The University of Venda’s Department of Physics is currently hosting the 2019 International Astronomical Union (IAU) Workshop. This workshop is underway from 18 – 22 November 2019 and is taking place at the University’s Research Conference Centre. The workshop is attended by trainers, academics and students who have an interest in astronomy and those who wish to introduce this project in their teaching of introduction to astronomy at their universities or institutions.
The IAU is a non-profit organization. Its members are professional astronomers from all over the world, at the PhD level and beyond who are active in professional research, education and outreach in astronomy. It has 13136 members in 107 countries.
The Dean of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Prof Natasha Potgieter said South Africa has a long history of excellence in Astronomy, a sound high-tech infrastructure and clear skies. She highlighted that South Africa hosts the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which is a 10m optical telescope and the largest of its kind in the Southern hemisphere at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) Sutherland site. “South Africa also hosts the world’s large radio telescope, Square Kilometre Array (SKA).” Prof Potgieter said, as a result, the Nobel Prize in Physics 2019 was awarded for contribution to our understanding of evolution of the Universe and earth’s place in the cosmos which shows how astronomy is important in our lives. She concluded her talk by mentioning that she understands that the tutorial astrolab has been developed in a way that allows undergraduate students in sciences to plan and to perform real-time observations with a remote telescope, and to transform those observations into scientific results.
Dr Takalani Nemaungani from the Department of Science and Innovation commended the good work of organizing a workshop of this caliber because it is rare to find this kind of workshops in Limpopo Province. “We want to partner with the University more often in making sure that we improve our country ‘s economy and the knowledge of Astronomy in the country. We have partnered with several national and international organizations in making sure that this workshop becomes a success.” He said the Department is investing a lot of money in astronomy every year. He encouraged visitors and the audience to participate by bringing their ideas to the table to be discussed where clarity is needed.
Prof Michele Gerbaldi from Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, France thanked all the organisers and sponsors of the workshop. She said the workshop is taking place because of their efforts and their dedications. “To set up such a workshop requires a strong financial support, given by many institutions, the Department of Science and Technology, the University of Venda, the Las Cumbres Observatory and the Office of Astronomy for development (OAD).”
Prof Gerbalddi further highlighted that the OAD is a joint project of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) with the support of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). “Astrolab is an inquiry-based lab at undergraduate level, it is not for the training of future astronomers but to help students to acquire a scientific knowledge.” She said students are required to take an active role in determining how to collect and analyze the data to fulfill the goal of the lab in order to engage them more thoroughly in the scientific process. “The role of the Tutors is fundamental and Astrolab can open new windows in science education as it is not simply an inquiry-based lab activity, but a real STEM activity (combining Science Technology Engineering Mathematics).”
Participating Universities include University of Venda as host, University of South Africa, University of Johannesburg, University of Limpopo, University of Zululand, University of Fort Hare, University of KwaZulu Natal, University of North West, University of Cape Town, Mulungushi University (Zambia), Mukuba University (Zambia), Copperbelt University (Zambia), Anambra State University (Nigeria) and Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris (IAP), (France). Organizations that are present include the Department of Science and Innovation, National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP), National Research Foundation (NRF), South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), Las Cumbres Observatory and International Astronomical Union (IAU)
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Date: 21 November 2019