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IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholders’ Workshop – Day 1 December 13, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 13, 2011

The first day was an opportunity for stakeholders to provide quick descriptions of their activities and how they wish to contribute to OAD or make use of OAD. Each person was to have five minutes and two slides. All of the presentations were interesting. What I found informative was the reports from the various divisions within the International Astronomical Union: IAU Commission 46: Education and Building Capacity and IAU Commission 55: Communicating Astronomy with the Public. Both of these have several working groups doing work relevant to OAD. Where the American Astronomical Society is very active regarding the direct needs of research astronomers, these two IAU commissions have been far more active socially beyond the needs of astronomers.

There were several groups focused specifically in Africa: AIMS-Next Einstein, the African Astronomical Society, South African Astronomical Observatory, and there was an artist group doing work in the town closest to the Observatory in Sutherland, South Africa.

I was given two minutes to represent the National Society of Black Physicists. I shared the following:

  • 1. The National Society of Black Physicists is a global professional society based in the United States.

    2. We are active participants in the African Astronomical Society.

    3. We are interested in international scientific collaborations.

    4. We are interested in international exchanges.

    5. We are exploring forming a regional node in the United States. We aren’t the only ones there is also Steward Observatory and the Vatican Observatory.

    6. We have a long-term investment in the development of astronomy in Africa.

    7. We offer our services to help OAD anyway we can.

  • There are three established task forces:

    1. Astronomy for Universities and Research

    2. Astronomy for Children and Schools

    3. Astronomy for the Public

    Today we will be meeting within these task force to brainstorm, keeping in mind the OAD mission: To help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realize its scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society. OAD Director Kevin Govender reminds us that astronomy is not the silver bullet to solve all the problems fo the world. We are also to consider the economic impact of our activities.

    The Global Office of Astronomy for Development December 10, 2011

    Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

    by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
    Friday December 9, 2011

    The International Astronomical Union has opened the Global Office of Astronomy for Development in Cape Town, South Africa. The OAD was officially inaugurated in April 2011. The new office is housed in a refurbished building on the grounds of the South African Astronomical Observatory headquarters. It is part of the thriving astronomy community in South Africa.

    SAAO grounds

    My trip to South Africa has three purposes:

    1) To represent the National Society of Black Physicists at the first OAD stakeholders workshop, December 11 – 14, 2011. See http://www.astronomyfordevelopment.org/index.php/oadevents/oadworkshop.

    2) To plan the next African Cultural Astronomy conference for 2014 in Cape Town.

    3) To discuss the findings of my research on the South African National Astrophysics and Space Sciences Programme (NASSP) with NASSP instructors and administrators.

    Today, my focus is on the workshop. What is exciting is that the workshop is structured in an unique way that includes participant input as to what talks they want to hear on the last day! People have submitted possible talks for consideration. Given my absorption with finishing my book on NASSP, I did not submit a potential talk topic.

    My role in the OAD workshop is multifold: Working with Astronomy without Borders, Steward Observatory, and the National Society of Black Physicists, we first considered hosting the OAD in the United States, but ultimately chose to support the South Africa bid, which they won. However, there is the possibility of a USA OAD node, i.e. there is a chance of an OAD satellite office in the United States. Though I haven’t been part of any formal discussions this last year, I know that there is still some interest from US astronomers to have a local office. I think an office in the USA would give greater access to USA based funding organizations that might be interested in financially supporting OAD projects.

    More about OAD: Though based in South Africa, it is a global effort.

    GOAD Office Plaque

    OAD came out of one of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) projects. There are many IYA2009 people involved in OAD and they will be attending the workshop. Through my IYA2009 involvement I know many of them.

    From the OAD website:

    “The mission of the OAD is to help further the use of astronomy as a tool for development by mobilizing the human and financial resources necessary in order to realize the field’s scientific, technological and cultural benefits to society.”

    OAD specifically addresses for the first time how astronomy positively impacts society economically as well as intellectually. Astronomers often think about and foster connections to K12 education and the public, but rarely think about how astronomy can stimulate local economies. OAD seeks to foster projects that encourage local economies and, more broadly, stimulate development. Though there is a historic connection between astronomy and economic development, it has not been the goal of or of great interest to astronomers. Thus, OAD marks a major change in the way astronomers think about themselves, what they do, and their impact on society.

    I’m looking forward to this workshop!

    OAD office space

    Why does Africa need the Square Kilometre Array? August 16, 2011

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    2009 Address by Dr Adrian Tiplady, Manager, Site Characterization, SKA Africa Project Office

    Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman

    Why does Africa need the Square Kilometre Array? It is a question often posed by a public that is cognisant of the many high priorities that South Africa, and Africa as a whole, faces. We are currently engaged in an international race, competing to host a multi‐billion dollar, cutting edge astronomical facility that, in my view, may very well be mankind’s last great astronomical adventure still bound on earth. Do we, as South Africans, have the skills and expertise to compete within the world’s scientific community, to produce scientists and engineers of the highest calibre that will compete in the global knowledge economy? (answer at the end)

    Today, during the International Year of Astronomy, the world faces economic recession and a financial crisis like never before. Uncertainties in food, water and energy supply loom, whilst climate change has become an ever present maxim in the implementation of global policies. Africa suffers from the unrelenting scourge of preventable diseases such as Aids and malaria. Why, then, has South Africa, and Africa, announced to the international community that “we have the desire to become the international hub for astronomy”?

