NSF Awards Grant to Create New Technology for Radio Astronomy While Training First-Generation College Students

Luke Hawkins and Satori Chin inspect a circuit board
GBO Digital Engineer Luke Hawkins and Allegheny College computer science major Satori Chin inspect a circuit board to be used in the NSF grant award project. (NSF/AUI/GBO)

The Green Bank Observatory (GBO) has won a grant award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to make use of cutting-edge digital technology to develop the next generation of sensitive detectors for radio telescopes, while also improving our ability to share the radio spectrum by differentiating between human-made and cosmic radio signals. This project will provide an educational experience for first-generation college students, giving them a hands-on research experience and the skills needed for future success in technical fields.

Radio astronomy lets us see an otherwise invisible side of the Universe, and in doing so allows scientists to study diverse topics, from the birthplaces of stars and planets, to black holes and Einstein’s theories, to the very fate of the Universe itself. Research in these areas is becoming increasingly difficult, however, because so much of the technology that individuals rely on in their daily lives, like cell phones and wireless internet, also emit radio waves that can overwhelm weak cosmic signals.   

The project, “New Wide-band Digital Technology and Interference Excision for Radio Astronomy,” is under the direction of GBO scientist Ryan S. Lynch. New research will develop cutting-edge technologies to enable ultra-wide bandwidth (UWB) radio astronomy and innovative detection and excision of radio frequency interference (RFI). This will lay the foundation for the next generation of end-to-end digital signal processing systems (DSP) and spectrometers that can effectively share the radio spectrum with the growing number of commercial, private, and governmental users. GBO will integrate new analog to digital converters (ADCs) and field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), develop firmware for interfacing these technologies with peripheral systems, and determine optimal methods for handling very high data rates. GBO will also create a standard procedure for testing and validating RFI excision algorithms that will build confidence in their use among scientists. This project will include a two-week undergraduate internship program aimed at first-generation college students and a summer research experience for an additional student.

The scientific and educational components of this project will impact an extremely large and diverse community. The results of GBO’s work will be shared to enable similar advances at other US and world observatories. The internship program will leverage GBO’s membership in the NSF-INCLUDES for first-generation students and provide mentoring opportunities to additional undergraduates.  

The NSF award begins July 15, 2019 and ends June 30, 2021. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement No. 1910302.

The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated by Associated Universities, Inc.


Media Contacts:

Jill Malusky
Public Relations Specialist
Green Bank Observatory