PLOAD Bringing the Portuguese-speaking Astronomy Community Together



Members of PLOAD discussing at IAU GA 2018

Members of PLOAD discussing at IAU GA 2018. (IAU / T. Heenatigala)

The Portuguese Language Office of Astronomy for Development (PLOAD) was inaugurated in August 2015. The vision of the PLOAD is to create an international Working Group that stimulates the use of astronomy for scientific and technological development in Portuguese speaking countries. The current membership of PLOAD consists of 8 Portuguese speaking countries distributed across 4 different continents. Representatives to the Working Group were appointed from; Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Mozambique, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe. The Working Group will focus on promoting a global sustainability, collaboration and mutual support to build a legacy aligned with the IAU Strategic Plan 2020-2030.

The first 5 years of the PLOAD is coordinated by NUCLIO (Núcleo Interativo de Astronomia) in Portugal. As part of the first phase of creation and implementation of the PLOAD vision, we wish to establish solid connections between Portuguese speaking communities, to find a common framework to engage and empower schools and teachers to motivate students towards astronomy awareness, and to create and localise tools and resources taking into account specific social and cultural aspects and challenges.

We aim to establish an international collaboration among the countries using student-exchanges, job shadowing opportunities, as well as universities and industry collaborations.  We hope to build strong partnerships among stakeholders from different sectors and promote exchanges of best practices in various fields of expertise.

With this clear vision and these goals in mind, the first years the office was devoted to establishing the necessary infrastructure, to ensuring effective communication between the nodes and the Working Group, and to find the needs in each specific community and prioritise the needs. Efforts were put in place to start the involvement of all member countries in global projects. Best practices in each country are being identified and expertise sharing is becoming a common trend. Examples of this are the following activities:

  • Science Trails – An initiative in Principe Island that merges science experiences with local culture in a graceful way,
  • Girls in Science – A Brazilian yearly activity were special attention is devoted to addressing the gender issue in science,
  • Ethnoscience – another Brazilian effort that involves indigenous people in astronomy events as a space to share cultural and social experiences as well as astronomic local knowledge from different communities in Africa,
  • Asteroid Search – Engaging teachers and students in authentic science discoveries.

Other important events are now regularly being conducted such as face-to-face teacher training in one member country per year, promotion of webinars where the students have the opportunity to interact with the scientists. Students exchanges and joint supervision, such as has  started with students from Cape Verde, will be enhanced to bring students from São Tomé and Principe to Cape Verde, and from Cape Verde to Brazil.

For the celebration of the IAU100, the PLOAD is preparing a few important initiatives. The aim is to actively participate in the main global projects and to propose a few joint initiatives along the year of 2019. One of the highlights will certainly be the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Eddington observations of a solar eclipse on Principe Island and in Sobral (Brazil); observations that helped prove general relativity.  A series of events are being planned, including the inauguration on Principe Island of a historic and thematic science centre devoted to the history of Roça Sundy, the site where Eddington’s observations took place.  During the last week of May 2019, a series of important events are expected to take place in Brazil, Principe and Portugal related to this important ephemerid.  A series of teacher training events are also foreseen in all of the countries and some new initiatives are going to enter the pilot phase. In Cape Verde, a project called “Literacias” will start with the support of Cape Verde University, with the main purpose of identifying specific needs in the science and cultural literacy of teachers from primary to secondary schools followed by actions to address the identified needs.  From Brazil, a new series of chronicles will be started, addressing the gap between science, education and cultural discourses in society in general and the role of astronomy to address relevant issues.

From Mozambique, their SKA efforts will be shared with other members of the PLOAD in order to spark interest in SKA.

Our community is strongly motivated to make PLOAD broadly successful across our nations, and through significant engagement from all partners, and our shared vision for the future, we are ready to embrace the many new opportunities ahead, in particular during the celebrations of 2019. PLOAD will certainly use this opportunity to grow and to cement the already existing friendship and respectful collaboration among members. There is a lot to be done but also a great will to do it right.

Rosa DoranROSA DORAN is president of NUCLIO in Portugal and the chair of the Galielo Teacher Training Programme (GTTP). She also coordinates the IAU’s Portuguese Language Office of Astronomy for Development.