    In the US, President Barak Obama has committed to significantly increasing investment into science, as one of the most important parts of stimulating the economy. In his address to the US National Academy of Science, President Obama said:

    “At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more important for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than ever before”.

    He went on to say:

    “The pursuit of discovery half a century ago fueled our prosperity … in the half century that followed. The commitment I am making today will fuel our success for another fifty years. That’s how we will ensure that our children and their children will look back on this generation’s work as that which defined the progress and delivered the prosperity of the 21st century. …. The fact is that an investigation into a particular physical, chemical or biological process may not pay off for a year or two, or a decade, or not at all. But when it does, the rewards are often broadly shared……..And that’s why …… the public sector must invest in this kind of research – because while the risks may be large, so are the rewards for our economy and our society. ….. It was basic research in … the photoelectric effect that would one day lead to solar panels. It was basic research in physics that would eventually produce the CAT scan. The calculations of today’s GPS satellites are based on the equations that Einstein put on paper more than a century ago”.

    Even with the wealth disparity between the USA and South Africa, science and technology on the African continent is still seen as key to our ability to solve the problems of development that will determine the future of Africa and South Africa. Investment in mega‐science facilities has never been as important as it is today, where the brain drain, ill equipped school leavers and the lack of funding for higher education facilities to pursue areas of basic research have a directly detrimental effect on our ability to participate in the global knowledge economy, where we become innovators as opposed to consumers of technology.. And to retain these people, to stem the flow of skilled people leaving these shores, we need to provide flagship projects, such as those in astronomy that places cutting edge development in a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines at its core competency.

    In 2003, the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation decided to enter into a race with four competing countries to host the world’s largest radio telescope. The Square Kilometre Array, as it is known, began as an international project in 1991, and currently involves 55 institutions across 19 countries. At a capital cost of more than $2 billion USD, the international consortium aims to have the SKA up and running by 2022, spending a further $150 million USD per year for the next 50 years in running costs. Much of this expenditure will be spent in the host country. The instrument is projected to be between 50 and 100 times more powerful than any radio astronomy facility ever built, an array of some 4,500 radio telescopes distributed over an area 3,000 km in extent. Combining the signals from each of these telescopes using a supercomputer 100 times more powerful than anything that exists today will create a virtual telescope, spanning 3000km in diameter, with a total collecting area of 1 square kilometre ‐ the equivalent of over 1,000,000 DSTV satellite dishes. This will result in an instrument with unparalleled sensitivity and resolution.

    In this International Year of Astronomy, we believe we understand just 4% of all the matter and energy in the universe. The world’s astronomical community are striving to answer some of the great fundamental questions that face the world’s scientific community, and also raise new questions ‐ not just in astronomy but indeed in fundamental physics. Instruments such as the recently launched Herschel and Planck telescopes are being put into orbit 1.5 million km away from earth, collecting the kind of data that is possible now because of technological innovations in the last 10 years. Data that could help us answer the very mysteries of the universe. Plans are afoot to venture outside of the earth, and even place telescopes onto the dark side of the moon.

    The SKA is part of this frontier of new instruments. Some of the many questions to be answered are :

    What is the nature of dark energy – a mysterious force that acts in opposition to gravity on very large distances, repelling massive objects from each other with ever increasing force?

    How did the universe and all that is contained within it evolve – radio signals have been travelling through the universe for 13 billion years, and we are only receiving some of them today as we take “pictures” of the big bang and the first stars and galaxies. We will be able to make snapshots of the universe through time.

    Mankind has long striven to answer the question of whether there is life on other planets? The detection of biomolecules, or even artificial radio transmissions, may answer this. These questions and more, however, probably do not approach the rich rewards that will come from not what we plan to investigate, but rather what we haven’t planned for. Radio telescopes today are not remembered for what they were built, but instead for what they serendipitously discovered.

    When South Africa, with a rather small human capital base in radio astronomy at the time, submitted its bid in 2005, we took the international community by surprise. Any degree of afro‐pessimism was dismissed, however, when South Africa was shortlisted along with radio astronomy international heavyweight ‐ Australia. Why? Because we have something that no amount of financial investment could ever buy. We have one of the best locations in the world to build and operate astronomical facilities, and a very committed Department of Science and Technology and National Treasury.

    The Southern African Large Telescope in Sutherland has some of the darkest skies in the world – and the proposed SKA core site, just 80km northwest of the town of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, has one of the best radio frequency environments in the world, free from a majority of the interfering radio signals that plague most of the world’s radio astronomy facilities. Furthermore, because of our geographic location on the planet, the very best astronomical sources to observe pass right overhead – we literally have the best window on the planet out of which to gaze upon the universe, and explore the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy.

    Protection of this site is of the utmost importance – not only to protect South Africa’s geographical advantage, but to preserve the site for the world’s astronomical community. To meet this requirement, the Department of Science and Technology has promulgated the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act, which allows for the establishment of an astronomy reserve in the Northern Cape Province. A reserve in which astronomy facilities are protected from sources of optical and radio interference.

    The Australian Minister of Science has described winning the SKA bid as being like winning the Olympic site bid every day for 50 years. If the right to host the SKA were to be awarded to South Africa, and its 7 African partner countries, we would become a premier centre for research in astronomy and fundamental physics – going hand in hand with cutting edge development in the engineering technologies that co‐exist with this field of research.

