Mr Kevin Govender, Office of Astronomy for Development
Dr Wanda Diaz Merced, Office of Astronomy for Development
Mr Thulani Jili, University of Zululand
Dr Vanessa McBride, Office of Astronomy for Development
Astronomy links research and education, cutting-edge technology and cultural heritage in many societies, and is therefore a good framework for investigating how blue-sky science and the skills of such scientists can contribute to socio-economic development. South Africa invests significant funding into astronomy: we run a start-of-the-art optical observatory and are on the cusp of commissioning one of the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world. At the same time we have significant socio-economic challenges in the country: we have high youth unemployment and a society still grappling to consolidate a divisive, painful history. It’s worth discussing how this balance between science and development plays out, and this is something the Office of Astronomy for Development has been exploring on a global scale. This sessions highlights three talking points focussed on inclusion of society in astronomy: inclusion of the visually impaired, geographical inclusion in previously disadvantaged areas, and cultural inclusion in science.
Mr Kevin Govender, South Africa, Office of Astronomy for Development
Mr Govender is the director of the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), an organisation jointly supported by the National Research Foundation and the International Astronomical Union. The OAD aims to use the cultural, technological and scientific aspects of astronomy to effect socioeconomic development. A nuclear physicist by training, Mr Govender led the SALT collateral benefits team for 5 years before being appointed as the founding director of the OAD. His leadership in the field has been recognised internationally through the award of the 2016 Edinburgh medal for Science and Society.
Thulani Jili is a nuclear physicist at the University of Zululand. He obtained his MSc from Clark Atlanta University and is currently a lecturer at the University of Zululand. He is developing an astronomy curriculum for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies. He is leading a project to install a 0.75 m optical telescope at Ongoye Forest Reserve. This project is a collaboration between the University of Zululand and the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the project is supported by the Office of Astronomy for Development.
Dr Diaz Merced is an astrophysicist and computer scientist from Puerto Rico. She obtained her PhD from the University of Glasgow and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Office of Astronomy for Development. Among other things, Dr Diaz Merced runs the AstroSense project — an initiative to develop an inclusive science curriculum for disabled school learners in collaboration with Athlone School for the Blind. Dr Diaz Merced’s work advocates for inclusion of those with different learning modalities in all levels of astronomy education and research.
Dr McBride is an astronomer at the Office of Astronomy for Development. She has a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Southampton and her research centres around populations of evolved, massive stars in binaries. Her experience comprises teaching at an undergraduate level and supervising postgraduate research. Dr McBride works towards bridging the gap between the community of professional astronomers and the development world with a view to helping astronomers apply their skills to problems related to socioeconomic development.