by Kevin Govender

GAM 2013 logo 200Last year I blogged for GAM on “Astronomy for a Better World” where I spoke about the very big picture of how we can use astronomy to make the world a better place to live in. This year I thought I should be less visionary and more practical in terms of what we are doing and how you can be a part of it. After all, what’s the point of being motivated if you don’t have the means to fulfill your motivated ambitions?

Enter the International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD).

The core of what the OAD sets out to do is make ideas happen! Of course the motivation behind it was using specifically astronomy to stimulate global development but come on, it’s astronomy – this fields ROCKS like no other! The uniqueness of astronomy is its ability to overlap between deep sciencey stuff, the highest of hi-tech technology, and as ancient or embedded a culture as you can find. Astronomy is about big science – exploring the very depths of the universe. It’s about big equipment – using gigantic telescopes and dealing with ridiculously large amounts of data. It’s also about getting back to our roots – fulfilling that basic human curiosity that led all our ancestors to come up with ideas about what the cosmos was all about. What’s the big thing in common in all this? The human mind! Realize that and you realize the potential for astronomy to change the world!

So the OAD does realize this – it’s our job to do so – and we’re about trying to make great things happen with astronomy. Mainly we’re about giving you the opportunity to turn your ideas into reality. So the three main areas that we look at are (i) Universities and Research; (ii) Children and Schools; and (iii) the Public. In each of these areas the idea is to implement activities that stimulate that particular audience to develop their minds. It’s not always a trivial exercise though! Because this is a global project we have to be mindful of local situations and be very careful not to impose ideas on parts of the world where those particular ideas may be unwelcome. To make sure that we already remain aware of this we’ve been setting up regional nodes and language expertise centres. These are offices around the world that can advise us either on the regional conditions or on a particular cultural sensitivity. Currently there are two regional nodes (in China for East Asia and in Thailand for South East Asia) and one language expertise centre (also in China for the Chinese culture and language globally). More on the way!

Now for the juicy part – how does all this help you make your ideas happen? It’s as simple as this:
Step 1: You come up with a cool idea to use astronomy to make the world a better place.
Step 2: You get in touch with us! This can be either just directly by email or through our project proposal process.
Step 3: We hook you up with similar people in your area who you could work with or if we evaluate your project to be REALLY cool then we give you the money you need to make it happen and work with you ourselves.
Step 4: World becomes a better place through your efforts!

The plan is that the OAD helps you to find funding or resources for cool projects that make a positive impact on the world. We’ll be posting news of projects currently underway on the OAD website and we welcome you to try out your ideas with us. All your project ideas are evaluated by an international group of experts in each of those three areas (universities, schools and public). If we run out of funding but your project is considered good enough then it goes onto a wish list for which we will continue fundraising. Next call for proposals (for projects to be implemented in 2014) is aimed for end of June 2013.

Be inspired by astronomy! And if you want to put that inspiration into a world changing project then come to us and let’s make it happen together.

 

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kgKevin Govender began work at the OAD on 1st March 2011 as its first Director. He has extensive experience using astronomy for development, acquired during his previous position as the Manager of the Southern African Large Telescope Collateral Benefits Programme at the South African Astronomical Observatory (Cape Town and Sutherland sites). During that time he chaired the Developing Astronomy Globally Cornerstone Project in 2009 and served on the IAU Executive Committee Working Group for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. He was also part of the development of the IAU Strategic Plan since 2008, mainly due to his activities in developing astronomy across Africa. Prior to his work in astronomy-for-development activities, he held the position of Fast Neutron Scientist at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). During his time at Necsa he was also closely involved with promoting physics at school level through the South African Institute of Physics and Necsa, serving also on the South African national steering committee for the International Year of Physics 2005.

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