Friday, 02 August 2019 14:46

Swinburne Uni uses AI to detect fast radio bursts in real-time

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FRB capture Molongo FRB capture Molongo

A Swinburne University PhD student has built an automated system that uses artificial intelligence (AI), which the university says revolutionises the ability to detect and capture fast radio bursts (FRBs) in real-time.

Wael Farah, a fourth year PhD student, developed the FRB detection system and is the first person to discover FRBs in real-time with a fully automated, machine learning system.

The Melbourne-based university says Wael Farah’s system has already identified five bursts – including one of the most energetic ever detected, as well as the broadest.

FRBs are mysterious and powerful flashes of radio waves from space, thought to originate billions of light years from the Earth. They last for only a few milliseconds (a thousandth of a second) and their cause is one of astronomy’s biggest puzzles.

Farah’s results have been published in the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

He trained the on-site computer at the Molonglo Radio Observatory near Canberra to recognise the signs and signatures of FRBs, and trigger an immediate capture of the finest details seen to date.

Farah says his interest in FRBs comes from the fact they can potentially be used to study matter around and between galaxies that is otherwise almost impossible to see.

“It is fascinating to discover that a signal that travelled halfway through the universe, reaching our telescope after a journey of a few billion years, exhibits complex structure, like peaks separated by less than a millisecond,” he says.

Molonglo project scientist, Dr Chris Flynn says: “Wael has used machine learning on our high-performance computing cluster to detect and save FRBs from amongst millions of other radio events, such as mobile phones, lightning storms, and signals from the Sun and from pulsars.”

Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and project leader, Professor Matthew Bailes says: “Molonglo’s real-time detection system allows us to fully exploit its high time and frequency resolution and probe FRB properties that were previously unobtainable.”

The FRBs were found as part of the UTMOST FRB search program - a joint collaboration between Swinburne and the University of Sydney, which owns the Molonglo telescope.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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