    As many of the technologies do not yet exist, to build the SKA will require a significant international effort in the fields of information and communication technology, supercomputing, mechanical, radio frequency, software and electronic engineering, physics, mathematics and, of course, astronomy. All fields that provide a basis for a strong knowledge economy. In 2004 the DST, together with the NRF, decided that simply competing to host the SKA would not meet the aims of building a knowledge economy – what was needed was a flagship project that would provide an opportunity to increase the skills base of our young scientists and engineers. We needed to participate in the technology development for the SKA, to grow a substantial base of scientists and engineers in South Africa that would be able to use, operate and maintain the SKA. And so was born the Karoo Array Telescope – an SKA science and technology pathfinder.

    MeerKAT, as it is now known, will be the first radio interferometer built for astronomical purposes in South Africa. It will consist of 80 dishes, and once completed in 2013 will be one of the world’s premier radio astronomy facilities that will have not only South Africa scientists, but the world’s astronomical community, clamouring to use – 9 years before the SKA is scheduled to be commissioned.

    Over the course of the last 5 years, we have built up a team of some 60 young scientists and engineers who are working on the technologies and algorithms required for the MeerKAT, which will in turn test the technologies for the SKA. Many of these people would have most probably left these shores already, looking for more exciting projects to work on in Silicon Valley, or other technology clusters. However, the lure and attraction of such a project as MeerKAT, and the larger SKA, has kept them here. Although none had any radio astronomy training, the team has quickly become an international leader in the development of technologies for radio astronomy facilities, which in fact are the generic technologies upon which the digital age depends, and are highly likely over many years to generate spin‐off technologies, innovations and patents. They have managed to do this through international collaboration with institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Caltech, Cornell and Berkeley, as well as the national radio astronomy observatories in the USA, India, Italy and The Netherlands. We are also working closely with several South African universities and companies.

    Amongst other things, the team has developed the first every radio telescope made from composite materials, and is playing a leading role in the international development of digital hardware for real time data processing. The first 7 MeerKAT dishes are being constructed as I speak.

    In a recent editorial in the local WattNow magazine, Paddy Hartdegen says the following of the SKA and MeerKAT projects : “In my view, gee whiz projects such as the SKA and the MeerKAT go a long way to encouraging youngsters to take science and engineering disciplines more seriously. And if there is some thrill attached to science, astronomy or mathematics, then the students will apply themselves more diligently at primary and secondary schools, to ensure that they will have the necessary qualification to enter a university”. He goes on to say “I believe that projects such as the SKA can actually foster the sort of compelling interest that is reserved for sports stars and pop musicians“

    So, is Paddy Hartdegen right? Do the SKA and MeerKAT projects have the qualities that will attract students into science, engineering and technology? In 2005, we initiated a Youth into Science and Engineering program, to rapidly grow the human capital base in astronomy and engineering in South Africa. To date, we have awarded 142 post‐doctoral fellowships, PhD, masters degree, honours degree and undergraduate degree bursaries. We are currently awarding approximately 45 bursaries per year. We are assisting universities to increase their astronomy research capacity, and to develop additional capacity to supervise students through international supervisory programs. The question is, can these students stand on their own two feet within the international astronomical community?

    For the last 3 years, we have held a post‐graduate student conference for our bursary holders, where each student presents the results of his or her research. We invite a number of international experts to attend. To date, none have declined the invitation – not due to the opportunity for a holiday in Cape Town, but instead because of the astounding reputation this conference has grown internationally due to the quality of students and research. Professor Steve Rawlings, Head of Astrophysics at Oxford University, said on his departure “I am awfully impressed by what I have seen at this conference and how things have exploded on the science and engineering side on such a short timescale. South Africa is doing all the right things for the SKA”.

    So, what has the establishment of a flagship project resulted in? People. Skilled people. The new measure of financial prosperity. Skilled people who are helping to change South Africa’s reputation as a place of high technology investment, research and development. These students, who cross the race and gender lines, may never stay within the field. However, they will carry the skills they have learnt into new areas, and their impact will be felt through a variety of socio‐economic lines.

    The SKA, and the MeerKAT, has matured into a project of which we, as the South African scientific community, can be proud. It is a project that should capture the South African public’s imagination, young and old alike.

    Do we, as South Africans, have the skills and expertise to compete within the world’s scientific community, to produce scientists and engineers of the highest calibre that will compete in the global knowledge economy?

    We have in the past, and we will continue to do so. The answer, therefore, is a resounding yes.

    US SKA Consortium votes to dissolve itself in light of decadal survey and budget realities June 15, 2011

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    At its meeting in Arlington, VA on June 7, the US Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Consortium voted to dissolve itself as of December 31, 2011.  The consortium consists of US universities and research institutes that are studying and prototyping technologies under development for the SKA

    The decision follows from the 2010 astronomy decadal survey, which did not give the SKA a positive funding recommendation.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided to follow that recommendation. As a result the United States will no longer be officially part of the international SKA project.

    But this does not mean that the Americans are not participating in the overall project, in fact the US radioastronomers still remain supportive of it.  There are Americans on the engineering advisory committee.  Also the deputy director of the astronomy division at NSF, Vernon Pankonin, chairs a committee that will be making a site selection recommendation, though officials are quick to point out that his participation is not in his official capacity, and in no way implies the participation of the agency.  Pankonin's committee is set to recommend a site for the SKA, either Australia/New Zeland or Africa, in February 2012. 

    The National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) has been supportive of the African bid, including participation in the recent workshop on the SKA and human capacity development. Later this year, NSBP plans to launch the US-Africa Astronomy and Space Sciences Institute.

