This article is more than 1 year old

China can't find anyone smart enough to run its whizzbang $180m 1,640ft radio telescope

'We need a superhero,' sighs prof – and anyone can apply

There aren't many astronomy jobs that pay very well – but the Chinese authorities are offering just that for the director of scientific operation for its new Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope.

At 500m (1,640ft) across, FAST became the world's largest filled-aperture radio telescope when construction finished last year.

While the initial building is complete and nearly 10,000 people have been moved away from the instrument to cut down on polluting it with electromagnetic signals, the telescope still needs to be calibrated and fine-tuned. Here's a news report about the boffinry beast:

Youtube Video

Unfortunately, finding a director with the necessary skills to do the job of managing and running the instrument has proven problematic. So a foreigner is now being sought to bring their experience to bear on the project.

"The post is currently open to scientists working outside China only," a human resources official at the Chinese Academy of Sciences told the South China Morning Post. "Candidates can be of any nationality, any race."

It's a lucrative role at the 1.2bn yuan (US$178m, £110m) facility. In addition to a funding research award of 8m yuan (US$1.2m, £914k), the director will also receive a very substantial salary, free accommodation (albeit in a rather remote part of the country) and other subsidies. In return they'll be expected to ensure that the project runs smoothly.

It's a tough job, managing a facility that complex and handling the competing claims for time on the 'scope from scientists. The Academy of Sciences is asking for a professor with at least 20 years' experience in radio astronomy, as well as management training.

"These requirements are very high. It puts most astronomers out of the race. I may be able to count those qualified with my fingers," said Wang Tinggui, professor of astrophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China. "It is not a job for a scientist. It's for a superhero."

However, it also gives the person a chance to make history. FAST dwarfs lesser telescopes by more than a factor of two. It will be used to explore the universe for alien life, examine pulsars, and pick up the faintest radio emissions the universe has to offer. ®

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