International boost will help UCT researchers shine light on dark energy
1 December 2016
The UTFORSK Partnership Programme – run by the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (see textbox) – has awarded R3.2 million (about NOK1.9 million) to a joint cosmology and astrophysics research and teaching project between UCT and the University of Oslo.
The first MeerKAT dish antenna, installed on site in the Karoo in March 2014. MeerKat and the future SKA will have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe by providing ways of constraining the various competing theories of dark energy models and modified gravity.
“This collaboration will help grow the South African astronomy community to world-class strength,” says Professor Peter Dunsby from the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, who will run the programme at UCT together with Dr Álvaro de la Cruz-Dombriz also from the same UCT department. Professor David Mota from the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics in the University of Oslo will run the programme in Norway.
The research will focus on what is – according to some researchers – the most important problem in contemporary cosmology: understanding the nature of dark energy. In the standard model of cosmology (the Concordance Model), dark energy makes up 68% of the universe. While researchers know very little about what it is, the consensus is that it is responsible for accelerating the expansion of the universe, which makes it an important area of investigation (see textbox).
"Any way you look at it there is new physics to be uncovered here and it is this which makes this field extremely exciting!" says Dunsby.
Both research groups from UCT and the University of Oslo are widely acknowledged as leaders in this area. So formalising our collaboration was a natural next step, says Dunsby.
“This collaboration will enable participating researchers to tackle open questions in modern cosmology, where the combined expertise of both groups will enable us to make substantial progress in this field.”
Researchers running the partnership programme (R-L): Dr Álvaro de la Cruz-Dombriz (UCT), Professor David Mota (University of Oslo) and Professor Peter Dunsby (UCT).
The collaborators also plan to co-develop new courses in theoretical cosmology and computational astrophysics at the Master’s and PhD level at both institutions. They hope to develop educational tools (such as numerical programming and statistical analysis of data), and a strong analytical methodology, to allow students in both institutions to work together on research projects.
The programme will provide graduate students with a well-rounded international perspective by making them aware of how gravitational science is performed in countries and continents apart from their own. Participating students from both institutions will have the opportunity to visit each other’s host university. In addition, the project will involve co-mentoring postdoctoral researchers.
“We believe that this collaboration will lead to the production of world class science,” says Dunsby. “And also boost the production of quality doctoral graduates who can compete on the international stage.”
Story by Jess Oosthuizen. Main image courtesy of SKA.