|Report on the activities of the IAU Commission 46
Program Group for the World-wide Development of Astronomy
for the triennium 2003 to 2006
The activities of the IAU Comm. 46 Program Group for the World-wide Development of Astronomy (PGWWDA) during the years 2003 to 2006 are outlined and some future plans are discussed. The general aims and objectives of PGWWDA are also presented.
During the triennium members made visits to Mongolia, Kenya, Iraq, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago and had valuable interactions and discussions with astronomers in all these places. In addition discussions were held with astronomers in Thailand. A highlight of the triennium is that Mongolia and Thailand have both made applications to join the IAU as member countries. Dr Paul Baki (Kenya) and Dr Shirin Haque (Trinidad and Tobago) have been encouraged to become individual members of the Union.
The Program Group for the World-wide Development of Astronomy (PGWWDA) is one of nine Comm. 46 program groups engaged with various aspects of astronomical education or development of astronomy education and research in the developing world. In the case of PGWWDA, its goals are to promote astronomy education and research in the developing world through a variety of activities, including visiting astronomers in developing countries and interacting with them by way of giving encouragement and support. In addition maintaining the contacts made through follow-up activities, in part through the auspices of the IAU, is an important part of PGWWDA’s work.
This report outlines the work of PGWWDA since the Sydney IAU General Assembly, when John Hearnshaw took over as Chair of PGWWDA from Alan Batten.
2. Members of the Program Group
From July 2003 the following has been the membership of PGWWDA:
John Hearnshaw (chair) (New Zealand)
Don Wentzel (USA)
Alan Batten (Canada)
Hakim Malasan (Indonesia)
Jay White (USA)
Mary Kay Hemenway (USA)
Yoshihide Kozai (Japan)
Athem Alsabti (UK/Iraq)
Peter Martinez (South Africa)
Richard Gray (USA)
Jayant Narlikar (India)
Julieta Fierro (Mexico)
Hugo Levato (Argentina) (from Sept. 2003)
3. Aims and objectives of PGWWDA
The following lists the principal roles of PGWWDA:
1. To visit developing countries with some limited astronomical expertise at tertiary (i.e., post high school) level, and which would welcome some development of their capabilities in teaching and/or research in astronomy. These countries may be IAU non-member states, or they may be IAU members but still developing and relatively isolated scientifically.
2. To give encouragement, and to explore the possible assistance of the IAU in developing astronomy in these countries
3. To discuss with astronomers in developing countries the available resources for astronomical teaching or research, and to promote international contacts and exchanges between astronomers in these countries and those elsewhere.
4. To write reports on the state of astronomy in developing countries for the Commission 46 president and to send these reports to the IAU Executive Committee.
5. If the conditions were deemed favourable, then to follow-up any report with involvement by TAD or other program groups of Comm. 46, as may be appropriate.
4. Visit to Mongolia
John Hearnshaw spent a week in Mongolia from 11-18 March 2004 on behalf of PGWWDA. His visit was hosted by Prof G. Batsukh in the Geophysics department of the National University of Mongolia (NUM) in Ulaanbaatar. Four academics in this department were teaching undergraduate astronomy. Further astronomers were employed by the Mongolian Technical University as well as by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences at the Research Center of Astronomy and Geophysics (RCAG) and the associated Khurel Togoot Observatory, both being part of the Academy. Visits were made to the observatory and to the Academy, where a meeting with Dr T. Galbaatar, the Acting President of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, took place on 17 March. It was noted that about a dozen astronomers are employed in Mongolian universities or at RCAG, and that they would benefit greatly if Mongolia were to adhere to the IAU. A subsequent application for membership resulted from these discussions.
A series of four lectures was presented at NUM by Hearnshaw during this visit.
One of the academics at NUM teaching astronomy is Dr R. Tsolmon. She had recently finished a PhD in remote sensing in Japan before returning to Mongolia. As part of the program to follow up contacts from this visit, she has been invited to visit New Zealand
for four months in late 2006 with the support of the Asia-New Zealand Foundation.
