Big Science, Human Development, and the Square Kilometer Array Telescope

Moderator:  Mr Kevin Govender- Office of Astronomy for Development

Panelist: Dr Rob Adam, Square Kilometre Array: Africa

Panelist: Prof Brian Armstrong, University of the Witwatersrand

Panelist: Prof Phil Diamond, SKAO

Panelist: Dr Michael Gastrow, Human Science Research Council

Panelist: Dr Khotso Mokhele, Department of Science and Technology

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope is arguably South Africa’s flagship science project. It has had a significant impact on economic development, and human development more broadly. The SKA has provided hundreds of bursaries and other forms of support for skills development. Technological spin-offs and partnerships have boosted financial sustainability and innovation capabilities, and high-capacity ICT infrastructure has been established for local communities. These achievements have been made possible by pockets of excellence in South Africa’s higher education system, research facilities and business sector, which have enabled South Africa’s success bid to co-host the telescope and participate in its technological development.

At the same time, all big science projects have their costs, whether direct financial costs, or opportunity costs to their host publics. Legitimation and acceptance among local communities has been necessary for the telescope to operate in its core site in the Karoo – forming a social contract that requires human development as one of its supporting structures.

This panel will reflect on the relationship between the SKA and human development, drawing on theoretical debates at this interface, on the available evidence, and on the experiences and perceptions of members of the SKA organisation itself.

Mr Kevin Govender, Office of Astronomy for Development

Mr Govender is the director of the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), an organisation jointly supported by the National Research Foundation and the International Astronomical Union. The OAD aims to use the cultural, technological and scientific aspects of astronomy to effect socioeconomic development. A nuclear physicist by training, Mr Govender led the SALT collateral benefits team for 5 years before being appointed as the founding director of the OAD. His leadership in the field has been recognised internationally through the award of the 2016 Edinburgh medal for Science and Society.


Dr Rob Adam, Square Kilometre Array

Dr Rob Adam was appointed the SKA SA Project Director from 1 January 2016. Before joining SKA SA, he was the Group Executive: Nuclear at the Aveng Group. Before that, he served as the CEO of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) from 2006 to 2012, and as Director-General of Science and Technology from 1999 to 2006.

He obtained his B.Sc Honours degree in Chemistry with distinction from UCT (1987); was employed as Scientific Officer by Surrey University (1979-1980); and joined the SA Council for Higher Education (1980-1981). He was detained and convicted by the apartheid government and served as a political prisoner, during which time he obtained Honours and Master’s degrees in Theoretical Physics from UNISA. He was a Research Associate in the Department of Physics (UNISA, 1990-91) and awarded a Doctorate in Nuclear Physics. After contributing to the drafting of science and technology policy for South Africa at the request of the ANC (1991) he was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy at VrijeUniversiteit (Amsterdam, 1992-93) and later served as a Lecturer in Department of Physics at UKZN from 1993 to 1995.

Prof. Brian Armstrong,University of the Witwatersrand

Brian Armstrong has more than 30 years of top level management experience in Telecommunications, IT, technology R&D, and systems engineering, both in South Africa and abroad. He is widely regarded as a thought leader in digitalisation, convergence and business strategy.

Before joining Wits in July 2017, he was a key part of the leadership team which has been credited with turning Telkom around, in the capacity of Group Chief Operating Officer and Group Chief Commercial Officer. In his time with Telkom he also revived the Telkom Business unit, and conceived and led the acquisition of BCX and its integration into the group. He was also responsible for the group’s retail unit, as well as leading group strategy and transformation activities.

Before joining Telkom in 2010 Brian was BT’s Vice President for Middle East and Africa, with overall responsibility to oversee and grow BT’s activities across the region. Before that his work experience includes South Africa’s CSIR, ultimately as the Director of the Division for Information and Communications Technology; and South African listed ICT services group AST (now Gijima), as Managing Director of AST Networks. Brian completed his BSc (Eng) and MSc (Eng) at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1982 and 1984 respectively, and obtained his PhD from University College London in 1992. His professional interests include business leadership, digitalisation, strategic change leadership and management, corporate entrepreneurship, organisational design, multinational and multicultural business optimisation, and venture creation.

Prof. Phil Diamond, SKA

Professor Philip Diamond is the Director-General of the SKA (Square Kilometre Array). He was appointed to this position in October 2012, and is responsible for the global team designing and ultimately constructing the SKA, which, when completed, will be the largest scientific project on Earth.

An astronomer with over three hundred publications, Professor Diamond has worked in research and management positions around the world.  Before his role at SKA, he was the Chief of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science (CASS), which operates the major radio astronomy facilities in Australia.  Prior to that, he was Director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, part of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester in the UK.  Today, Jodrell Bank Observatory is the location of the SKA’s global headquarters.

Professor Diamond’s research interests include studies of star birth and death; exploring both through the use of radio interferometers such as MERLIN. He is also interested in high resolution studies of supernovae, both in our own Galaxy and in others. Finally, he also dabbles in studies of discs of molecular gas rotating around super-massive black-holes at the centres of other galaxies.

Dr Michael Gastrow,Office of Astronomy for Development

Dr Michael Gastrow is a Chief Research Specialist in the Education and Skills Development research programme of the Human Sciences Research Council. He his research focus is on innovation, skills development, the public understanding of science, and science communication. He has applied these disciplinary lenses to sectoral studies in biotechnology, astronomy, automotive manufacturing, and ICTs, as well as to the study of innovation for inclusive development and global innovation networks. He has previously participated in research projects for the European Commission, International Development Research Centre, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Higher Education, and National Research Foundation. Michael is currently leading research into the human development aspects of the SKA telescope for the Wits Centre of Excellence in Human Development. He is also leading the development of a monitoring and evaluation framework for the Department of Science and Technology’s Science Promotion Directorate. In his research he aims for an inter-disciplinary understanding of the interface between science, technology, and society.


Dr. Khotso Mokhele, University of Free State

Dr Mokhele currently serves as Special Advisor to the South African Minister of science and Technology, and Chancellor of the University of the Free State. He also serves on Boards of Directors of several listed and unlisted companies. He previously served as the founding President of the South African National Research Foundation (having also served as President of the Foundation for Research Development, the predecessor to the National Research Foundation) and also as the founder President of the Academy of Science of South Africa. The service to the Foundation for Research Development was preceded by academic positions in the Departments of Microbiology at the Universities of Cape Town and Fort Hare. He also served as Chairperson of the Premier’s Economic Advisory Council advising the Premier of the Free State Province, South Africa.

The international roles include, inter alia, membership of the Executive Board of UNESCO (1997-2001) and Chairperson of the Special Committee of the Executive Board of UNESCO (1999-2001); Vice President for Scientific Planning and Review of the International Council for Science (2005-2008); assignment by UNESCO (2006-2007) to review the Science and Technology System of the member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and advise on how to leverage science, technology and innovation for the development of the Caribbean region; current chairpersonship of the Board of START International Inc., a Global Change capacity Building initiative based in Washington DC. Dr Mokhele holds a PhD in Microbiology from the University of California, Davis and had post-doctoral fellowships at The Johns Hopkins University and University of Pennsylvania. He holds several honorary doctorates from universities in South Africa and the USA. His service to science, technology and innovation was also recognized through the bestowing of the Legion of Honour Chevalier by the President of France (2000) and the Science Diplomacy Award by the Minister of Science and Technology in South Africa (2015)



By | 2017-11-30T14:22:08+00:00 October 9th, 2017|