    NSBP member, Eric Wilcots, also a member of the US SKA Consortium, feels that the dissolution decision will have little immediate impact on the international project.  "The large part of the US financial involvement was only to materialize in the next decade.  India, China and Canada have joined the effort since the time of the original planning.  Whether or not these countries will participate financially in this decade to the extent that was envisioned for the US is unknown at this point."

    Charles McGruder, also an NSBP and US SKA Consortium member, agrees.  "The SKA is conceived to come together in phases.  Phase 1 will likely proceed in this decade even if the US is not an official participant.  Phase 1 includes epoch of reionization and NANOGRAF (pulsar timing) experiments, which did get postive funding recommendations in the decadal survey."
     
    "Individual American astronomers will undoubtedly stay involved with the SKA through these research projects," adds NRAO's Ken Kellermann, a past chair of the International SKA Science and Engineering Committee.

    This bodes well for the South African effort, Wilcots points out.  The South Africa MeerKAT is much better suited for pulsar timing studies than the Australian ASKAP.   The PAPER experiment was recently deployed in South Africa eventhough it was originally planned to be located in Australia.  Also a US team intending to work with the Murchison Widefield Array, which is under construction in Australia, was recently informed by NSF of the agency's declination of their funding proposal.

    There are efforts to find other sources of funding, public and private, to support the US involvement in the SKA project.  There are intersections between US policy towards the SKA, broader American foreign policy interests, and interest in the diversity of the global scientific workforce.  Some Members of Congress have become interested in the SKA as a mechanism for increased trade with Africa.  Whether or not this leads to an administrative policy directive or congressionally mandated spending remains to be seen.  

    Southern Africa’s SKA Bid: A Worthwhile Investment June 14, 2011

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    By Congressman Bobby Rush

    Southern Africa is quickly establishing itself as a hub for astronomy, scientific expertise and in doing so, is creating an unrivalled opportunity for the development of skills and expertise that will allow Africa and its people to be significant contributors to the global knowledge economy.

    In 2012, a consortium of major international science funding agencies will select a location to house the world’s most powerful radio telescope, The Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The SKA promises to revolutionize science by answering some of the most fundamental questions that remain about the origin, nature and evolution of the universe. With about 3 000 receptors linked together and a total collecting area of one square kilometre, the SKA will have 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed of the best current-day radio telescopes. The SKA will enable scientists to gain insight into the origins of the universe and provide answers to fundamental questions in astronomy and physics.

    Currently, two locations are under consideration: Africa, under the leadership of South Africa, and Australia/New Zealand, under the leadership of Australia. South Africa’s SKA bid proposes that the core of the telescope be located in the Northern Cape Province, with additional antenna stations in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Ghana and Zambia.

    South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing and starting to build the MeerKAT telescope, an SKA precursor telescope. Five years before MeerKAT becomes operational, more than 43,000 hours of observing time have already been allocated to radio astronomers from Africa and around the world, who have applied for time to do research with this unique and world-leading instrument. US astronomers are leading some of these research teams.

    There is already active collaboration between the South Africans and UC Berkeley, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and Caltech on the PAPER and CBASS telescopes respectively, which are currently hosted on the South African radio astronomy reserve. Collaboration is also taking place between these US research institutions and the MeerKAT team on the development of technologies for the MeerKAT and US telescopes.

    The SKA in Southern Africa represents an unrivalled opportunity to transform Africa through science and technology by driving the world’s best and brightest to the region, and providing the continent’s youth with a world-class incentive to study science and provide the world answers to the planet’s oldest questions.

    The SKA in Southern Africa will create a critical mass of young people in Africa with world-class expertise in technologies that will be paramount in the global economy in the coming years. New technologies, scientific discoveries and infrastructure development taking place in Africa will contribute to the creation of entirely new industries and spur development in many fields of human endeavor, while transforming Africa as a major hub for science in the world and creating a new continent of opportunity for American business to cultivate and develop partnerships throughout Africa.

    The construction of major science infrastructure in Southern Africa, such as the $2 billion SKA project, will also represents an important opportunity for U.S. business to cultivate and develop partnerships in the region that can lead to new technologies, new industries and economic development both here in the USA and throughout Africa.

    The SKA represents a unique opportunity to accelerate the development of skills and expertise that will allow Africa and its people to be significant contributors to the global knowledge economy. We should support southern Africa in its quest to become contributors to global science and equal partners in the knowledge economy.

    Bobby Rush is the U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 1st congressional district, serving since 1993. He is a member of the Democratic Party. A long-time advocate of increased trade with Africa, he has introduced H.R. 656, the African Investment and Diaspora Act, to advance the mutual interests of the United States and Africa with respect to the promotion of trade and investment and the advancement of socioeconomic development and opportunity.

    The US remains supportive of the Square Kilometer Array project April 7, 2011

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    Though the United States did not officially join the Founding Board of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the US does remain supportive of the project. In large part, the decision not to join the Founding Board is based on the recommendations of the most recent astronomy decadal survey performed by the National Research Council, “New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics,” released in August 2010. This report concluded that the combination of technical readiness and high cost risk made it unfeasible for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to invest in SKA construction during the 2010-2020 decade. NSF has accepted that conclusion and is setting a priority for SKA construction that is consistent with this conclusion and the other recommendations of the decadal survey.

    NSF has invested in SKA technology development and in several radio telescopes that serve as scientific and technical pathfinders for the SKA, as well as pursuing some of the science goals envisioned for the international SKA, and will continue to make such investments as funds and independent reviews permit.

