Project Scientist Manifesto

The SKA Project Scientist is the connecting link to the multiple communities involved in the project. As such, he should have knowledge of all the key science areas, as well as an understanding of the technology and the management of a large project. The Project Scientist serves to gather and redistribute information to the various communities, including the different science research communities, the technological development communities, the project team, funding agencies, and the general public.

A Bridge within the Science Community

The SKA has a well established and growing community of scientists with expertise in the disparate fields associated with the SKA key science topics. The key science spans a wide area of topics in physics and astrophysics including radiative transfer, chemistry, orbital dynamics, fluid mechanics, magnetism, general relativity and gravitation, time domain phenomena, cosmology, and even high energy particle physics. The SKA Project Scientist needs to have a good grasp of all these areas in order to understand the requirements of each science area, and help to arrive at trade-offs where necessary.

A Bridge between the Science and Technical Communities

It is the nature of experimental science that there are advances in technological development which inspire new experiments, and inspire new ideas for even more sophisticated scientific observations and analysis. This is clearly the case with the promise of Advanced Instrumentation for the SKA. The promise of extremely wide field of view imaging together with high angular precision and unequaled sensitivity have inspired very ambitious experiments in large surveys to tackle the outstanding problems of Dark Energy, formation of the first structure in the Universe, and the origin of magnetism in the Universe.

The Project Scientist must sometimes rein-in the scientific enthusiasm for pushing technology, while gently coordinating and redirecting to maintain the pressure on the technological development. As such, he is in some sense a System Engineer himself, with a good understanding of the implications of technological choices in various subsystems, and the impact on interfaces between subsystems.

Technological choices should not be taken too soon, and the Project Scientist should maintain an emphasis on new technology as long as it is feasible within the project roadmap. This give-and-take exercise will continue through the next several years, and is currently exemplified by the work of the Science Working Group to write the Design Reference Missions, and the Magnificent Memos.

A Bridge between the Science Community and the Project

The SKA is a large project which inevitably requires a certain amount of management and documentation for traceability. This is often a topic of some frustration in the scientific community as there is sometimes a feeling that documentation has overtaken in importance the “real” work. The Project Scientist must be a bridge between the management of the project, and the scientific community, explaining the need for good management practice, and encouraging the scientific community to participate in the management exercise. This is the current practice with community input to the recent work on the Statement of Work for the Project Execution Plan during the Preconstruction Phase, as well as the efforts on the Design Reference Mission and the Magnificent Memos.

However, this is not a one-way flow of information and ideas, and it is important for the Project to take on-board some of the management practice of the scientific community. The SKA Project is a scientific project with a number of peculiarities regarding the financing, the stakeholders, and the distributed effort. It is important to recognize that generic system engineering and management principles and methods should not be applied directly to the SKA Project, but should be tailored to the special needs of the project.

The Project Scientist acts as a two-way bridge bringing information and requests from the project office to the scientific community, and bringing ideas back into the project office from the scientific community. Such things as managing distributed, self-financed effort, and the efficient sharing of information have been successfully achieved in scientific collaborations. SKADS is a good example.

A Bridge to the General Public

Unraveling the mysteries of the Universe is a passion which motivates scientists, but it is also a service rendered to society and we have a responsibility to communicate our knowledge of the natural world to the general public.

Modern society is filled with people doing various tasks to maintain and improve the structure of society. Farmers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, craftsmen, even government bureaucrats all contribute to maintaining and improving the social environment in which we live. One can think of all those people supporting a structure which permits a portion of society to work in the pure arts and natural philosophy. The arts and philosophy are thus the ultimate end products of society, and it is our responsibility to communicate our discoveries, and our enthusiasm for learning about the natural world, to all those people who, in a real sense, have contributed to the endeavour by providing the infrastructure in which we live.

Communication to the general public about science is not only a pleasure, it is also a responsibility, and one which must be high on the list of priorities for a scientist.

This is an edited extract from a document I submitted in May 2012 describing my view of the rôle of the International SKA Project Scientist.
S.A. Torchinsky, April 2013.

last update 2013 April 13, 21:02 UTC by Steve Torchinsky. See changelog.