Interview with Timothy Shimwell (ASTRON)


Timothy ShimwellWe recently interviewed Timothy Shimwell of ASTRON. ASTRON is the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, part of the institutes organisation of the Dutch Research Council. The mission of ASTRON is to make discoveries in radio astronomy happen, by developing new and innovative technologies, operating world-class radio astronomy facilities, and pursuing fundamental astronomical research.

ASTRON runs the LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) telescope, which is currently the largest radio telescope operating at the lowest frequencies that can be observed from Earth. DICE is fortunate to have the LOFAR user community as one of its partner communities working with us from the very beginning.

At ASTRON, Timothy is involved in making radio astronomy data products from the LOFAR telescope available through DICE. In the following, his reflections on working with the DICE services and their importance in achieving the goals of LOFAR.


What is the scientific area where your community is involved?

We are conducting radio astronomy research. More specifically here our focus is to map the sky in great detail with an unprecedented combination of angular resolution and sensitivity. To date our maps have revealed 4.5 million astronomical sources that emit radiation at radio wavelengths -  90% of the emission we observe has never been detected before. These new structures we are detecting are primarily incredibly energetic objects such as relativistic jets emanating from black holes, particle acceleration induced when the largest objects in the Universe merge or radiation associated with the formation of stars. Our community is using these maps to conduct research right across the range of astronomical sizes from our own Sun out the origins of structures themselves. Radio astronomy is currently entering a golden age with several fantastic new facilities already operating and several others on the horizon and there is so much exciting potential in this field.

How will you benefit from the services offered through DICE?

Radio astronomy datasets are large and require extensive data processing in order to obtain science ready products. For example, through DICE we will offer 200 gigabytes of science ready products from the LOw Frequency ARray (LOFAR) Two-metre Sky Survey and to produce these products required the development of state of the art techniques which were then deployed on various different compute clusters to enable the processing 8 petabytes of data which took 10 million core hours. By making these products available through DICE we can mitigate this involved data processing procedure and allow open access to these, and other, data which we believe is vital to ensure the scientific potential of the data is fulfilled.

Why is it important for your community to adopt the EOSC principles of Open Science and FAIR data management?

We always strive to produce and present robust scientific results. A critical part of this is to ensure reproducibility where possible, this involves detailing the procedures used in publications and also making algorithms and data publicly available. There are many challenges involved in this, such as the logistics of keeping large archives publicly available and keeping scripts operational. We need to ensure we can overcome these challenges and adequately adopt these principles to ensure that future researchers can fully benefit from previous efforts and that scientific advancement is not compromised. 

Do you think that DICE tangible impact will go beyond the project lifespan?

Long term archives of scientifically valuable data products are critically important to maintain. This is highlighted not only by the effort and cost that has gone into producing these archives but also by the scientific advances that they have facilitated. Our hope is that through DICE we achieve the first step of this but it is very important that our first steps with DICE do represent the foundations and that we build upon this to ensure the legacy values of these incredible archives that have demonstrated broad scientific value but still offer huge untapped scientific potential.


Picture by ASTRON.