Growing New Skills in Horizon2020

This Wiki is for discussion of what might go into a proposal for radio astronomy training in Horizons2020. Feel free to add comments (please initial/distinguish) in preparation for the meeting in Berlin at the end of August.

Initial draft posted June 2015

I use 'RadioNet' to describe whatever is the future body.


In RadioNet 3: Budget 151 k Euro per year over 4 yr Also see

a) Big events - annually:

  • ERIS (incl. IRAM interferometry) - up to ~150 people
  • YERAC 20-50 people
  • IRAM 30-m or Solar or other specialised 20-100 people

RadioNet typically provides half funding

b) Support for smaller events/small support for other events

Anything from single dish to mm VLBI to LOFAR.

The WP4 team ensures that the a) events occur (as far as possible) by seeking a host institute and if necessary helping to set up the SoC, seeking tutors or whatever other help is needed. We advertise the availability of support (of this kind, as well as financial) for b) events which are usually initiated elsewhere.

The WP4 team and RadioNet in general (especially liaison with the Bonn office, wit WP3 Science and with MARCuS) also provides publicity and guidance based on practical experience.



is unique. It has been running since 1968. It is open to any early-career workers in radio astronomy from anywhere in the world. This includes observers, theorists, engineers …, the only criterion being that they are recommended by their supervisor or director. All the regular talks and posters come from these participants, with just a few extra talks from more senior scientists giving overviews of new instruments or similar. By definition, those attending are towards the lower end of the income scale and as funding has become tighter in many institutions, it has become harder for hosts to subsidise accomodation or for the attendees to get fully funded by their home institutes. Hence, support from RadioNet has been important in keeping YERAC going and I feel that it should be the priority for future. Almost all the astronomical staff of most observatories in Europe, and a high proportion around the world, have been to a YERAC and still use the contacts made there. YERAC's strengths include, firstly, giving 'young' scientists a forum to present their work knowing that all the audience are their peers, not intimidating seniors, and, secondly, starting the graduate students and newly-fledged workers off with a feeling for the breadth of radio astronomy outside their own speciality. Hosting YERAC can also be valuable, in raising awareness of lesser-known facilities and showing the breadth of research around Europe. Talks are published on-line and sometimes there are more formal publications.

ERIS/IRAM interferometry schools

These are also very successful. They are a more formal week of lectures and, crucially, hand-on tutorials. This has been maintained despite the increasing size and complexity of data sets, thanks to the ingenuity of the providers. This does mean that a small army of tutors (10-20+) are needed, as well as lecturers. Along with the sheer scale of the event, this means that it is easier for the bigger institutes to act as hosts, although many lecturers/tutors come from elsewhere. One problem is that the ideal combination is an institute with a great deal of local expertise, ample donated meeting space, economical B&B accomodation nearby, cheap to travel to. This is not usually met and so support is needed e.g. to make accomodation affordable, to support tutor travel etc. Secondly, a few students usually can only attend if some or all of their fares are paid. For example, supporting attendees from Africa is of great importance in the development of the SKA/EVN. The 2015 ERIS is approaching a record 200 registrations, of which we hope to accept the first 130.

'Students' range from MSc level to senior astronomers new to interferometry. Some are from institutes where no-one has much interferometry experience, and go away with at least enough basic knowledge to start on a project and know where to get further information. Others already have some expertise but benefit from optional sessions on more advanced techniques and gain a deeper understanding and confidence through helping others in teamwork.

The traditional format has been alternating between mm- (at IRAM Grenoble) and cm-wave interferometry. However, the distinctions are becoming increasingly blurred. For example, the 2015 ERIS will cover wavelengths from LOFAR to ALMA/NOEMA. RadioNet funding is 15-20 k Euro.


The IRAM 30-m school, held in alternate years, provides hands-on observing which is brilliant training. The numbers are necessarily limited (~30?).

In addition, just in the past year, we have supported 4 students (ineligible for TNA) on observing courses at IRAM 30-m.