Plans are also underway for follow up visits to Mongolia from visiting astronomers from the TAD program group of Commision 46.
Fig 1: Dr T Galbaatar (acting president, Mongolian Academy of Sciences), John Hearnshaw, Prof G. Batsukh and Dr Renchin Tsolmon (both from NUM).
5. Visit to Kenya
Peter Martinez (South African Astronomical Observatory) made a visit to Kenya
15-17 June 2004 on behalf of PGWWDA. His visit was hosted by the Physics Department of the University of Nairobi, where Dr Paul Baki is an active astronomer teaching in the department. Four other academics in the department have some interests in astronomy. Work and advice on an undergraduate astronomy syllabus was undertaken during this visit and Dr Martinez gave a series of lectures. Plans for Kenya to acquire a small telescope (about aperture 0.5 m) were discussed and it was proposed that Dr Baki be nominated for individual membership of the IAU. Dr Baki has been invited to make a presentation at the special session #5 Astronomy for the developing world at the 26th General Assembly in Prague.
6. Contact with Thai astronomers
John Hearnshaw has maintained contact with Thai astronomers, notably at Chiang Mai University (CMU) in northern Thailand. This has partly been through a Thai astronomy PhD student he is supervising in New Zealand, but also through Boonrucksar Soonthornthum, a Thai astronomer who was formerly an MSc student in New Zealand. Boonrucksar was until 2005 Dean of Science at CMU. He is now Director of the new Thai National Astronomical Research Institute (NARI). He visited New Zealand to meet with this writer in September 2005.
As a result of these contacts, it became evident that there is substantial astronomical activity in Thailand, both at CMU and at least five other Thai universities. At NARI a
2.5-m telescope should be installed on Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain near Chiang Mai, by late 2007 or 2008.
Thailand had considered joining the IAU a few years ago, but without a successful outcome. The decision to found and equip NARI with substantial capital expenditure has now made a re-consideration of this proposal very favourable, and partly as a result of urging Boonrucksar to invite his Minister of Science to reconsider this, an application by Thailand to join the IAU in 2006 has been made. This is indeed a logical if not inevitable decision, as of all the IAU non-member countries in the world, Thailand probably has more professional astronomical activity than any other.
Hearnshaw has tentative plans to visit CMU and NARI in late 2006.
7. Visit to Iraq
Athem Alsabti, a member of PGWWDA, visited Iraq in April 2004 to investigate the state of astronomy in that country and to explore the possibility of rehabilitating the Mt Korek Observatory in northern Iraq, which had been damaged in the Iran-Iraq war in 1989, before becoming operational. A 3.5-m Zeiss telescope had been installed there, as well as a 1.25-m RC reflector, and a 30-m radio telescope for mm wavelengths.
His visit took him to Baghdad University, the Ministry of Higher Education in Baghdad, the Iraqi National Academy of Science, Salahaddin University in Erbil in Kurdish Iraq and then to Mt Korek. He met with vice-chancellors of most Iraqi universities while in Baghdad.
Dr Alsabti reported after this visit that: “There is a very strong support from the Kurdish scientists and authorities (a) to rebuild the Observatory and (b) to start astronomical studies in the Kurdish region based at Erbil. There also great enthusiasm to the plan to involve the IAU and the international scientific community in the project. One prominent Kurdish scientist suggested setting up a trust for the purpose. The international committee have control on the scientific aspects of the project.”
These discussions are continuing and there are plans for a meeting in Europe on the future of Iraqi science, including astronomy, in the near future. Dr Alsabti continues to take an active role in these developments.