    The SKA is an exciting project for astronomy. It was originally conceived as a focused project to study the end of the “Dark Ages” – the time when the first stars, black holes, quasars, and other high energy objects formed, ionizing the almost 100% neutral hydrogen gas left around from the Big Bang. You can imagine the universe at say z=20 being dark and transparent. But as the ultraviolet light begins to come from the first sources, the light ionizes larger and larger regions of the Universe – sort of like Swiss Cheese until redshift around z=6 where most of the hydrogen is ionized as it is today.

    The SKA will slice through this redshift range giving us an accurate tomographic image of the Universe as it begins to form the elements of the periodic table, and begins to form the seeds of what we now see are galaxies and massive black holes. Its science case has expanded since then, but the main focus of the science is the tomography of the early Universe.

    But the final SKA design is far from certain. Technology is still in development, and the final cost of the SKA is quite unknown. It may turn out actually that the SKA evolves to be three very large telescope arrays that are not co-located. A major factor of the SKA to site in a region free from FM carrier frequencies, and there are remarkably few in the world. Among them are sites selected in Africa and in Australia.

    No definitive scientific rationale has emerged to favor the African site over the Australian or vice versa. Each project is pursuing pathfinder telescopes as pre-cursors to the SKA, and each is molded better to different capabilities.

    But there may be international policy issues that would motivate the US to help fund the project now. The US presently supports, and will build, new major telescopes in Chile, including the LSST, CCAT, and ALMA the latter being an international collaboration. Chile has benefited greatly by hosting these telescopes, not only in building astronomy programs, but through other spill-over effects, e.g., broadband connectivity, service sector jobs and growth in the knowledge-based innovation economy. During President Obama’s recent trip to Chile, he and President Pinera issued a joint communique that they recognized the close historical collaboration in astronomy between the two countries and looked forward to future projects.

    There are scientists and policy makers that would like to see an astronomy-catalyzed economic transformation in Africa. South Africa already has a long and distinguished history in astronomy research. Astronomers are developing academic programs and research telescopes in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia, and others. Last December African astronomers organized the African Astronomical Society to be the voice of the astronomy profession on the continent and to be the continental interlocutor with other astronomy professional societies around the world. The SKA is a tremendous opportunity to help develop astronomy in Africa. If the Chilean example is a guide, the SKA would help develop high-tech industry and build a larger community of African astronomers, physicists, and engineers.

    But the results of the decadal survey stunts the rationale for large-scale US investment (and for the US that means NSF funding) in the SKA, at least for this decade. This is probably the right choice. There are other projects, e.g., WFIRST, LSST, where the technology is more mature and thus closer to fruition. As the US faces limited fiscal options the decadal survey is the accepted process for the field to make hard decisions. Without a determined technology for SKA there is no way to make any firm cost determinations. So the question of whether to support the SKA long-term remains open.

    But all is not lost for this decade. The South African MeerKAT and Australian ASKAP, both of which will be completed in this decade, will be extremely powerful telescopes. The MeerKAT in particular will be well-suited for pulsar timing studies that can reveal much about relativity, gravitational lensing, and nuclear physics.

    Maybe this decade will see investments from other functions of the federal budget, e.g., foreign assistance through the State Department. Maybe the foreign assistance budgets of other donor countries can be brought to bear on the SKA project. After all, the total budget for the SKA construction is actually quite small compared to the total amount pledged by the G20 nations for development in Africa. Maybe the US Commerce Department, other nations’ ministries of industry, and private corporations will view the SKA as a technology incubator and thus find funds to help with technology development. And maybe philanthropists will find the SKA worthy of their donor dollars.

    What remains true is that in Africa the SKA project has a full head of steam. South African science minister, Naledi Pandor, has said, “I am intent on ensuring that South Africa wins the bid to host the Square Kilometer Array radio telescope” and “…[I am] …not going to entertain any matter that might distract me from achieving that goal.” The Heads of State of the African Union have endorsed the African bid for the SKA telescope, signaling multilateral cooperation at the highest levels for this project.

    The African SKA project team has already achieved impressive results with their KAT-7 precursor telescope, as well as in electronic design, manufacturing and logistics. And the SKA Project Office has conceived and developed the extremely clever idea of an African VLBI network that would use decommissioned communications dishes across the continent. Five years before South Africa’s MeerKAT telescope becomes operational, more than 43,000 hours of observing time (adding up to about five years) have already been allocated to radio astronomers from Africa and around the world.

    The SKA human capacity development program is already an unqualified success. The challenge is to keep the steam chest full and to build on all these successes. The National Society of Black Physicists will of course maintain its collaborations with the African astronomy community. In addition to producing outstanding astronomy research results, we believe the African SKA will lead to the creation of an African scientific technological base that will in turn act as the engine of African economic development and will transform the African economy to one that is more based on knowledge, connectivity, technology and innovation. As an international research center located in Africa, the SKA will help unbridle the imaginations of young Africans and inspire them to pursue math and science at school, and to follow careers in science and engineering. This would create a critical mass of problem solving thinkers, able to find solutions to the water, food, health, energy and environmental challenges of the continent.

