ICG astrophysicist honoured in South Africa

Leadership: Professor Roy Maartens

The former director of the University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG), Professor Roy Maartens, has been honoured by South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) Awards.

Professor Maartens was the founding director of the ICG from 2002. Under his leadership, the ICG became one of the world’s leading cosmology groups. He is currently based mainly at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, but retains a position at Portsmouth and works closely with the ICG.

According to their webpage, the South African NRF awards A-ratings to researchers “doing high-quality internationally-recognised and field-transforming work … who are unequivocally recognised by their peers as leading international scholars, for the high quality and impact of recent research outputs”.

Professor Maartens has held the Square Kilometre Array Research Chair in Cosmology since 2011. To date, he has produced over 200 papers in refereed journals on cosmology and general relativity. During his career, he has mentored 30 postdocs and supervised 17 PhD and 10 MSc graduates to completion.

He currently works on the science of very large galaxy surveys, and some of the biggest surveys will be conducted by the Square Kilometre Array, which is being built in South Africa and Australia, and will be the world’s largest astronomy experiment. South Africa has recently commissioned its own precursor MeerKAT array of 64 dishes, that will later become part of the SKA.

An eye on the Universe’s past: One of the MeerKAT dishes

In 2013, Prof Maartens was appointed as chair of the international SKA Cosmology Science Working Group. He led an international team that developed a successful proposal for cosmological surveys in the early phase of the SKA – it was previously thought that this could only be done in the later phases.

He said: “My team of students and postdocs at UWC aims to use the power of MeerKAT and then the SKA to map the distribution of galaxies in the Universe. These maps contain a fossil record of the birth of the Universe – and they also carry the imprint of the Dark Energy that is forcing the Universe to expand faster and faster. We need to ensure that South Africa is not just exporting the data being collected here, but is also able to do science with it. We want to take forward the development of science in South Africa and in Africa.”

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