8. Visit to Cuba
John Hearnshaw and Julieta Fierro visited Cuba for a week in January 2005 on behalf of
PGWWDA. The visit was hosted by the Instituto de Geofísica y Astronomía (IGA) in
Havana. IGA is a part of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment
(CITMA). During our time there we had discussions with Dr Lourdes Palacio Suárez and
Prof. Jorge Pérez Doval at IGA. They are respectively director of IGA and head of the
astronomy section of IGA. We also had meetings with Dr Lilliam Álvarez Díaz, Director
of Science at CITMA and with Dr. Oscar Álvarez (CITMA), astronomer, attached as
specialist in science in that ministry. Between us we presented seven talks, seminars or
public lectures, all in different venues, and J. Fierro gave a television interview. We
visited all the astronomical facilities of IGA, including Arroyo Naranjo Observatory and
60-cm Cassegrain telescope (in outskirts of Havana) and the Cacahual solar observatory
with its solar telescope and spectrograph. We also visited the Palacio de Pioneros ‘Ernesto
Che Guevara’ which is an impressive science training facility for school students.
Fig. 2: Cuban astronomers at IGA. Prof. Doval, the head of the astronomy section, is
second from left, Ernesto Rodríguez is third, Julieta Fierro (Mexico) fourth and Ramón
Rodríguez is sixth (standing at rear)
Cuba is an interim member of the IAU, but since the break-up of the Soviet Union its
astronomers have been very isolated by political events and it was clear that astronomy is
not a high priority for the present Cuban government. Nevertheless there are a few
contacts between Cuban astronomers and those in developed countries. One Cuban
astronomer (Ernesto Rodríguez Flores) is doing a PhD in Spain in observational
astronomy and theoretical cosmologists (led by Dr Rolando Cárdenas Ortiz) from the
University Central de Las Villas, Santa Clara, in central Cuba have contacts with those
in the U.K.
We discussed ways of improving international contacts between astronomers in Cuba and
those in the international community. One Cuban astronomer has been invited to talk at
SPS5 at the Prague General Assembly (he is Dr Ramón Rodríguez).
9. Visit to Trinidad and Tobago
John Hearnshaw visited the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago for a week in December 2005. His host was Dr Shirin Haque, an astronomer who is the acting head of the Physics Department of UWI. Although she is the only professional astronomer in Trinidad, she heads a small group of active students in the department, and she has established an organization called CARINA (the Caribbean Institute of Astronomy) whose aim is to promote the development of astronomy in the Caribbean region.
During the week in Trinidad, Hearnshaw gave three lectures or seminars, met with astronomy graduate students, visited the National Science Centre, gave radio and television interviews, visited the Trinidad and Tobago Astronomical Society and its observatory, and visited a private observatory on the island of Tobago to which UWI astronomers have regular access.
Fig. 3: Astronomy group at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, Trinidad. Dr Shirin Haque is standing on the left. Graham Rostant, one of the founders of CARINA, is in the centre. The others are astronomy students at UWI.
As a result of this visit, Dr Haque, who was trained in astronomy at the University of Virginia in the US, has been nominated for individual membership of the IAU. Trinidad and Tobago does not adhere to the IAU. Such a step could come at a later date, if astronomical activity continues to grow at UWI, as is hoped.
10. Plans for the Special Session #5 at the Prague General Assembly
Planning is well underway for a special session (SPS5) of the XXVIth IAU General Assembly on ‘Astronomy for the developing world’ on 21 and 22 August in Prague. At the time of writing about 20 invited speakers are in place and a similar number of contributed oral talks are being planned.
A theme will be to coordinate the efforts of the different program groups of IAU Commission 46 in astronomy education and development in developing countries (especially of PGWWDA, TAD, ISYA and the Exchange of astronomers program), and also to coordinate various external groups with related aims, such as the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the programs of COSPAR, of the International Heliophysical Year, and the Japanese Official Development Agency (ODA).
There is discussion in PGWWDA, notably originating from Prof. Jayant Narlikar, for a proposal to establish a Third World Astronomy Institute or Network (possibly modelled on the Instiute of Theoretical Physics in Trieste) to serve the interests of astronomers in developing countries with few national resources for their scientific activities. This proposal will be discussed further at SPS5. It is hoped a concrete proposal will emerge which can be presented to the IAU EC for further consideration.
11. Future plans for PGWWDA
PGWWDA has had a successful three years since we last met in person at the Sydney General Assembly. We have made contacts with astronomers in a number of developing countries, and as a result of these contacts follow-up work is in progress in many of these places. The aims of PGWWDA are to make astronomers in developing countries feel part of a global community of astronomers, and to promote interactions between them. In this respect we are reaching out to astronomers in the developing world, especially to those who are resident in countries that do not adhere to the International Astronomical Union.
We note that of these non-adhering countries, the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea has 20 IAU individual members who are virtually isolated politically and hence also scientifically from the rest of the world. In addition there are seven IAU members in Kazakstan. Neither of these countries adheres to the Union, and both must be future places where PGWWDA might fruitfully explore contacts.
The highlights for the last three years must be the success in bringing both Mongolia and Thailand to the point of making applications to join the IAU as adhering countries. Significant pockets of astronomers were operating in isolation in both these places.
In the future, apart from North Korea and Kazakstan mentioned above, we see Colombia (which is a non-member country) as another important place to visit. Indeed contact has already been established with Dr William Cepeda, director of the Observatorio Nacional in Bogotá. Invitations to the writer have been issued, but time constraints have so far prevented a visit. We are also looking at Jordan, Uzbekistan, Mauritius, Laos, and perhaps several other countries in Latin America, Africa and south-east Asia.
We acknowledge that many countries have essentially no professional astronomy at all, and in such places it is doubtful that PGWWDA can do much to promote the growth of our science. We feel it is, however, productive to concentrate on helping countries where a few astronomers are already active and need to make contacts with the international community to grow further. Trinidad was an ideal example of this. And there will no doubt be others where astronomers are today struggling.
Often, as in Iraq, the current political situation prevents any major continuing efforts on the ground by PGWWDA, and the same is true in North Korea. However we note that 19 non-adhering countries have one or more IAU members with presumably few international contacts, a further approximately 20 developing countries do adhere to the union, but the astronomers resident in them still have limited access to international science, and some 115 countries essentially have no professional astronomical activity at all. In these circumstances it is clear that PGWWDA has plenty of work to do to help astronomers, no matter where they live, to participate in the global international scientific community.
University of Canterbury
Reports and articles written arising from PGWWDA activities 2003-06
Alsabti, A., Astronomy in Iraq, unpublished report, May 2004. A summary is in IAU Information Bull. 97, 76, November 2005.
Hearnshaw, J.B., Unpublished report on a meeting of PGWWDA in Sydney, Australia, 18 July 2003 at the XXV IAU General Assembly
Hearnshaw, J.B. Report to the International Astronomical Union Executive Committee and to the IAU Commission 46 president on astronomy in the People’s Republic of Mongolia, Mar 2004
Hearnshaw, J.B. Astronomy in the People’s Republic of Mongolia, IAU Comm. 46 Newsletter no. 61, Oct 2004 http://physics.open.ac.uk/IAU46/newsletter61.html
Hearnshaw, J.B., Astronomy in Mongolia, IAU Information Bull. 95, 2004: 18-21
Hearnshaw, J.B. Report to the International Astronomical Union Executive Committee and to the IAU Commission 46 president on astronomy in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, December 2005
Hearnshaw, J.B., Astronomy in Trinidad and Tobago, IAU Comm. 46 Newsletter, 2006 (in press)
Hearnshaw, J. and Fierro, J. Report to the International Astronomical Union Executive Committee and to the IAU Commission 46 president on astronomy in the Republic of Cuba, Feb. 2005
Hearnshaw, J.B. and Fierro, J., Astronomy in Cuba, IAU Commission 46 Newsletter
62 (March 2005) http://physics.open.ac.uk/IAU46/newsletter62.html
Martinez, P. A visit to the University of Nairobi, IAU Comm. 46 Newsletter no. 61 Oct 2004 http://physics.open.ac.uk/IAU46/newsletter61.html
Martinez, P. Report on a visit to the University of Nairobi. IAU Information Bull. 96, 20-24, Jan 2005.