    Astronomy Festival in Bangalore, India December 9, 2010

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    by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

    The Bangalore Association for Science Education and the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium have partnered to create the Festival of Astronomy: Kalpaneya Yatre 2010.  November 28 – Dec 7, 2010

    The Bangalore Association for Science Education and the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium partnered to create the Festival of Astronomy. The Festival occupied the buildings and grounds of Nehru Planetarium. The Festival had four main areas filled with different aspects of astronomy. The entrance to the festival was a temporary addition to the main building spectacularly decorated with images of space and nebulae. The structure held a historical overview of astronomy.

    The historical exhibit consisted of posters focused on particular astronomy achievements and early astronomers, there were a few artifacts such as early astronomy instruments, computer screens showing videos, and one end of the area was a big projection screen. The historical content began with Egypt and the astronomy associated with the pyramids and the Sphinx, then ancient Indian cosmologies and cosmograms, and the Nebra Disk and complex from Bronze Age Germany. Stonehenge was the last poster that was focused on a location and general knowledge rather than focused on a particular astronomer. The selection of astronomers presented start with the Greeks Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, Hipparchus, and Ptolemaeus; a nice addition is of Chinese astronomer Wang Zhenyi and the woman astronomer Fatima of Madrid. The Muslim astronomers are Al-Biruni and Ibn Ul Haitham. The astronomer timeline followed the standard Copernicus-Tycho-Kepler-Gallileo trajectory with the interjection of Somayaji. The trajectory eventually reached Einstein, but before reaching him there is a series of posters dedicated to women astronomers: Caroline Hershel, Anne Jump Cannon, and Maria Mitchell. Jai Sing II, the Jantur Mantar observatory, and the Madras Observatory mark the last mention of non-European astronomers and locations. The remaining posters focused on Newton, Einstein, Eddington, and Hubble, and one more woman astronomer: Cecilia Payne. It is clear that a lot of thought went in to including women astronomers and non-European sites and astronomers.  Each poster clearly revealed what each astronomer discovered that advanced our understanding of the Universe. Where was Chandrasekhar? In the next part of the exhibit: the main building.

    The exhibits in the main building focused on our solar system. There were two models of the solar system, a demonstration of planetary motion, a demonstration of the weather bands of gaseous planets such as those found on Jupiter, models of asteroids, and a 3-D image of the Sun’s surface for viewing with red-blue 3D glasses. Chandrasekhar was found in the solar section where there is information about stellar birth and stellar death. There was a slide show that includes some of the Hubble’s greatest images including interacting galaxies, Einstein arcs, and of course beautiful star formation regions.

    The third area was the favorite of my children: a free standing white tent that was filled with science demonstrations related to astronomy! The children were able to touch and explore the demonstrations with the help of the docents who were also school children. There were about twenty demonstrations including four telescopes that had their covers off to show the optics of refracting telescopes and the mirrors of the reflecting telescopes. Noteworthy were the demonstrations showing the detection of non-visible wavelengths of light: there were demonstrations for ultraviolet, infrared, and fluorescent light. Having recently given an introductory astronomy test where my students got the question on the relationship between distance and flux wrong; the three demonstrations on measuring flux, measuring the maximum intensity of the solar spectrum, and changes in brightness were well done. My personal favorite was a demonstration showing the ring-around-the sun effect using glass beads. The biggest crowds were in this area and it is the one area where my children wanted to return again and again.

    The final area was an sunny yellow and red tent that was open for children to sit and listen to lectures on astronomy. A lecture on solar astronomy was taking place during my visit.

    The Astronomy Festival had enough variety to keep everyone happy: a hall for those interested in the history of astronomy, another for the solar system, hands-on demonstrations of the physics related to astronomy, and live lectures with people knowledgeable about astronomy. If all this is not enough, there were planetarium shows on a variety of astronomy topics every few hours. What was unique is that the docents were school children who were very well trained in explaining the science behind the experiments. It is a great idea to have children teaching children!

    Life in the Margins November 19, 2010

    Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

    by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

    This week I have been writing my annual report to the National Science Foundation on the Astronomy Networks project.  Since I moved into cultural astronomy, I have lived the life of an interdisciplinary scholar in the margins.  My behavior and choices are consistent with the research findings I discussed last week: women and minorities tend to find success at the margins of STEM disciplines rather than in the mainstream.  Life in the margins is not bad: I exercise my intellectual freedom, I have a positive international research reputation, and I have been attracting great students.  When I moved into cultural astronomy from the way other academics responded to me (somewhat condescendingly), I determined that I had to get external funding to be taken seriously.  Simply put, it is fine to do interesting research in unestablished areas between disciplinary boundaries, but getting external funding is the official seal of approval.  Many scholars have had the good fortune of having their place in the margins be moved to the center, for example Jeff Marcy and his planet finding projects.

    I am co-PI with Sharon Traweek (UCLA) on an NSF funded project that studies women and minority astronomers and their professional networks.  We are studying how they get involved in big database driven astronomy projects that are mainstream and where they chose to make a contribution.  Are they central or on the margins? Where do they perceive themselves to be and do others agree?

    For my part of the project, I have been focusing on the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (www.lsst.org).  The LSST has not been built.  It is estimated to be completed in 2012.  LSST when it is finished will break all the rules of big telescope construction, management, computing, and collaboration.  There will be no proprietary data, that is anyone and everyone can access the data soon after the observations.  Of course, having an internet connection and enough memory to handle the large images are necessary.

