Prof shines at cosmic conference

UWC professor Carolina Ödman

UWC professor Carolina Ödman has been recognised for her pioneering work in astronomy outreach, development and education.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) awarded her a Special IAU Prize at the 2018 XXX IAU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria, last month.

“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,” said Dr 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 an associate
professor at UWC and associate director of development and
outreach for the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy in South Africa
(IDIA) – itself a partnership of three universities: UWC, UCT and Pretoria.

IDIA director Professor Russ Taylor said: “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 August 30, IAU president-elect Professor Erwine F van Dishoeck described Dr Ödman’s accomplishments as “many and unique”.

She said: “During the past 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.”

Dr Ödman was the first international project manager of
Universe Awareness (UNAWE)
at Leiden University from 2005
to 2010. UNAWE is an international programme that shares inspirational aspects of astronomy
with children to awaken their natural curiosity in science, encourage independent thinking and connect them with other children around the world.

Dr Ödman led the transformation of an idea into an active programme in more than 40 countries, with national programmes and governmental support in
six countries, reaching more
than 200 000 children in that

“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 Professor Dishoeck.

Although Dr Ödman was born in Switzerland, and earned her astrophysics PhD at Cambridge University, she has a strong connection to South Africa.

She came here for the first time in 2004 – to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) 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.”

Dr Ödman was not present to accept her IAU award, but it was given to her husband, Kevin Govender, director of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development.

The prize consists of
a 2500 euro personal award –
plus 2500 euro toward
an outreach, development or education project of Dr Ödman’s choice.

Cape Town will host the next XXX IAU General Assembly – the first time in the union’s 105-year history that the assembly will be 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,” said Dr 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.”