In each of RN 2 and 3, there was/will be one Solar school as a major deliverable, plus (more in RN3), minor support for CESRA and EPSM meetings and related Solar-ALMA events.



covers events like the Algorithms workshop (under RN2), Commissioning Skills etc. workshop (a major deliverable), and contributions to a specialised mm-VLBI workshop and a Spectrum Management meeting. These are mainly attended by people with a foot in both research astronomy and some aspect of engineering, software development or user support.


The latter often cover more than one telescope/technique but concentrate on a particular theme or science area, e.g. Geodesy, the Black Hole Universe series, RadioGREAT (gravitational lensing). These are organised almost entirely by the relevant organisations/institutes and receive minor financial support.


The areas where RadioNet-type support (financial and information-spreading) are most crucial seem to me to be those with the widest scope, bringing together people from diverse institutes or with complementary skills. Such events are not tied to a particular observatory or science project and thus do not fit into most national funding schemes. At best, an altruistic institute might be able to host such events but probably could not provide the level of support necessary to bring over experts from other continents or allow early-career astronomers from less well-off countries to participate, yet this is vital for the future of astronomy as a whole, especially areas such as SKA or VLBI (at all wavelengths).


The areas where RadioNet-type support (financial and information-spreading) are most crucial seem to me to be those with the widest scope, bringing together people from diverse institutes or with complementary skills. Such events are not tied to a particular observatory or science project and thus do not fit into most national funding schemes. At best, an altruistic institute might be able to host such events but probably could not provide the level of support necessary to bring over experts from other continents or allow early-career astronomers from less well-off countries to participate, yet this is vital for the future of astronomy as a whole, especially areas such as SKA or VLBI.


I would not suggest making any major changes to the basic structure of YERAC, since the content is inherently flexible, reflecting what incomers to the field are currently working on. It would be good to encourage participation from engineers and instrumentation scientists as well as 'pure' astronomers, but that is up to the management of the institutes who have to make the recommendations. Currently, 7-9k Euro per YERAC typically covers subsidising accomodation/subsistence and travel for a few delegates e.g. from least well-off countries. The host contributes about the same (including contributions in kind, e.g. free use of premises) and there is nowadays a modest registration fee (100-200 Euro). Pre-RadioNet, the attendees at each YERAC suggested the following year's venue and the delegates from there then had to break the news to their director. In RadioNet, volunteers are also sought (both nomiated from YERAC and direct approaches from institutes), but WP4 coordinates this so that there is a good geographical spread and if more than one institute volunteers they can be scheduled for future years. This does help to avoid hiccups.


In future, keeping the nominal, annual cm/mm alternation could work, but the division is no longer the obvious one. The following suggestion does not have rigid boundaries, and some overlap is not a bad thing, whilst some arrays (e.g. WSRT) could be covered in either - it is just a straw-person suggestion. I am concentrating on arrays with a major European involvement but all schools should make participants aware of facilities like GMRT, ATCA as well as NRAO.

  • Wide-field and aperture array techniques - LOFAR, dish-based arrays in survey mode, CMB arrays, SKA precursors etc.
  • Techniques for pointed/discrete object observations - e-MERLIN, NOEMA, ALMA, VLBI etc.

These could be held in alternate years and cycle round suitable hosts. The 'usual suspects' are IRAM Grenoble, Manchester, Bonn, Bologna, JIVE/ASTRON and now ESO (in some previous cases the host has provided most of the resources but used another venue). Other institutes are welcome but the main ones will probably host an event every few years. It is possible that (especially as the pace of SKA/precursor development heats up) there might be demand for two events a year.

In terms of content, the (nominally) cm-wave ERIS has evolved to include 'virtual proposal' preparation sessions (which are very popular) and an error-recognition session, and to increase lectures on techniques rather than overview science talks. CASA is now the primary teaching package, but AIPS is still required for some aspects of VLBI. Sometimes a third package is optionally included. It has to be said that the students and local IT staff are usually very strongly in favour of minimising the number of packages, preferably modern ones! The most effective practical sessions involve problem solving, such as scripts with blank parameter values for the students to fill in based on knowledge or inspection of the data.

Most observatories are moving towards supplying pipelined products, but hands-on experience with visibility data from modern instruments (even if it has been pre-edited and simplified/reduced in volume) is important for for several reasons; to be able to cope with new obesrving modes which might not be automatically reduced, to understand the strengths and limitations of interferometry, and to get some started on a path to being the experts of the future.

