cosmic battle between the forces of magnetism and gravity, which is probably responsible for slowing the pace at which the universe uses up its gravitational energy, allowing enough time for life to arise. “My research plan is to use MeerKAT and KAT-7 to measure the polarisation of radio waves and to trace the properties of magnetic fields in galaxies and intergalactic space,” says Taylor. “This will give scientists a better understanding of the evolution of cosmic magnetism.”

Professor Taylor has also served as the Canadian ALMA Software Manager for the Canadian component of the international software development for astronomical use of the Atacama Large Millimetre Array. He was the Canadian co-principal investigator on an international partnership to launch a radio telescope for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) imaging between Earth and space: the VLBI Space Observatory Programme (VSOP) space mission. As part of the mission, he directed one of three international centres for the processing of the VSOP mission data. He is also principal investigator of the International Galactic Plane Survey, a consortium of more than 60 Canadian and international scientists formed to carry out a co-ordinated data-intensive project of high-resolution imaging of the interstellar medium over the disc of our galaxy. In this capacity, he has also served as the chair of both the management committee for the Canadian component of the project (the Canadian Galactic Plane Survey) and the international project steering committee.

Taylor is chair of an international consortium of 31 scientists from Australia, Canada, the USA, Europe and India that carries out a large-scale spectro-polarimetric all-sky survey project with the Arecibo radio telescope. This project has been granted 2 000 hours of observing time over four years and foreshadows the data volumes that will be generated by MeerKAT.

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