In his job overseeing the building of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope, the engineer splits his time equally between Perth and the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in outback Western Australia. “You go to reach for something that you’ve normally got beside you in a lab and it’s not there,” Mr Emrich said. “You’ve got to come up with a way of working around a missing tool or a broken machine because the alternative is a day trip to Geraldton at the very least. Whereas working in a laboratory environment you can usually get something couriered overnight if you’ve broken something or lost something. You need to be a little bit more self-sufficient.”
Mr Emrich’s role requires a handle on engineering management, systems engineering and, perhaps most importantly, an ability to find faults and diagnose problems no one has ever seen before. But it is the creative problem solving that comes with working on such a cutting edge project that is one of the most rewarding parts of the job for Mr Emrich, along with being able to earn the respect of leading radio astronomers from around the world.
Mr Emrich previously worked in electronic and systems engineering but a stint as a regional firefighter prepared him well for working in the Australian outback. “Working as a firefighter makes you keenly aware of safety issues, which is important on the MRO as well,” he said.
The Murchison Widefield Array is a radio telescope in the WA desert about 9 hours drive from Perth, Western Australia. It’s the first operational precursor to the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope (ska.gov.au). An innovative design, the MWA has no moving parts and instead relies on sheer computing power to point in the sky and observe the distant (and close by) Universe. This is a short timelapse of the construction of some of the MWA construction, which was assisted by ICRAR students.
More MWA construction videos, including tours and some of the fun the student’s got up to: