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Education Minister meets stars of world’s largest telescope project at Glyndŵr University St Asaph

Minister visit with pic

6 December 2012

Minister for Education and Skills Leighton Andrews will today (Thursday 6th December 2012) meet engineers at Glyndŵr University St Asaph who are working on a €5m project aiming to help mankind see to within a millisecond of the ‘Big Bang’.

A team of 15 engineers at Glyndŵr University St Asaph, home to the UK’s National Facility for Ultra Precision Surfaces, are polishing seven prototype mirrors for the European Southern Observatory’s European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). At 39m, the completed telescope will be the largest optical and nera-infrared telescope in the world and will be built in Cerro Armazones in Chile in 2023.

Glyndŵr University’s team has been responsible for a step change in technology which overcomes the disadvantages of traditional polishing methods in the mass production of specialised optical mirrors and lenses.  The precision needed on the 39m diameter mirrors is the equivalent of 4mm  variation over the distance between London and New York. 

The finished telescope will require 931  mirrors including one set of 133 spare mirrors and Mr. Andrews will hear from Vice Chancellor Professor Michael Scott how Glyndŵr University is determined to quote to bring the manufacturing of the mirrors to north-east Wales. 

The project could create over 60 jobs and contribute €150m to the local economy. According to the latest available figures, the Welsh Optoelectronics sector has sales revenue of nearly £1 billion and employs more than 5,000 people and despite the current global recession, the take up of opto-electronic and photonic technologies is set to grow rapidly.

The E-ELT will tackle the biggest scientific challenges of our time, and aim for a number of notable firsts, including tracking down Earth-like planets around other stars in the "habitable zones" where life could exist — one of the Holy Grails of modern observational astronomy. It will also perform "stellar archaeology" in nearby galaxies, as well as make fundamental contributions to cosmology by measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies and probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

Education and Skills Minister Leighton Andrews said: “Excellence in science and its exploitation for the benefit of Wales as a whole is central to our ambitions set down in our Programme for Government. It’s great to see pioneering research and development work in such a fascinating area of science being undertaken at Glyndŵr University.”

Glyndŵr University works with a wide range of university partners including Cambridge University, Bauman Moscow State Technical University and Arizona University; commercial partners including Sharp, Lytkaririno Optical Glass Manufacturer, Tata Steel and the world’s largest provider of PCs and laptops and FE institutions Deeside College and Yale College.

Professor Michael Scott, Vice-Chancellor of Glyndŵr University said: “Glyndŵr University is regarded worldwide as a leading player in the optoelectronics sector and our work on the E-ELT project evidences that. Our commitment as ever is to the economic prosperity of north-east Wales and our goal is to turn north-east Wales into the UK’s hub for this growing industry.

“From our close working relationships with local FE colleges right through to the international relationships being fostered in St. Asaph, we’re determined to widen access and create opportunities for local people to excel on a global stage.”

In addition, the Minister will visit the OpTIC Incubation Centre which provides business support and technical facilities to help the birth and growth of high technology enterprises. The centre supplement these with its own research work, a technology spin-out service and educational courses, and has so far directly or indirectly created more than 800 high tech jobs in North Wales.

Mr. Andrews will also meet representatives from the Centre for Solar Energy Research (CSER), which is carrying out both fundamental research on photovoltaic (PV) materials and applied research on industrial processes for PV manufacture and exploitation. The aim is that solar PV will eventually be through thin films which can be stuck to windows as opposed to today’s bulky panels.

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