8 Dec 2019
A student in the West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers in Nigeria learns how to use a telescope.
The West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers (WAISSYA), based in Nigeria, became a Global Sky Partner of the Las Cumbres Observatory educational program for 2019. WAISSYA postgraduate students were able to use the LCO global telescope network to obtain data on variable stars for scientific analysis and LCO data contributed to the completion of this successful session.
The goals of the WAISSYA program are to contribute to building a critical mass of astronomers, to provide a community of future scientific leaders in West Africa, and to exchange ideas about teaching and learning across continents.
On October 28, undergraduate and graduate students from across Africa gathered for one week at the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in Abuja, Nigeria. The course immediately followed a week-long workshop for instructors.
Students in the program learned the basics of UNIX and Python, allowing them to inspect, process, and visualize astronomical data. This group learned to schedule optical observations on the Las Cumbres Observatory telescope network. They were able to obtain time series data on variable stars, process it using Python, and then determine the type of variable stars they observed.
Additional highlights from this year included a Women in Science lunch, a project on how to communicate astronomy ideas to the public, night-sky observing, and discussion of the future of astronomy in Africa with Director of the Office of Astronomy for Development, Kevin Govender.
Students expressed great happiness at participating in this year’s school.
“The time I've spent at WAISSYA 2019 has been one of the best moments of my life - words cannot express how I feel,” says Iheanacho Prince James (from Imo State University in Owerri, Nigeria.) “Personally I've gotten a better understanding of teamwork and brainstorming, academically I've learned a lot about cosmology, stars, galaxies, the solar system etc., opportunity-wise I'm [now] aware of the various job opportunities available for students in science (most especially Physics) departments. I've never experienced this kind of learning before.”
Many students have also shared that WAISSYA helped them to appreciate that they themselves can think as scientists: they can ask their own scientific questions, break those down into smaller questions, and figure out the answers to these questions by using their own ideas.
Instructors came from Africa, North America, and Europe to collaborate on designing interactive teaching activities for students and they were pleased with the results of this year’s school. “Seeing our students develop their scientific thinking over the course of the week has been so inspiring,” says Co-Director Linda Strubbe, a Postdoctoral Research Associate from Kansas State University. “I’m so grateful to be here working with our students, and am sure that their futures as scientists are bright!” WAISSYA Instructor Esaenwi Sudum, a Research Scientist at the Centre for Basic Space Science in Nsukka, Nigeria, adds, “The students’ energy and drive, their willingness to learn and their dedication, inspired us as instructors to bring our best.”
“The main aims of the Global Sky Partners program is to provide people with an opportunity to be inspired by astronomy and make scientific discoveries through using robotic telescopes.” said Dr Edward Gomez, LCO education director, “We are particularly interested in working with group who would not normally have access to this type of equipment and experience. WAISSYA achieves these aims perfectly and we are very pleased to have them as partners.”
For more information on WAISSYA, please contact:
Dr. Linda Strubbe
WAISSYA Co-Director; Postdoctoral Research Associate, Kansas State University and American Association of Physics Teachers
+1 647 783 4096