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Astronomer Michael Garrett wins IBM Faculty Award

Amsterdam, September 17th 2013 – IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announces that prof.dr. Michael Garrett, director of research institute ASTRON and professor at Leiden University, has received the IBM 2013 Big Data and Analytics Faculty Award. This annual award aims to enhance scientific research and the co-operation between IBM and top researchers. Garrett has been acknowledged for his reseach at Leiden University around algorithms that can be used to discover extraterrestrial intelligence.

Published by the editorial team, 17 September 2013

Michael Garrett is the General & Scientific Director of ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, which belongs to the world top in radio astronomy. In co-operation with various partners, this NWO institute has developed the largest radio telescope in the world: the LOFAR network, which is headquartered in the northern part of the Netherlands and has antennas located in many European countries. ASTRON also plays an important role in the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a next generation radio telescope, which will be built in South Africa and Australia.

These telescopes produce enormous data streams which provide unique knowledge about the origins of the universe. By analysing these data, it is also possible to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). This is done by highly sensitive radio telescopes that can search for radio signals which have characteristics showing they could be created by extraterrestrial life.

Garrett is a professor at Leiden University. Their astronomy research group, Leiden Observatory, is the largest research institute in the Netherlands where such groundbreaking studies such as in the area of SETI are being undertaken. The algorithms developed by Garrett for this SETI project, including generic anomaly detection, statistical analysis and machine learning techniques, would also be applicable to other fields outside of astronomy.

ASTRON and IBM Research in Zurich are collaborating for several years in the international research project DOME, in which extremely fast and energy efficient exascale computing systems are being developed in order to process enormous data streams, such as for the SKA.

‘The SETI research project is the ultimate generator of Big Data, partly because we have no idea yet what will be the most fundamental characteristics of radio signals generated by extraterrestrials,’ said Michael Garrett, director at ASTRON. ‘Thanks to our co-operation with IBM to enable exascale computing, astronomers can now directly benefit from the large steps that are being made in the commercial application of big data.’

‘Research projects such as SETI and DOME are the most data-intensive scientific projects ever planned,’ said Harry van Dorenmalen, Chairman IBM Europe. ‘This is all about an extreme form of Big Data Analytics which also has implications in areas far beyond radio astronomy. The research findings will contribute to the development of cognitive systems that can be applied in various industries. Michael Garrett’s team delivers a significant contribution to this highly innovative research.’

The IBM Faculty Awards support research and education in focus areas that are fundamental to innovation in the 21st century and strategic to IBM´s core business, such as big data and analytics. Garrett aims to dedicate the 20,000 Euro grant associated with the award to further enhance his research.




prof. dr. Michael Garrett, General and Scientific director of ASTRON and professor at Leiden University.


Prof.dr. M.A. Garrett, Algemeen en Wetenschappelijk directeur, ASTRON
Telefoon: +31 (0)521 595 119, email:

Universiteit Leiden:
Prof.dr. H.J.A. Röttgering, Wetenschappelijk Directeur van de Leidse Sterrewacht
Telefoon: +31 (0)71 527 5851 email:

Heleen Kamerman, External Relations Benelux, IBM
Telefoon: +31 (0)20 513 6848, email:

For more information about ASTRON:
For more information about Leiden Observatory:
For more information about IBM:



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