Home » RISA Directorates » Funding » SARChI Research Chair in Astronomy (Southern African Large Telescope – SALT)
Opening Date: 
Thursday, 11 February, 2016
Closing Date: 
Monday, 1 May, 2017


Extended closing date for applications: 01 May 2017

South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI)



The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have approved funding for the awarding of a Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) Research Chair under the SARChI funding instrument.

The Call is being reissued with corrections to the contents of both the Call and the Framework document.

The original Call for the SALT Research Chair closed on 30th June 2016 and six applications were received. These were carefully reviewed by the Standing Astronomy Grants Panel and it was decided not to appoint the Chair from these applicants and call for additional applications. Thus, the Call has now been extended until 1st May 2017 and it is anticipated that any award made, will be at the Tier 1 level.

The South African Research Chairs Initiative was established in 2006 as a strategic intervention of the South African Government to reverse brain drain in the public academic and research sector and to develop local expertise. In particular, the Initiative is aimed at increasing scientific research capacity through the development of human capacity and by stimulating the generation of new knowledge. It is designed to significantly expand the scientific research base of South Africa in a way that supports the implementation of the National Research and Development policies. Since 2006, the Initiative has awarded over 199 Research Chairs.

Investment in research, through the Research Chairs, is intended to improve South Africa’s international research and innovation competitiveness, while responding to social and economic challenges of the country. As such, Research Chairs are awarded in all knowledge domains including science, engineering and technology (SET) and the social sciences and humanities. It is in this context that the SALT Research Chair will be awarded.

SALT the flagship optical astronomy facility in South Africa, is a 10-m class telescope and the largest single telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. It has been in scientific operation since 2011, producing internationally competitive science. SALT has given rise to an explosion of human capacity development in astronomy and its associated technology in South Africa. The high profile enjoyed by SALT not only leveraged additional resources for investment in people (i.e., the National Astrophysics and Space Science Program), but also sparked the interest of young people who realized that astronomy is a fascinating and rewarding career. SALT has become a symbol of national pride. Awareness of SALT has spread to a very large number of South Africans. There has been an increase of about a factor of thirty in the number of visitors to the Sutherland site of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) since the construction of SALT.


SALT is a partnership of nine universities and national research funding agencies from around the world; these partners are:

  • National Research Foundation (RSA)
  • Rutgers University (USA)
  • University of Wisconsin (USA)
  • Copernicus Astronomical Centre, Polish Academy of Science (Poland)
  • UK SALT Consortium (UK)
  • University of North Carolina (UNC)
  • Dartmouth College (USA)
  • Inter-University Centre for Astronomy & Astrophysics (India)
  • American Museum of Natural History (USA)

South Africa has the major share (about 1/3) in SALT; the South African SALT user base has grown with requests for observing time being typically twice that available. Observing programs range from relatively small individual investigations to large key projects involving numerous astronomers from South Africa and the SALT partners.

Multiwavelength Astronomy is the central theme of South Africa’s decadal strategy which has been approved by the Minister of Science & Technology. This allows for the state-of-the-art facilities [SALT, MeerKAT (eventually SKA) and HESS] to collaborate across the electromagnetic spectrum. Three specific astronomical research themes are identified as focus areas: cosmology, galaxy evolution, and stellar and compact object astrophysics.


To strengthen South Africa’s research program in SALT, and to ensure that the usage of the facility is aligned to the National Strategy for Multiwavelength Astronomy, an outstanding research scientist is required to occupy the SALT Research Chair. With 80 per cent of the individual’s time devoted to research, support for post-doctoral fellows and students, and the requirement to supervise an average of 10 post-graduate students each year, the SALT Research Chair is expected to form the core of a scientific team to exploit SALT within a multiwavelength approach meshing the SALT Chair’s research proposal with the interests of one or more of the already established research groups within the country, especially at the hosting institutions.

It is anticipated that the SALT Research Chair will be co-hosted with the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) which is responsible for the management of the operations of SALT. The Research Chair will be expected to divide time between the two hosting institutions.