    I have been involved in the International Astronomical Union’s new Astronomy for Development initiative.  Projects such as LSST will present a great opportunity for astrophysicists outside of Europe and North America to work with the best data available.  The catch is that they have to learn how to work with LSST data now, in order to be ready when the real data starts flowing.  International scientists need to get networked into LSST now! The LSST team has created a simulator that can be used to simulate what the data will look like.  The simulated data can be used to test if certain astrophysical questions are feasible given the physical parameters of the LSST and the data it will produce.  As with all aspects of the LSST project, the simulator is freely available.  LSST is the type of project that I can admire.

    I’m involved in the formation of the African Astronomical Society.  At the upcoming IAU Symposium “Tracing the Ancestry of Galaxies – on the Land of our Ancestors” in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, this December, the first meeting of the working group will take place.  I secretly hope that they will go ahead and announce the formation of the Society there.  If not an official announcement will take place at MEARIM2 – the second Middle-East and Africa Regional IAU Meeting in South Africa in April 2011.  The newly formed Society should work to make sure that African astrophysicists get involved in LSST.  Unfortunately, because I am in India I will not go to Burkina Faso.

    The Astronomer Networks project is also an oral history project, so our interviews are tape recorded and will be edited for an online archive.  I have interviewed a dozen astronomers thus far, but this is far too few to draw any grand conclusions.  The graduate students and postdocs on the project have collectively interviewed a dozen more, still not enough data.  However, we are on our way and have discovered some interesting results that may change as we collect more interviews.  What I find most significant about the oral history part of the project is that most oral histories of astronomers focus on the old and famous.  Few include the young and becoming astronomers at a stage in their careers where they have committed to being part of a project that may or may not be spectacular.  Even fewer include self-identified minority astronomers, though many include a smattering of women.

    In a reflexive loop, I am in the disciplinary margins studying astronomers in the margins after having been an astronomer not so in the margins.

    I’m now in Bangalore, India, visiting the Raman Research Institute (www.rri.res.in).  Next week begins a ten day festival focused on astronomy at the local planetarium.  I plan to write an article about the festival for one of the popular astronomy magazines.

    Professional Self-Image and Astronomy November 12, 2010

    Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

    by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

    My cultural astronomy project on navigation focused on why people today continue to navigate on the ocean using celestial bodies. A glaring question was why are people not adopting the Global Positioning System (GPS). There are many factors, many that are obvious such as batteries, as to why the GPS is not used in all navigating communities. However, after doing various calculations and listening to what the navigators said, I identified a new factor which is professional self-image. The question became: How do the navigators in this community image themselves to be in terms of their skills, the way they act, their values, etc.? I was most interested in the skills aspect of this question.

    For my navigation study, I focused on three communities; and their professional self-image was different in each of these. Each community had a set of navigation skills and abilities that they considered to be essential to being a navigator. For example, on the Kerkennah Islands in Tunisia, the fishermen need to have a mental map of the seafloor features around the Islands to be able to pinpoint their location. Translating the relative depth of water to a specific location was a skill that the fishermen were proud of being able to do.

    After my five years of studying navigators, I proposed a new hypothesis:

    There are skills and abilities that are an essential part of the professional self-image of navigators, when a new technology is positioned to replace that essential part there will be rejection and/or resistance before adoption if adoption occurs.

    My study of the United States Naval Academy (USNA) revealed a case of resistance and struggle between celestial navigation and the GPS. It is even more interesting because the GPS was developed by the Navy! Among Navy Officers, all are required to take celestial navigation classes and get certified (get a badge/pin) in celestial navigation, marking it as an essential skill. When it was proposed to remove celestial navigation from the USNA curriculum, there was struggle and resistance. At the end of my study, it was still being taught at the Naval Academy but in a stripped down form. The GPS is used by the Navy but so is celestial navigation, one is used to test the accuracy of the other. However, it is the old fashioned celestial navigation that is used to check the GPS!

    There are many efforts underway to diversity Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Many efforts have had little or limited success. I have been on the Gender Equity Conversation Task Force run by the American Physical Society (APS) this past year doing site visits to physics departments in the United States. In conjunction with my film “Hubble’s Diverse Universe” I have visited several astronomy departments as well, where the bulk of our post film discussion focused on diversifying astronomy. I am currently studying the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme in South Africa, which is also meant to diversify astronomy. Not to forget that I too am a PhD astrophysicists and have done time in some of the best astronomy and physics departments in the USA. I had struggled with and continue to struggle with the professional self-image of astronomers. I have to mention that the French sociologist Pierre Bourdeau studied academic culture (Homo Academicus) and I could couch much of my thinking about the professional self-image of astronomers around his term “doxa”.

    Focusing on diversity, I have been busily identifying those factors that are part of astronomers’ professional self-image that impede if not halt progress towards diversifying astronomy. As an aside, consider that women and minority scholars in the USA tend to create their own success at the margins of disciplines. One reason may be that the professional self-image within disciplines is inflexible (concrete, frozen, rigid) leading to no possibility of diversity and no chance of success for diverse members.

    As an example of this within astronomy, in the discussions that followed viewing my film, in some cases the audience spent a great deal of time ‘othering’ minority students: they are only interested in money (read they come from poor backgrounds), they are more interested in less intellectual fields such as engineering (no offense, these were not my words!), and they would not want to make the time-investment necessary to become an astronomer. These comments were instructive to me on another level: I’ll not be sending my children nor my students to them, even my non-minority ones!