Typically the host provides space for upward of 100 participants, and organisation. Tutors, lecturers etc. are drawn from all over, but a reasonable body of local practical expertise kees costs down as well as helping coordination. At present, data sets can be cut down enough to be processed on a laptop and still give a realistic experience. It may be that in future this is no longer possible and more frequent, smaller schools using the host's desktops are needed.


Very important, and numbers are limited by practicalities. One could alternate the IRAM event with one or more cm-wave or other mm-wave facilities if they were prepared to offer hands-on observing (e.g. Nancay, Onsala, Effelsberg, Torun, JBO …).


This includes Solar, and indeed Solar System radio astronomy and Geodesy. People in these areas can say what is needed; maybe major training events every ~3 yr. It might be useful to have a long-term plan, so that opportunities within the lifetime of a PhD or PDRA post were known.


From Silja: CESRA workshops are held every 3 yr, as are EPSM meetings. It is desirable to have the Solar schools not in the same year. So the future schedule would be: 2015 solar school - 2016 CESRA workshop - 2017 ESPM (part) - 2018 solar school - 2019 CESRA workshop - 2020 ESPM…


These events are very valuable but would probably take place anyway. The most obviously RadioNet-relevant aspect is for schools covering multi-wavelength and/or intercontinental facilities where RadioNet supports preparation and teaching of radio astronomy-related lectures and tutorials.


I think that these are some of the most valuable and unique contributions of RadioNet, bringing together experts in different areas and workers intending to become specialists in such activities. Experience is shared between observatories and although most astronomers should not need such levels of technical expertise, it is vital to grow the developers and experts of the future.

There is no shortage of future topics, such as pipelines, autoflagging, polarization, further developments in mm-VLBI, as well as spectrum management and SKA-related activities. International coordination and support is very significant here, since there are often only a few experts in the world on a specialised but crucial topic. These events need to assume a basic knowledge of the relevant area e.g. radio inerferometry, but are a means of expanding the horizons of less experienced workers considering a career in development of techniques as well as bringing experts together. They can also bring soft-and hard-ware engineers and project managers together with astronomers.


For both basic training and advanced workshops, RadioNet has provided more than just funding. The needs and opportunities are identified by cross-institute discussions at Radionet management meetings and informal contacts in a much wider way than just relying on who you bump into in day-to-day work. The Radionet network is also used to provide tutors, materials etc. and to help institutes or groups with event organisation, which is especially helpful to those new to a particular area of radio astronomy and for YERAC, mainly organised by young researchers.

The other importance of a central coordinating body is to ensure that relevant material is kept on-line and accessible. Tutorials and lectures are best maintained by the host/SoC, since they often involve very bulky data and also software requiring maintenance, and in fact probably have a limited lifetime of order 3-5 yr as techniques advance.

Relation to TNA and other areas

Support for individuals on trips to be trained in observing techniques is very worthwhile, but rather tangential to the original objectives of WP4, and the opportunity was not advertised (since the possibility of funding arose after the trips were planned). At present, the TNA rules on elegibility depend on the astronomer's home institute and the institutes providing the observing facility. It would be good to relax the rules to allow support for trips for training in observing and data reduction techniques from any partner country or otherwise eligible (e.g. low-income) country, and allow support for archive or other data as well as for PI projects. This would also cover some of what MARKUs currently supports.

Two aspects of observatory practice would be of great benefit to new radio astronomers.

  1. Providing an easily-found web page summarising the main observing capabilities (angular resolution and wavelength ranges, typical sensitivities etc. such that an astronomer from another domain would understand). This has to be provided and maintained by the observatories themselves but RadioNet could offer a template, link all pages to a central gateway etc.
  2. An accessible archive. It should be a condition of EU funding (as with e.g.NASA) that data become public after a reasonable interval. This implies an accessible list of observed targets and observational parameters, described in an at least approximately (IVOA) standard fashion. Whilst large observatories can provide automated archive access, smaller ones might have a human to deal with requests. RadioNet could offer support to either or both of the observatories, to improve accessibility, or to archive users.