jump to navigation

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholder’s Workshop – Day 2 December 14, 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 14, 2011

The IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) has three established task forces. Tuesday December 13th, the workshop participants were assigned to task forces and met for the morning session. The goal was to brainstorm new ideas at the intersection of astronomy and development, but also to consider how to implement the published OAD Strategic Plan.

In the afternoon we had breakout sessions by regions. The divisions were Africa and the Middle East, Latin America, Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe. In these breakout sessions we were to examine our regional strengths and regional needs. North America consisted of representatives from the United States and Canada. Mexico joined the Latin America group.

As with other places worldwide North America has underserved populations that we would like to help such as First Nations/Native Americans, underrepresented groups, inner city underclass, etc. There were two tiers of needs, the first was to do things that astronomers normally do but reach these underserved communities. That is astronomy education and astronomy outreach, there are already many programs and networks to do these but these need to be extended to these communities. The second need was to consider social justice, cultural awareness, and egalitarian science in the context of astronomy for development.

This area was a fairly new way of thinking for astronomers and specific strategies, methods, actions and activities are left for the future. Unlike other parts of the world, North America is rich in resources including in plain old cash!

There are over 300 volunteers registered through the OAD website, few of these are from North America. Thus, there is a need to recruit volunteers. The North American group did not discuss WHERE an OAD node office should be located instead we focused on the issues discussed above.

OAD Workshop Participants Silvia Torres-Peimbert (Mexico), Postdoc Linda Strubbe (USA), and Graduate Student and NSBP Member Deatrick Foster (USA)

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

    Historian of Science, The Solstice, Hubble’s Diverse Universe July 7, 2009

    Posted by ASTRO Section Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , 1 comment so far

    by Jarita C. Holbrook

    While visiting Cardiff, I met Dr. Seymour Mauskopf who was visiting a mutual friend. Dr. Mauskopf is a historian of science at Duke University. We had a discussion of the program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Duke. It is a certificate program and a graduate concentration. It is similar to how I am trying to set up the program in Cultural Astronomy at the University of Arizona. I got the feeling that Dr. Mauskopf now thinks that at some point Duke should have built this up to a full graduate degree program. I suggested that to build a program you had to have someone willing to see it through from start to finish including getting funding for students and building a viable network where graduating students can get postdocs. I used the term “empire builder”. He felt that such a person has yet to join their faculty.

    Our conversation got me thinking about what a postdoc in cultural astronomy could be. If I keep my current model of graduate students having a traditional major and a minor in cultural astronomy, then they can get a postdoc in their major as long as their work fits in with the current intellectual debates. If they focus only on cultural astronomy, people in their field may not see their work as relevant. Unlike in the physical sciences, the goal of the first postdoc is to transform the dissertation into a publishable book. Because my dissertation is in astronomy & astrophysics, when I began my first postdoc at UCLA I had to start with doing research before even considering writing a book. As a result, I had a rather long postdoc and finished writing the book in 2004 after being a professor for two years. However, the book has still not been published – this is my book on navigation by the stars. Meanwhile, I have begun several other projects and am actively collecting data while my book bounces from publisher to publisher looking for a home. I had hoped to have a second book completed on new research by this point of my career, but it hasn’t gone as smoothly as I expected. However, African Cultural Astronomy – my unexpected book – is quite an achievement which I am proud of: It is an edited volume that is also a textbook written for undergraduates and available from Springer. Also unlike in the physical sciences, postdocs are expected to teach at least one class per year. And, a postdoc can be taken at any time even after getting tenure.

    More on postdocs, I had several conversations with postdocs in astronomy in Leiden, Garching, and Cambridge. The mood was somber. Because of the economic crisis worldwide, most academic astronomy positions have been frozen or withdrawn. The hiring freezes are into the foreseeable future, so those astronomers starting postdocs are facing the real possibility of having to do three or more postdocs before applying for an academic or even any kind of permanent position. They will have to adopt a holding pattern and go into survival mode. This is the time for NSF to increase its support of postdoctoral fellows especially of women and minorities if they want them to remain in astronomy. Women and minorities are disproportionately impacted during cut backs and lay offs in general, but every effort should be made to keep this from happening to our fledgeling astronomers. If NSF was really farsighted they could set up joint professorships where NSF will pay their salary for three years with the guarantee that the University will pay the last three years which will get people through to tenure and overall help universities at the very least replace retiring professors. Attaching women and minorities to it would gently force astronomy departments to finally diversify. OK, maybe not so gentle.

    The solstice 2009 went well. I witnessed several rituals and spoke to many people about the 2010 Cultural Astronomy Field School which will take place June 2010. It looks like in 2010 there will be a large group at dawn, and Morris dancing at sunset. I learned that a group does rituals at midnight on the solstice (the night before), too. During the day, the rituals included smaller groups compared to the dawn activities. In general, those folks that I spoke to about having students witness their rituals in 2010 were enthusiastic. I was surprised at how amenable people were to the idea considering that they choose to do rituals at this much smaller and less well know stone circle rather than at Avebury and Stonehenge. It looks like all the elements of the 2010 Cultural Astronomy Field School are in place, it is time to set a price and start advertising!

    I returned to the USA via San Francisco in the middle of the week, and drove via Los Angeles back to Tucson. This morning my husband and I met with Lisa Boags, the head of Boags Productions. Hubble’s Diverse Universe is the name of our film on African American and Hispanic American astronomers funded by a NASA Education and Public Outreach grant. Everyone in the film is a member of NSBP and NSHP. We chose to work with Boags Productions because they did a fantastic documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen. They are doing a great job on our film which will premiere on July 11 & 12th at the Museum of African American Technology in Oakland, CA. Lisa Boags, George Carruthers, and I will be available for Q & A after the viewing the film. This morning we went over the science section of the film which is 15 minutes of the 45 minutes. We suggested a few more HST images and animations to include. The film is one of the IYA2009 projects for the Cultural Astronomy and Storytelling group.

    This may be my last blog this year for NSBP and I hope NSBP students have learned a bit more about cultural astronomy, useful information about astronomy and being an astronomer, and what a few of us NSBP members are up to. I will end with a big IF: NSBP member Hakeem Oluseyi and I are waiting to hear if we have gotten a NASA E/PO grant to do solar physics experiments in the Marshall Islands during the July 22, 2009, total solar eclipse. IF we get the grant we will take student assistants and make a documentary film about the whole experience including: 1) the solar physics experiments, 2) the experiences of minority students traveling to an amazing location to do a high pressure task, 3) Marshall Islander cultural astronomy including folklore and navigation, 4) local people’s responses to the eclipse, and 5) profiles of the scientists. We hope to hear from NASA this week.

    Don’t forget to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009. The Universe: Yours to Discover!

    Dr. Jarita Holbrook is a research scientist in cultural astronomy at the University of Arizona. She received her undergraduate degree in physics from Caltech and the Ph.D. degree in astronomy from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She was a postdoctoral research scholar in history of science at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. She is the co-editor or the recently published volume, African Cultural Astronomy.