    I have developed a series of activities to be done by students and astronomy professors around professional self-image to bring some of the factors hindering diversity to the forefront in an effort to identify and nullify unconscious biases. Thus far, I have done the student exercise twice in South Africa. It was fun and the students (who were black and colored South African) could see why they felt uncomfortable, unsupported, and abandoned by their professors. It gave them a morale boost building their resilience to survive in the astronomy environment. However, the students cannot change astronomy culture – the professors can. I hope to test out my professional self-image exercises sometime soon among astronomy professors.

    This is my last week in South Africa. I traveled to Pretoria to see NSBP’s Charles McGruder, the International Astronomical Union President Robert Williams, and Astronaut and MIT Professor Jeff Hoffman give a joint public lecture to promote astronomy. Astronaut Hoffman helped fix the Hubble Space Telescope way back when the images were still out of focus. His presentation was moving, especially since I had done the “Hubble’s Diverse Universe” film which is a minority tribute to the Hubble Space Telescope. Afterward, I gave him a copy of my film – bold of me? Robert Williams I knew from my visits to the Space Telescope Institute; he was surprised to find me in South Africa. I was surprised that Charles had not told him that I would be there. Dr. Williams talked about some of the major findings of the Hubble Space Telescope advancing astronomy and astrophysics. Dr. Charles McGruder and I have a long history. He and I are both Caltech grads, except he graduated the year that I was born! I did not meet him until I was working on my master’s in astronomy. At the time it was wonderful to connect with an African American astronomer who also had survived undergraduate life at Caltech (in 2006 I met a third Dr. Alphose Sterling). Dr. McGruder spoke about the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) and what it would mean if it were placed in Africa. South Africa has put in a bid to host the SKA, and dishes would have to be placed in other African nations as well, which would bring astronomy to new places in Africa. Australia is competing with South Africa for the SKA.

    Back in Mafikeng, Dr. Thebe Medupe and I are putting together a proposal to host the 2014 Oxford Conference on Archaeoastronomy in South Africa in Mafikeng. We got letters from each of the major hotels with quotes of their estimated room rates – two days of work! Our last task is to get a letter of support from North West University then I think we are ready to go. The proposal will be presented at the Peru conference in January. I am nervous about it because I will not be traveling to Peru, I will be in Seattle at the American Astronomical Society meeting (AAS). We have tossed around ideas for the theme of the conference. Our favorite thus far is: “Astronomy, Indigenous Knowledge, and Interpretation.”

    Dr. Medupe and I have been planning the future of the Timbuktu science project and the Astronomy document collaborative project. Both focus on documents written in Arabic found in Africa that contain astronomy content. The Timbuktu project has been running for several years, I started building a larger collaboration last year starting with Egypt. Many African nations have archives of Arabic documents; these have not been analyzed for their astronomy content. The larger collaboration would identify those archives that have astronomy documents and then set up teams to analyze the documents. I am building the collaboration as a collaboration, not as me and a bunch of Americans going and doing everything. I want local partners who are willing to work as co-Investigators. It has been slow going because with each new partner we have to write joint grant proposals to get funding. It would certainly be a lot faster to simply send in a team, but I feel strongly that true partnerships will make the project sustainable and benefit more people including leading to training more local (African) students.

    African Cultural Astronomy November 6, 2010

    Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

    by Dr. Jarita C. Holbrook

    It has finally started to rain in Mafikeng, South Africa. I was here teaching a class on African Indigenous Astronomy to undergraduate students at North West University. My host is Dr. R. Thebe Medupe who is the Chair of the Department of Physics and Electronics. The class included a series of assignments designed to explore Indigenous Astronomy, the tension between astronomy and indigenous astronomy, the geography of Africa, and astronomy. The final assignment was a constellation identification quiz. Using a green laser pointer, each student has to correctly identify ten things in the night sky. However, not all of my students have been able to arrange to be on campus at night to take the quiz. Now it is raining….Class management environments such as D2L and Moodle are great for automating quizzes, homework assignments, etc. The North West University equivalent is Efundi. I am thinking of using Stellarium and other star charts to design an online constellation identification exercise instead of the quiz. I spoke to two students about it, and they are in favor. I will start working on Friday morning.

    Next year is the 6th Science Center World Conference that will take place in Cape Town, September 4 – 8, 2011. Two weeks ago Mike Simmons of Astronomers without Borders www.astronomerswithoutborders.org contacted me about helping to create a session focused on Cultural Astronomy. He had just read the latest Communicating Astronomy to the Public Journal Issue which I edited (www.CAPjournal.org). The issue focuses on International Year of Astronomy 2009 activities that included a cultural astronomy component. Mike wanted to build on that idea for the conference panel. Working with Mike and Chris Phillips of the Imiloa Science Center in Hilo, Hawaii, we finally settled on a unifying panel theme for the conference: Indigenous Astronomy and the Public. I have to write the description for our submission. We will have speakers talking about the Indigenous Astronomy of Hawaii, Iran, and South Africa! However, they all haven’t said “Yes”, yet.

    I just had a two hour Skype session with the host of Chapter, Verse, & Volume, Heru-Ka Anu. He is doing a review of “African Cultural Astronomy”. The volume came out this week in paperback…but it is the same price as the hardcover! In the interview which he will edit down to one hour, we talked about the text, African American astrophysicists, thinking like a scientist, Benjamin Banneker, and the disenchantment of the night sky in Africa. I’m not sure what will be in the final, but it will air this Sunday at 8 pm EST. www.blogtalkradio.com/herukaanu.

    I am writing a short paper on African Cosmology this weekend. Next week Astronaut Hoffman is visiting Pretoria and I am going to be there along with NSBP’s Charles McGruder.