On June 29, 2015 the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, announced the “Action Plan for Jobs: Midland Region 2015-2017“. We were delighted that I-LOFAR has been included in the plan in a prominent way. This is a significant step forward for the project, thanks to the efforts of Denis Duggan (Enterprise Ireland).
The following is from the Action Plan.
The establishment of a next-generation radio telescope in Birr was identified in consultations with stakeholders as holding potential for the creation of a research and data analytics hub in the Midlands.
LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) is a next-generation radio telescope that is currently being deployed across Europe, with stations already operating in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and the UK at an investment of €150 million.
I-LOFAR refers to a proposal by a consortium of Irish universities and Research Institutes (which includes Athlone Institute of Technology and is led by Trinity College Dublin) to build and operate an Irish LOFAR radio telescope at Birr Castle which will connect Ireland into the International LOFAR telescope and sensor network.
Birr Castle Demense & Gardens is the site of preference of the Irish consortium, as Birr has little radio interference, making it ideal for radio astronomy. Birr Castle Demense & Gardens has an existing Science Visitor Centre and is internationally recognized for its tradition in astronomy. The plan is to facilitate the development of the iLOFAR on a 6 acre site in the Demesne & Gardens.
The local availability of a fibre network (MAN, or Metropolitan Area Network) makes data-transport at high rates suitable for radio astronomy a possibility. I-LOFAR will use approximately 30% of a 10 Gbps fibre connection to Birr. Internet providers will be able to use the remainder to provide high-speed broadband to users on the Birr MAN and companies at the Birr Technology Centre, for example. The data acquired by the telescope will generate daily a volume of data on par to Ireland’s total daily internet traffic. The facility has the potential to provide the data resources for data analysis on a scale not currently possible in Ireland.
From an enterprise and jobs perspective, locating this infrastructure in the Midlands would:
- Act as a magnet to attract data analytic companies and create a cluster of data start-ups in the region and the Midlands Innovation and Research Centre in AIT and enhance the capabilities of the research institutes based at AIT, including the Software Research Institute.
- Attract additional tourists into the Midland Region with the development of an I-LOFAR visitor centre for tourists and students, which will overlook the radio telescope.
- Create better links between the Midland Region and multinationals.
- Provide a platform for educational outreach STEM subjects for students of all ages.
- Attract further R&D activities and funding (e.g., from Horizon 2020) to the Midland Region.