DivC: Education, Outreach and Heritage

CAP2018 Group Photo

IAU Commission C2, Communicating Astronomy with the Public, organizes a conference of the same name every two to three years. CAP 2018, held in March in Fukuoka, Japan, attracted a record 446 participants. (W. Schrier / Leiden University)

At the Division Day sessions for Division C, Education, Outreach and Heritage, on 24 and 27 August, we will showcase the amazing breadth of activities in the Division, especially by its four Commissions and 21 very active Working Groups.

Division C is really quite unique, as it’s the only IAU Division not associated with a branch of astronomical research; instead we concentrate on the astronomers themselves. We aim to bring about a social revolution in the way astronomers carry out their science, by promoting topics such as gender equality for women in astronomy, education for young astronomers (especially those in developing countries), the best ways of communicating astronomical research to the public and the protection of dark skies both for astronomical research and for the promotion of astro-tourism.

Another topic we cover is the preservation of the rich heritage left by astronomers from past generations, so that future astronomers can learn from it. We also have a Commission for the history of astronomy, as we believe that real scholarship in cutting-edge research today requires a sound appreciation of what astronomers did 50 or 100 (or more!) years ago.

Among the six Division C Division Days sessions will be four organised by our Commission Presidents, namely Astronomy Education and Development (C1; Beatriz Elena Garcia, President), Communicating Astronomy with the Public (C2; Pedro Russo), the History of Astronomy (C3; Xiaochun Sun) and World Heritage and Astronomy (C4; Clive Ruggles). The introductory session will have a review of the past triennium by outgoing President John Hearnshaw and a future vision by incoming President Susana E. Deustua (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, USA). Our two Inter-Division Working Group Chairs will discuss solar-eclipse education and star names, with talks by Jay Pasachoff (Williams College, MA, USA) and Eric Mamajek (JPL, Pasadena, CA, USA), respectively.

There are in addition 19 Working Groups attached to our four Commissions, and anyone who comes to our Division Days sessions will hear short reports on their activities. The recurring theme of these seemingly diverse Working Groups is that Division C is working to help astronomers in their careers by achieving inclusivity for all, in spite of the diversity of backgrounds, and by educating young astronomers and also the public about the many exciting discoveries that astronomers are making every day.

One feature of our third Division Days session on 24 August will be an hour-long roundtable discussion on astronomy education, chaired by our Vice-President, Susana E. Deustua. Topics such as involving more young educators in Commission C1 and ways to share instructional materials and best practices amongst educators will be discussed at this time.

In 2009 the IAU produced its first Strategic Plan, for the decade 2010-20. The Plan called for the creation of an Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), which was established in Cape Town in 2010. This was followed by the Office for Astronomy Outreach (OAO) in Tokyo in 2012 and the Office for Young Astronomers (whose mission is running the International Schools for Young Astronomers, ISYA) in Oslo in 2015. Division C is closely linked to all three of these key offices. Now we have a new Strategic Plan for 2020-30, and if approved at the Vienna GA, it will enable the IAU to establish a fourth satellite, the Office for Astronomy Education (OAE). A key OAE mission will be to promote the training of school teachers in teaching astronomy, a task undertaken hitherto with great success by the Network for Astronomy School Education (NASE). The new Strategic Plan will also call for an annual conference for graduate students and postdocs in the astronomical sciences.

In short, Division C is a very special and unique Division of the IAU, as we are truly bringing about a social revolution in how astronomy is practised and how astronomers reach out to students and to the public. Indeed, we believe that among scientists astronomers are very much leading the way in promoting these social changes. What other scientific union can point to three successive Presidents all being women? Our mission is strongly supported by the enlightened IAU Executive Committee, which is helping Division C to create a new era for astronomy and for astronomers. You are urged to find out more about the social revolution now under way in astronomy by coming to our Division Days sessions on 24 and 27 August.