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Sharing Science: International Astronomical Award For IDIA Associate Director Carolina Odman

Author: Nicklaus Kruger

Scientific education is a privilege - one which scientists have a responsibility to share. This philosophy earned UWC Professor Carolina Ödman a Special International Astronomical Union Prize at the August 2018 IAU General Assembly.

(Published - 4 September 2018)

Professor Carolina Ödman has been recognised for her pioneering work in astronomy outreach, development and education with a Special IAU Prize by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) at the 2018 XXX IAU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, during August 2018.

“Throughout my career, I have realised what a privilege it is to be scientifically educated, as it is science that underpins our technologically dominated society today - and as scientists, we have the gift of understanding and building it,” says Prof Ödman. “With such a privilege comes a responsibility - to share the benefits of such an education with those I am fortunate to meet along my journey.”

Dr Ödman is Associate Professor at the University at the Western Cape (UWC) and Associate Director: Development & Outreach for the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy in South Africa (IDIA) - itself a partnership of three universities: the University of the western Cape, of Cape Town, and of Pretoria.

IDIA Director Professor Russ Taylor (also a joint UWC/UCT SARChI Chair) says: “We are proud to have such a passionate and accomplished member of the astronomical community at IDIA to raise awareness of the important role not only of our institute, but of the role astronomy can play in igniting the imagination and stimulating a love for science among South Africans.”

Speaking at the awards ceremony on Thursday, 30 August, IAU President-Elect Professor Erwine F. van Dishoeck described Prof Ödman’s accomplishments as “many and unique”.

“During the last 15 years, Carolina has used her unique combination of creativity, intelligence, pragmatism and warm personal qualities to develop programmes that use astronomy to benefit society and humanity globally,” she said.

Ödman was the first International Project Manager of Universe Awareness (UNAWE) at Leiden University from 2005 to 2010. UNAWE is an international programme that aims to inspire young children with the inspirational aspects of Astronomy - and to awaken their natural curiosity in science, empower them with independent thinking and connect them with other children throughout the world.

She successfully led the transformation of an idea into an active programme in more than 40 countries, with national programmes and governmental support in 6 countries, reaching more than 200 000 children in that period.

“It is clear that Carolina has been a pioneer in all aspects of education, outreach and development, and that she is a highly worthy recipient of this prize,” said Dishoeck.

View From The South: Astronomy And Outreach In South Africa

Although Carolina Odman was born in Switzerland, and earned her Astrophysics PhD at Cambridge University, she has a strong connection to the African continent - and to South Africa in particular.

She came to South Africa for the first time in 2004 - to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Muizenberg - and In 2010, she moved to South Africa permanently. As Director of Academic Development at the AIMS Next Einstein Initiative, she helped give young African scientists the opportunity to learn from recognised lecturers around the world.

“I fell in love with the dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit I found here in South Africa. I realised how meaningful it is to join the science adventure here, outside of what would have been a more traditional research destination from someone with my background.”

Although Prof Ödman was not present to accept her IAU award, the prize was presented to her husband, Kevin Govender, Director of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development. The prize consists of a €2500 personal award - plus €2500 toward an outreach, development or education project of Prof Ödman’s choice.

“Through this prize, the IAU has chosen to recognise the important roles that development, outreach and education play in the development of astronomy through people,” she says, “and in turn, in the development of our people, our communities and our societies through astronomy.”

More happy news for South African astronomers: at IAU XXX, the IAU announced that the next General Assembly of the IAU will be hosted in Cape Town - the first time in the Union’s 105-year history that the Assembly will be hosted on the African continent.

“The current climate for science studies - and astronomy in particular - in South Africa is very favourable, and I have seen incredible talent in the youth,” says Prof Ödman. “I wish for would-be astronomers to trust in themselves: ultimately, this adventure is about them, and about writing the story of this country.”​

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