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Building a Tiny Radio Telescope: An interview with the creator

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

What do you do when you're bored?

Maybe you pick up your phone, scroll through instagram. If you’re feeling daring you might visit the discovery page— or you might even fire up your laptop and watch some YouTube videos, or binge a show on Netflix. 

Do you know what Gonçalo N does when he’s bored?

He builds a radio-telescope. Runnymede’s own Gonçalo— ‘Gon’ to his friends— built a “tiny radio-telescope” in his room, and posted his creation on , a well known tech-sharing platform. Inspired by a YouTube video, he decided to think up his own design for a portable version of the device, using a lightweight satellite dish, a Raspberry Pi, and nine other components (which you can read about in detail in his post); including his own custom designed 3-D printed parts. 

However, before I go any further, what even is a radio-telescope? Well, as the name suggests, it is a type of telescope which uses radio waves to locate objects in space; specifically, it picks up weak radio light waves, it amplifies them, and brings them into focus so they can be analysed by an observer. The main advantage of using radio, is it can pick up a far wider range of frequencies of light than those in the visible spectrum; so especially in the search of celestial bodies, it proves extremely useful.

If you want to read about the project in full detail click here: ; the creator explains it far better than I ever could, which is exactly why, to finish off this feature, we have brought the tech savvy man himself in for a short interview. 

What got you started in the world of tech? I don’t really know. It was probably when I got my first iPod touch. I jailbroke it to download other types of apps and games, and I guess that’s what set it all off, it just sort of developed from there.

How did you come up with this idea? I was encouraged to start this project because I have a really big interest in coding, but also in space— I was doing some research and I came across the concept of using radio to view things; I looked into it some more and radio just seemed to be the perfect combination of the two. I don’t know I just think radio is cool. It’s kind of weird. 

How long did it take you to build the radio telescope? I was working on it during the IGCSE period. I had the idea for a few months before I started working on it. To be honest, I would work on it whenever I had any spare time, in the weekends, after school… I sometimes wouldn’t do homework in order to work on it— I even thought about it during class… Sorry Mr Sowden… and Miss Ramos… I can’t really put an exact time stamp on it, but it was probably a couple of months.

What was the most difficult challenge you encountered while building this? I wouldn’t say there wasn't a specific part of the project I struggled with. It was a challenge in general to learn all the skills I needed to build it; I was kind of researching everything as I went along. But the thing is that that’s part of the process; you don’t really have to know how to do things, so you just need to figure it out as you go. I learnt a lot.

What’s the next step? Right now I’m working on another radio telescope, a larger and more powerful one with which I’m hoping to get into real radio astronomy, receive signals from our galaxy and make a map of it. I’m using hydrogen line emission; keeping it simple.

What advice would you give to someone interested in tech? I’ve never really thought about it before, but I would say don’t be scared to try new things. If you have an objective, or a specific project the key is to learn how to do it; you won’t always know which path to take but it’s important to be open to the fact you’re going to have to figure it out as you go along.

Do you have a particular role model who inspires you in the world of tech? I don’t think there is one particular person, more like a prototype of one. It’s just the type of person who is constantly innovating and focuses on advancing the world and creating a better place rather than just running a successful business. That is the most inspiring thing to me.

And, finally, where do you see yourself in ten years? I’m not sure yet, but I do want to make sure I’m working on something that I like. I don’t want to end up in a boring office job. I want to do something unconventional that I’m passionate about, probably in the aerospace industry.

It really is remarkable to meet such a passionate, talented and intelligent person and I have no doubt that someday we’ll see Gon on the news and tell our friends how we went to school with that guy, remembering his first radio-telescope with a wistful smile. 

By Beatriz J, Year 12 

Gonçalo N, by Maria V, Year 12

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