GAM 2017 Blog

By Karabo Makola and Ramasamy Venugopal

Astronomy is very special to all of us and the Global Astronomy Month (GAM) provides a great opportunity for everyone to celebrate our common love. Usually the OAD’s contribution to the GAM blog is written by Kevin Govender. This year, the blog is a retrospective from two visitors to the OAD. Both of us came from outside the astronomy community but have learned so much during our time at the OAD. Most importantly, we have realized the passion and thirst for action in this community and learned how people, given the opportunity, can have a tangible impact on the world.

16 aprilFaces of the OAD from left are Wanda Diaz-Merced, Eli Grant, Jack Harvey (former intern), Paul A. Wilson, Kevin Govender, Ramasamy Venugopal, Nuhaah Solomon,Vanessa McBride, and Karabo Makola.

The OAD and the community it works with have a big task on their hands - to use astronomy to create a better world. Since the beginning, the need for a wide network and collaboration with institutions globally and across multiple fields was evident as was the requirement for a wide range of skills. The OAD has thus encouraged volunteers with varied skills to contribute to the IAU’s vision of development using astronomy. This has led to numerous visitors, either popping in to work at our Cape Town offices or collaborating with us remotely, joining the OAD staff for different periods of time. 

The Office has in recent times seen unprecedented growth in the addition of new team members from a wide range of disciplines.  In 2016 alone, there were/are 10 people that the Office hosted/is hosting in different capacities. These people were/are hosted as interns, volunteers, and postdoctoral researchers stemming from fields ranging from astrophysics to communications and everything in between. 

Dr. Wanda Diaz-Merced is an astrophysicist from Puerto Rico who is developing tools and methods to teach science to people with different learning modalities. Wanda herself lost her sight as a student and performs her research by converting data into sound.

Dr. Paul A Wilson is a visiting astronomer from Norway who is passionate about data science and is creating a toolkit that will enable data science to be taught using astronomy. Data science is a critical component in social science and development fields and is a clear way for astronomy and astronomers to contribute.

Alex Gagliano and Jack Harvey were volunteers from the USA who helped the OAD in the critical and difficult task of consolidating and organizing data from all its funded activities. Their work is a critical part of our new call for proposals (to be announced soon).

Dr. Tara Batista, a visiting fellow from the USA, worked on evidence synthesis in education interventions along with OAD staffer Dr. Eli Grant

Jamie Ferguson is a PhD student from Scotland studying multimodal technologies that will allow astronomical data to be perceived through sound – with the goal of opening up astronomy to those with sensory disabilities. He visited the office as part of his research and collaboration with Dr. Diaz-Merced

Sahar Mohy-Ud-Din, a visiting fellow, is developing an ethics framework for the OAD as well as creating resources on project design and outcome measurements

Several PhD students from the University of Cape Town have also been active contributors over many years. Rajin Ramphul is our in-house programmer and has organized workshops to teach python programming. As a PhD student, Dr. Laure Catala led the AstroVarsity project, an effort to use astronomy to enhance teaching of physics and mathematics at university level. 

This sample of people does not include our regular collaborators, both home and abroad, nor does it include our partners, regional offices, task forces, steering committee and many, many others who have made the office what it is today. However, this sample does illustrate a point: this is a highly interdisciplinary field requiring a wide skillset. The office also benefits immensely from the interactions with visitors of such diverse cultural, social and geographical backgrounds. A complete list of everyone who visited/interned at the OAD (with a short summary of their work) is available on our website

Over the years, the OAD has come to act as a bridge between the astronomers and astronomy outreach community on the one hand, and social scientists and development experts on the other (and everyone else in between). Astronomy is a special field where non-astronomers play a significant role. There is a place for everyone, from graphic designers to programmers, web developers to educators, engineers to artists, film makers, physicists, scientists, etc. If you think you can contribute to the vision of ‘’Astronomy for a Better World’’, please contact us.


Ramasamy Venugopal

Ram is an engineer from India specializing in telecommunications. After completing his masters from the International Space University, he moved into the field of Astronomy and Space. Currently, he is a visiting fellow, managing projects at the OAD as well as a volunteer with World Space Week and Space Generation Advisory Council.

Karabo Makola

Karabo is a communications intern at the OAD. She graduated from the University of Limpopo with a BA Honours in Media Studies majoring in Journalism and Communication Studies. She joined the OAD in May 2016 to assist with publications and all communication activities within the office and with various stakeholders.