UNSW space scientists ranked best on planet

Staff and students from UNSW’s Department of Astrophysics.

The School’s Department of Astrophysics has been ranked in the world’s top one per cent of space science institutions by the international ranking agency, ISI Essential Science Indicators.

ESI is a web-based compilation of indicators to assess and rank the global research performance of scientists, journals, universities and nations. Aimed at researchers and policymakers, ESI analyses over ten million journal articles from over 8,500 indexed journals in 22 fields of scientific endeavour.

The Department’s top ranking is based on the publication of 372 journal papers that were cited 6,652 times in the past 10 years. ESI updates its rankings bimonthly and publishes them on the website http://in-cites.com/

Over the past 15 years, astrophysics has grown to become one of the three main focus areas of the School of Physics. Supported mainly through external research grants, there are now over 30 people working in this area in various capacities.

The rapid rise in UNSW’s citation success in Space Science is the result of several factors, including the development of outstanding new facilities such as the “2dF” instrument on the Anglo Australian Telescope, which has enabled Warrick Couch and his colleagues to make major breakthroughs in the study of the large-scale structure of the Universe.

Australia is very well served with top-class national facilities in both radio and optical/infrared astronomy. In addition, by participating in major international facilities such as the Gemini Observatory, Australian astronomers are able to access the very best telescopes and instruments around the world. UNSW is particularly fortunate in having its own telescopes at Siding Spring, and also operates the Mopra telescope (currently the largest millimetre-wave telescope in the Southern Hemisphere) in cooperation with CSIRO.

Fifty years ago, Australia’s reputation in astronomy and astrophysics grew partly out of the competitive advantage of being one of the few technologically advanced nations in the Southern Hemisphere. With other countries now taking advantage of the rich Southern Hemisphere skies, Australia must look at what else it has to offer. Two things come immediately to mind – the vast, radio-quiet areas of sparse population density ideal for construction of future radio telescopes, and the ready access to the exceptional optical/infrared observing sites on the high plateau of Antarctica just a few flying hours from Sydney.

John Storey and Dan Gaffney




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