Scientists at Harwell secure share of £15 million to build the ‘brain’ of the world’s biggest telescope.

Scientists across the UK are to build ‘brain’ of the world’s biggest radio telescope that will scour the skies for galaxies like our own.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council has awarded more than £15 million to UK institutions including the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester as well as teams of scientists at Harwell, Daresbury and Edinburgh, to help them create the prototype software that will control the UK-headquartered Square Kilometre Array (SKA) observatory.

As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the project brings together more than 500 engineers and 1,000 scientists in more than 20 countries.

The telescopes will be able to survey the sky much faster than existing radio telescopes and will require powerful computing to process the expected data rate of 8 terabits of data per second.

It is hoped that the first prototype brain will be ready to go in 2024.

The UK has already played a vital role in the software for the telescopes during the design phase, and is now set to continue leading this area as the telescopes are constructed.

Science Minister George Freeman said: “It is no surprise that the UK’s outstanding scientists are playing such a vital role in shaping the future of this cutting-edge global observatory, backed by £15 million government funding.

“As well as providing the foundation for new galaxy-level discoveries, this award will help to guarantee future contracts for UK industry, secure skilled jobs and develop a highly-transferrable technology in the UK — channelling more money back into the UK economy.

“This reflects the incredible skill of our science community, who are working hand-in-hand with industry to ensure the UK continues to grow as a global science superpower.”

The UK government is the largest contributor to the SKA and currently has a commitment to support 15 per cent of the total cost of construction and initial operations from 2021 to 2030.