Last year, China flicked the switch on the world’s largest radio telescope, aimed at one day unraveling the mysteries of the origin of the universe and discovering extraterrestrial life. There’s only one problem: they don’t have anyone to run the thing.
China is currently searching for a foreign astronomer to act as chief scientist at its FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) facility, offering a salary of more than $1.2 million and numerous subsidies, along with a prestigious title and an incredibly exciting opportunity which could result in winning a Nobel Prize. However, so far, they’ve had no takers.
Located in the remote mountains of Guizhou province, the 1.2 billion yuan FAST (“China’s eye of heaven”) was completed last July and officially went into operation two months later. To mark that historic occasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to scientists, engineers and workers involved with the project, writing that the colossal telescope will help China to make “major breakthroughs at the frontiers of science” and push it towards becoming a global science power.
However, the Chinese Academy of Sciences quickly determined that there were no Chinese astronomers with enough experience to actually run the massive alien finder, causing them to start a job search abroad which so far has been unsuccessful. The South China Morning Post spoke with Wang Tinggui, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei involved in the hiring process, who explained that the problem might be the considerable challenges of the job:
The candidate must have at least 20 years’ previous experience. He or she must have taken a leading role in large-scale radio telescope project and have plenty of managerial experience as well as holding a professorship – or equally senior position – in a world-leading research institute or university.
“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, who was director of the academy’s laboratory of galaxy cosmology but is not involved in Fast’s management.
Foreign astronomers of non-Chinese origin may face additional difficulties, he added. Some Western researchers have plenty of experience running giant telescopes, but their expertise might not work in China due to language barriers and cultural difference. Guanxi, or interpersonal relationships, could affect decisions such as the scheduling of observation slots.
“The fight to decide who gets observation time and who doesn’t can turn the job into a walk on thin ice,” Wang said.
The challenging nature of the work might require the chief operator to work long and irregular hours and give up his or her own research. The job will also involve living and working in one of China’s least developed areas, which might cause discomfort and inconvenience to their family.
“It is not a job for a scientist. It’s for a superhero,” Wang said.
Any of you guys interested?
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat