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Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain visits university research facility into the world’s largest telescope

Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain will today visit a Glyndŵr University research centre to view its project to develop an optical mirror prototype for the world’s largest telescope.

Researchers based at St Asaph are currently building seven optical mirror prototypes for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), under a €5m (£4.5m) contract from the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO).

The €1 billion E-ELT will be 30 times more sensitive than current optical telescopes and have a diameter of 42m when it is launched, currently estimated to be 2018.

The telescope's "eye" alone will be almost half the length of a football pitch in diameter and will gather 30 times more light than the largest optical telescopes operating today and see five times more detail. On completion it will be the world’s largest optical telescope.

Using its world leading expertise in opto-electronics, Glyndŵr University is constructing the seven prototype hexagonal mirrors each of size 1.5m.

The work is part of a collaboration between Glyndŵr University, University College London and Cranfield University.

Successful delivery of the prototype project will allow the University to compete for the final multi-million Euro contract for the construction of all the telescope’s segmented mirrors.

This would see up to 1148 more hexagonal mirrors being produced in north Wales, securing the position of the region at the heart of the world optics industry – and bringing potentially hundreds of highly skilled and highly paid jobs to north Wales.

At the facility, the Secretary of State will view the 1.5m hexagonal prototype mirror, the polishing equipment and a test tower used to remove any surface variations to within one three-thousandth of a hair’s breath.

Peter Hain said: “It is fantastic to see such world class research being carried out by Glyndŵr University in north Wales. Innovation and involvement in projects such as the Extremely Large Telescope will help to place Wales at the heart of the European and global economy, as well as transforming industry in north Wales itself.”

Professor Michael Scott, Vice-Chancellor of Glyndŵr University, said: “I’m extremely proud that the University’s world leading opto-electronics researchers are playing such a key role in a project of enormous global significance.

“The standard of work, the intricacy and attention to detail in producing the mirrors is quite astounding, but absolutely necessary. The European Extremely Large Telescope will revolutionise astronomy in a way which we haven’t seen for over 400 years.

“At a time when the UK’s economic future remains uncertain, the University has the potential to provide a massive boost to the local and regional economy here in north Wales through the telescope project,” he added.

The E-ELT prototype project is being led by Professor David Walker, researcher professor for Glyndŵr University and UCL, and involves a consortium of companies which are experts within their field, including Qioptiq, TNO, Zeeko and Brashear L3-Communications.

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