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Bandura’s work on detection of radio bursts detailed in study published by ‘Nature’

A portrait of Kevin Bandura

Kevin Bandura, assistant professor of computer science and electrical engineering (WVU Photo/Paige Nesbit)

In 2012, Kevin Bandura, an assistant professor in the Lane Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering at West Virginia University, began working on the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, a telescope project that was designed to map the universe by studying dark energy and observing hydrogen gas in distant galaxies that were strongly affected by it.

Story by Adrianne Uphold, Graduate Assistant 
Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

Most recently, CHIME has discovered a fast radio burst (FRB) coming from within our own galaxy. While it’s unclear what is causing these radio bursts, Bandura believes that discovering these millisecond-duration bursts of radio waves is key to gaining a better understanding of our universe.

“Despite not knowing what is causing the FRBs, we can learn more about the universe through them,” Bandura said. “In the grand scheme of things, this burst wasn’t that far from us.”

Bandura contributed to a study recently published in Nature, which showed that some of these bright radio bursts are coming from a galactic magnetar, a neutron star 32,000 light-years from Earth that is believed to have an extremely strong magnetic field.   

Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the top peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions.

On April 28, 2020 the CHIME team detected intense radio bursts emanating from the nearby magnetar in the Milky Way. The radio bursts were the first ever recorded within our Milky Way galaxy and shows that magnetars can produce these bursts, which were only previously seen in other galaxies. The study details the intensity of the radio bursts was three thousand times greater than any magnetar measured so far.

Bandura explained that once these radio bursts reach our view, we are directly looking into the past of the Universe.

“Light can only travel so fast,” Bandura said. “Because of how large the universe is, light takes thousands of years to reach us. This allows us to look directly into the past and further help us understand what is going on out there.”

The CHIME telescope, located in the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, British Columbia, is comprised of four cylindrical reflectors, 256 dual-polarized antennas for data collection and an F-Engine and X-Engine for data processing. Bandura assisted in the development of the F-Engine, which digitally processes signals from space into frequencies that can be processed into digital maps of the universe.

“This process has allowed us to understand the universe in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without CHIME,” Bandura said.

Pranav Sanghavi, a graduate research assistant that has been working alongside Bandura, said that the researchers can attribute FRBs as probes of the universe. 

“The processes leading to the creation of FRBs has been an elusive mystery until this detection,” Sanghavi said. “With an explicit knowledge of the source of the signals, we can attribute more strength to FRBs as probes of the universe. An informed idea of where they may originate can also inform us on future instrument design and optimize surveys to search for them, which is very exciting for a sub-field of study that is riding on the momentum it has gained in the past decade.” 

Bandura will continue working with CHIME to further understand the mysteries of the universe.

This study was written by the CHIME/FRB collaboration, a project co-led by the University of British Columbia, McGill University, University of Toronto, and the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory with collaborating institutions across North America.



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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