Pre- announcement - Cooperation with China on Radio Astronomy

28 February 2017

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and NWO are offering funding opportunities for bilateral research cooperation between Dutch and Chinese research groups. Every year, CAS and NWO launch a call for joint research proposals. The intention is to open a call in the field of Radio Astronomy in March 2017.

Radio astronomy currently finds itself in an exciting phase, both scientifically and technologically. While the development of the very large next generation telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), is ongoing, SKA pathfinders – like the LOFAR telescope in the Netherlands – have become operational and are delivering a wide range of excellent science. At the same time, radio antenna for very low frequency are being sent to the lunar far-side surface and to the lunar space, like the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE) on board of the Chinese Chang’E-4 lunar mission. This creates opportunities for Sino-Dutch research projects in the field of Radio Astronomy and Enabling Technologies for Radio Astronomy.

Preparatory workshop in April

NWO and CAS will organize a workshop for researchers to meet one another and present their research topics. This workshop will be held in Beijing in April. Each of the astronomical research institutes in the Netherlands will be able to nominate one or two representatives to present the research interests within their institute at the workshop.

Thematic focus: Radio Astronomy

Radio astronomy has a special place in modern astrophysics - it provides a unique probe of HI at cosmological redshifts, tools to study strong gravity (e.g. pulsar timing), compact structures on the  smallest angular scales (through VLBI), cosmic magnetism, solar-terrestrial connections and space weather (through e.g. MUSER and LOFAR), and it offers the only way to study the earliest epochs of the Universe. Both the Netherlands and China have a long history in radio astronomy, and a tradition in cooperation via scientific exchanges. The joint NWO-CAS program will aim at fostering and strengthening cooperation between scientists in China and the Netherlands through funding joint research projects in the field of Radio Astronomy and Enabling Technologies for Radio Astronomy.

Potential areas of common interest include:

the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
Researchers in the Netherlands and in China are heavily engaged in the science case, the design, and the technological development of SKA. SKA has a great scientific potential, and is at the same time posing a challenge in terms of technological developments and in terms of big data. The SKA will definitely make cutting-edge breakthroughs in science. On the other hand, once its first phase is operational, it will produce petabytes of data that require archiving, processing and subsequent science extraction. The development of dedicated Science Data Centres, providing capacity in networking, storage, computing, and expertise, is considered an example of ‘Enabling Technologies for Radio Astronomy’.

Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI)
The European VLBI Network (EVN) is the most sensitive VLBI network at centimetre wavelengths. The Joint Institute for VLBI in ERIC (JIVE) ­­­­was created to develop and operate the VLBI correlator. The Netherlands is the host country of JIVE – a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). China is one of the JIVE partner countries. Participation of Chinese telescopes in joint EVN observations is particularly significant, since the longest baselines result in the highest image resolution. VLBI is providing excellent science – e.g. the precise localization of a fast radio burst (FRB) leading to the first-ever identification of an FRB host galaxy – and the scientific case for VLBI will continue to benefit greatly from new research and development plans. In addition to astronomical science projects, joint challenges to be considered include correlator development and Space VLBI. VLBI has an important application in spacecraft tracking and navigation for China’s space missions to the moon, Mars and other planets.

Recent facilities and SKA pathfinders
Several new facilities have recently been constructed, commissioned and are now into scientific operations. Examples include among others the International LOFAR Telescope – a world-leading SKA-Low pathfinder –, and the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) – the largest single dish radio telescope in the world – that was inaugurated in September 2016. These telescopes, as well as other radio telescopes accessible to Chinese and Dutch astronomers, provide perfect opportunities for future scientific collaborations in the SKA1 era on the SKA primary science as well as on broader astrophysical challenges.

Space and ground based technology (from km to sub-mm)
Potential projects for technological and scientific cooperation could focus not only on the NCLE  and the low frequency spectrometer that will fly separately on the relay satellite and on the lander of Chang’E 4, but also on technology and detector development at the KHz to THz frequencies, such as Phased Array Feed (PAF) , RFI mitigation, etc.

The areas of common interest mentioned above are only examples of potential cooperations, which are non-exclusive. Research in astronomy is becoming increasingly astronomical object-oriented or scientific problem-driven, and not necessarily focused on a single observing method (like radio astronomy). The application of multi-wavelength approaches is becoming more and more common. All proposals focusing either on science or on (enabling) technological developments with a strong focus on Radio Astronomy, will be eligible in the CAS-NWO programme.


Source: NWO


Science area

Exact and Natural Sciences


Large research facilities (2015-2018)