SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory

SALT Educational Empowerment

Growing the Community

The elections that took place on 27 April 1994 ushered in a new era of hope and optimism that South Africa had never before experienced. The expectations for a just, peaceful and prosperous society were abundant throughout the new nation. The government brought into existence by these elections had the unenviable task of addressing many difficult challenges simultaneously in its attempts to meet both its mandate and the expectations of a very impatient new nation. Much has been accomplished in the five-year period that followed the 1994 elections, but a lot more still needs to be done. One of the most important challenges that confronted the nascent democratic government was the requirement to broaden the science, engineering and technology education and training base, particularly in the black community. Various government departments have now put in place policies to meet the challenge. The Southern African Large Telescope project was initiated as an important element in these critical endeavours.

In the context of the South African development agenda, the SAAO as a National Facility has come to be seen as an important vehicle to do much more than provide state-of-the-art instruments that will permit South African astronomers and astrophysicists to perform cutting-edge research. SAAO and SALT will be involved in a broad range of SET training, including astronomers, physicists, chemists, engineers, technologists and computing specialists. All these will contribute to the development, operation and/or scientific research at the SALT facility.

In addition to its influence on education as a general process, SALT will provide educational and training opportunities for many individuals during both the construction (5 year) and operational (25plus year) phases of the project.
This educational empowerment will be attained through:

  • Student participation in SALT Workshops within South Africa
  • Student involvement in the SALT Project Team
  • Student placement with SALT contractors
  • Student involvement in scientific collaborations among SALT partners
  • Student involvement in scientific instrumentation development
  • Specific problems being solved with University/Technikon involvement, either singly or collectively, to promote fresh directions of research and to empower them in new technologies.

Payoffs: The result of student involvement in all phases of SALT is that the experience of participation in a large, complex, high-technology project will be carried into later careers. Knowledge of the technology, interactions and techniques for development of such projects is vital, as South Africa must address ever more ambitious technical undertakings. To perform such tasks one must first believe that they can be achieved and one must have confidence in using the constituent technologies. Experience with SALT will provide those assurances. There is a growing trend internationally for students trained in astronomy and astrophysics (particularly at graduate level) to be increasingly sought after for employment in business and industry for their analytic and problem-solving skills.