The Chair headed by Prof Davidson at Stellenbosch coordinates an extensive SKA-related research programme in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. This includes work by full-time academic staff and some twenty post-graduate students and post-doctoral students involved on the simulation and design of the antennas, radio frequency front-ends (feeds and receivers), correlators and electromagnetic interference studies, as well as work on characterising the overall interferometric array and high performance computing (HPC).
In terms of computational electromagnetics, the numerical solution of Maxwell’s equations using computers helps engineers refine receptor designs and create entirely new ones. For the SKA, they are focussing particularly on efficient simulation of focal plane arrays, a promising but challenging technology.
Designing the main reflecting dish and the feed is a demanding operation. Although the dish lasts for many years, feeds are continuously evolving to meet new science requirements, and take advantage of new technologies. Stellenbosch is actively involved in both fields, and has contributed extensively to the new offset Gregorian antenna design for MeerKAT.
Work is also done on the mitigation of radio frequency electromagnetic interference, which ensures that the very weak radio signals from the cosmos are not drowned out by either interference caused off-site, or by noisy electrical or electronic elements in the system itself.
In terms of the overall array characterisation, understanding a system as large as the SKA is important to guide work on individual components. Finally, work on HPC will contribute to both antenna and feed simulations, as well as in the data processing for the system. The team works in this field in collaboration with the National Centre for High Performance Computing and the University of Cape Town.
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