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UWA’s SKA Research on the Cosmic Web Receives $2M Gift

A former science student of The University of Western Australia has donated $2 million to fund a new research position that will help shed light on some of the biggest mysteries in the Universe.

Dr Jim Buckee has donated $2M to establish the Dr Jim Buckee Fellowship in Astrophysics.

Retired oil executive Dr Jim Buckee, who gained a BSc Honours at UWA in 1967 and a PhD in Astrophysics at Britain's Oxford University in 1970, has made the stellar donation to fund UWA post-doctoral research for what will be the world's biggest radio telescope – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

In May last year an international consortium decided that the radio telescope, which will consist of thousands of antennas, will be built in both Australia and Southern Africa. Construction will begin in 2016.

The Jim Buckee Fellowship in Astrophysics will provide ongoing annual funding for a researcher to join the growing ranks of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at UWA. Launched in 2009, ICRAR is a joint venture between UWA and Curtin University, and is already recognised worldwide as one of the leading research institutes in the growing field of radio astronomy.

"The inaugural UWA Jim Buckee Fellowship will be awarded to one of the world's top astrophysicists," ICRAR's Deputy Director of Science, Professor Lister Staveley-Smith, said. "This person will be given the challenge of developing new techniques involving the modelling and observation of shock waves, cosmic rays and magnetic fields in the distant Universe that will ultimately help the SKA directly detect the cosmic web for the first time."

Scientists believe that the cosmic web grew out of tiny fluctuations in the early Universe that were seeded in the Big Bang. Over billions of years galaxies then formed along the tendrils of this web-like superstructure as the Universe evolved into what we see today.

An unsolved puzzle for astrophysicists around the world is where a large portion of the ordinary "baryonic" matter present in the early Universe went to as time went on. Many believe this matter is hidden in the cosmic web.

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson said Dr Buckee's extraordinary generosity to his former university could help solve one of the biggest puzzles of the Universe and forge a major new scientific understanding in the field of cosmology.

"The Jim Buckee Fellowship in Astrophysics at UWA highlights and underscores the importance of philanthropy for advancing human knowledge," Professor Johnson said. "Dr Buckee's gift is a significant contribution to society's historic quest to understand the great mysteries of the Universe."

ICRAR Director, UWA Professor Peter Quinn, said the Centre was extremely grateful to Dr Buckee for so generously providing the funds to create an ongoing fellowship in astrophysics to support the scientific discoveries to be made by the SKA.

"Over the years, many bright young researchers from all over the world will now get a chance to join us here in Western Australia to take part in the SKA effort," Professor Quinn said.

Dr Buckee was born in the UK, studied at UWA and Oxford and held various posts in petroleum engineering and exploration on Western Australia's North-West Shelf and in Qatar, Britain, Norway, Canada and Alaska before retiring in 2007 after 16 years as head of Talisman Energy (formerly BP Canada). Dr Buckee now lives in England.


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