The 2016 Edinburgh Medal will be jointly awarded to Kevin Govender from the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). This prestigious medal is given in recognition of their wide reaching contribution to science and will be presented during the 2016 Edinburgh International Science Festival on 30 March. The medal celebrates the creation and practical establishment of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development, hosted at the South African Astronomical Observatory and led by Kevin Govender and the International Astronomical Union. Previous medal winners include four Nobel Prize laureates. This is only the second time that the Edinburgh Medal has been jointly awarded to an individual and an organisation; in 2013 Professor Peter Higgs and CERN received the medal.
The OAD and the IAU Astronomy for Development programme is the brainchild of Leiden Professor George Miley. As Vice President of the IAU from 2006 until 2012, he initiated, wrote and championed the IAU strategic plan “Astronomy for Development 2010-2020”. This plan exploits the unique scientific, technological, cultural and inspirational aspects of astronomy to stimulate technological and human capacity building throughout the world. The proposed strategy foresaw the establishment of the OAD to coordinate implementation of the plan. Following ratification of the plan by the IAU General Assembly, the OAD was established in 2011 as a partnership between the IAU and the South African National Research Foundation. Miley was the first Chair of its Steering Committee and Kevin Govender was appointed as OAD Director.
The award of the medal recognises the enormous success of the OAD under Govender’s leadership. Following the bottom-up blueprint outlined in the plan, the OAD has established nine regional OADs in Africa, Asia and South America and three task forces that focus on astronomy for development in universities, schools and among the general public.
According to Miley, “The award of the Edinburgh Medal recognises the unique contribution that a curiosity-driven science such as astronomy can make in furthering education and building technological capacity throughout the world. South Africa is a role model for this. Kevin Govender has led the way.”
Besides Miley, several other Leiden Observatory staff members are involved in the work of the OAD. Pedro Russo is chair of the Task Force on Astronomy for Children and Schools. Tibisay Sankatsing Nava, an OAD Visiting Fellow in 2015, helped to spearhead the OAD communication strategy. In 2018 Leiden Professor Ewine van Dishoeck, now President-elect of the IAU, will take over as President.
The Edinburgh Medal will be presented to Kevin Govender and the President of the IAU Silvia Torres Peimbert at the Chambers of the City of Edinburgh Council on Wednesday 30 March. George Miley will also attend the award ceremony.
The Edinburgh medal
The Edinburgh Medal is a prestigious award given each year to men and women of science and technology whose professional achievements are judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity.
The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 12 000 professional astronomers from around the world. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.
The IAU established the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in partnership with the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), with support from the South African Department of Science and Technology. The OAD was officially opened by Minister Naledi Pandor on 16 April 2011 at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa. It is tasked with the implementation of the IAU Strategic Plan including the establishment of regional offices and three astronomy-for-development “Task Forces”: (i) Universities and Research; (ii) Children and Schools; and (iii) Public Outreach.