SAAO offers a research environment in which:

  • It is the national facility for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa;
  • It conducts a vibrant research program of its own;
  • Staff co-supervise post-graduate students in collaboration with other universities;
  • It operates SALT under contract from the SALT Foundation;
  • It operates other optical astronomical facilities at its observing station near Sutherland in the Karoo; and
  • It has extensive engineering and technical capabilities, including electronic and mechanical workshops, and an optical laboratory.

The SALT Research Chair will be awarded in an open and competitive process. The application must include, (i) the motivation by the South African public university to co-host the Research Chair with SAAO; (ii) the extensive CV of an approved candidate for appointment to the Research Chair position; and (iii) a research and activity plan drafted by the nominated candidate.

Each university will be permitted to approve up to a maximum of three candidates, who must submit a separate full proposal.  The application must be authored by the nominated candidate in consultation with the university’s Deputy Vice Chancellor responsible for research. The Standing Astronomy Grants Panel will assess applications and the Panel will recommend an award for approval by the NRF.

This assessment will focus on the motivation by the university to host the Research Chair, the nomination of the candidate for appointment to the Research Chair position, and a research and activity plan. The application should thus give details on:

  1. The readiness and commitment of the institution to provide an enabling environment to ensure the success of the Research Chair;
  2. Strengths, capabilities, strategic environment and competencies of the hosting university;
  3. The alignment of the proposed Research Chair with the proposed thematic areas and the university research strategy;
  4. The potential of the proposed Research Chair to enhance the international research and/or innovation competitiveness within the discipline;
  5. The potential of the Research Chair to impact on social and/or economic development of the country;
  6. The research focus of the Research Chair;
  7. A proposed plan on how the Research Chair will fulfil SARChI objectives, including the strategic considerations mentioned in the university proposal and how it will deliver on the university research strategy;
  8. Specific objectives, outputs and outcomes for the five-year period; and
  9. How the university will collaborate with SAAO.

More information on selection criteria is given in the enclosed SARChI Framework and Guide for Applications dated February 2017.  The applicants must register and complete their full updated curriculum vitae (CV) on the NRF Online Submission System (https://nrfsubmission.nrf.ac.za/nrfmkii/) as it constitutes part of the application.   In principle the applicant must have been approved to apply for the Research Chair, by the university.

As the award of the SALT Research Chair will be made to the host university, the application for the SALT Research Chair must be submitted by the applicant to the university’s Designated Authority (DA) for endorsement. The submission must be made by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor responsible for research at the university and supported by the Managing Director of SAAO. Each university must submit the following documentation:

  • University Research Strategy;
  • Programme and Qualification Mix approved by the Department of Higher Education and Training;
  • Letter of support from the Managing Director of SAAO;
  • Details of current academic and research staff, in the specific discipline; and
  • Statistics on research outputs and postgraduate students trained and graduated for the period 2012 to 2016, in the specific discipline.

Each university may submit a maximum of three applications for this Research Chair. Applications should be submitted not later than 1 May 2017, on the NRF Online Submission System (https://nrfsubmission.nrf.ac.za/nrfmkii/), by the DVC responsible for Research and validated by the relevant Designated Authority (DA). Only submissions that provide all the requested information will be eligible and considered for review.  

No commitment should be given to the candidate(s) before the NRF has officially informed the University of the Award by means of an award letter.

Research Chair Call activities and timelines                                                                                                 

(Application to host the Research Chair by the university and Awarding of the Research Chair and approval of the nominated candidate and full proposal)

  • Communication to the University Deputy Vice-Chancellor/ Director of Research: 3 March 2017
  • Call opens for application: 3 March 2017
  • Call closes for applications: 1 May 2017
  • Panel review meetings: 8 June 2017
  • Review outcome letter sent to Deputy Vice-Chancellors: 30 June 2017
  • Feedback letter sent to Deputy Vice-Chancellors: 7 July 2017

NRF contact persons
Dr Thabile Sokupa
Director: Research Chairs and Centres of Excellence
Phone: 012 481 4130

Mr Yunus Manjoo
Director: Astronomy Business Systems and Analysis
Phone: 012 481 4210
E-mail: yunus@nrf.ac.za