Project Title

Virtualized radio-VLBI digital media


Ue-Li Pen, University of Toronto

Industry partner

Thoth Technology Inc.

Supported by

SOSCIP, IBM Canada Ltd., OCE, FedDev, NSERC, CFI, Province of Ontario

Digital Media

A UofT professor and his team are pondering our precise place in the universe. Prof. Ue-Li Pen, also director of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, is developing a new initiative to commercialize radio signal processing technology.

“We work with Thoth Technology to collect radio data from Canadian telescopes such as the Algonquin Radio Observatory. The data gets analyzed by the Blue Gene/Q (BGQ) which opens up new tools to achieve and unprecedented precision of telescopic measurements.

“We are pushing the frontier of the ability to localize things more precisely than ever before,” he explained.

The project was part of the Smart Computing R&D Challenge, a $7.5 million initiative led by OCE, SOSCIP and NSERC, to provide academic and industry researchers with access to advanced computing tools.

The project aims to develop new very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) tools that will implement and optimize multi-telescope correlation and analysis software. One of the most accurate techniques for measuring the earth’s orientation in space, it uses two or more telescopes widely separated across the earth to receive and record radio signals.

The goal is to develop the very first real-time web-based interface that will enable virtual visual and audio access to a radio telescope and the data that VLBI can provide to researchers, space agencies and other government departments. 

These tools will enable Thoth Technology Inc., a Canadian space company that specializes in space application services, the potential to deliver commercial turnkey VLBI to domestic and international customers.

The research is conducted at the Algonquin Radio Observatory, the largest radio telescope in Canada with a 46-meter aperture, and one of the largest in the world. It was the first telescope to demonstrate VLBI, together with the John A. Galt 26-m telescope in Penticton, B.C., an achievement recognized by an IEEE milestone.

The team includes graduate and under­graduate students: Ryan Mckiven, Robert Main, Daniel Baker, Dana Simard, Victor Chan and SOSCIP-TalentEdge Fellow John Antoniadis.

PhD student Dana Simard is using the BGQ to make predictions of the scattering of pulsars, very precise neutron stars which are useful for keeping time and confirming the existence of gravitational radiation. Two Nobel prizes have been awarded for pulsar research.

“If we can use the analytics to predict the scattering we can better study and understand the interstellar medium and use the galaxy as a giant cosmic telescope,” she explained.

“What used to take us a thousand days can now be achieved in a day,” agreed Prof. Pen.