IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Digital Transformation of Science Communities: The Case of the Astronomy Community

This research project explores how research practices and ways of knowing change in the astronomy community as new digital research infrastructure facilities are set up.

This project runs from February 2023 to October 2024 and is funded by UCL.


Project lead



Astronomers are excited about the new possibilities offered by the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), a new Research Infrastructure (RI) that provides services and resources to the astronomy community and beyond. The observatory has a global footprint and consists of the SKAO Global Headquarters in the UK, the SKAO’s two telescopes at radio-quiet sites in South Africa and Australia, and associated facilities to support the operations of the telescopes. The international network of SKA Regional Centres (SRCNet) will be made up of SRCs (nodes) distributed around the world in SKA Member countries and they will be the only route for scientific users to access and analyse SKA data. 

These facilities will change the work of radio astronomers, influencing how data is gathered, used and shared to generate new knowledge about the Universe. However, the challenges of implementing exascale digital research computing (DRI) facilities extend beyond technical issues and includes cultural and social aspects that need to be recognised and further examined – i.e., how scientists respond to changes in their context (identity negotiation) and how non-human entities (e.g., cutting-edge supercomputers) mobilise their agency and produce norms, knowledges and visions (sociotechnical imaginaries). By recognising these challenges, social science can contribute to expanding our understanding of these interactions and, at the same time, helping science communities adopt DRIs in various ways.


This study brings together sociology, educational research and digital research infrastructure expertise and explores how the astronomy community’s work and research practices are evolving as the SKA telescopes and UK SKA Regional Centre (UKSRC) facilities are being developed. In this investigation, we combine two approaches using a 'Co-laborative ethnography' perspective (Niewöhner 2016; 2019; Bieler et al. 2021): a digital ethnography exploration (online interviews, online participant observation, etc.) of the ways astronomers negotiate their identity as their work changes is used as a baseline to explore ways to support these forms of identity negotiation through co-design and professional development. 



  • UCL Advanced Research Computing, University College London, UK. ‘Digital Transformation of Science Communities’. 7 February 2024. Presentation by  Allison Littlejohn.