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Prestigious Edinburgh Medal awarded for ‘Astronomy for Development’

The Edinburgh Medal 2016 had been awarded to both Kevin Govender of the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The award is a recognition for furthering education and technological capacity worldwide through the inspirational science of astronomy. The programme is the brainchild of professor George Miley, who attended the ceremony.

The medal recognises wide reaching contributions to science. This year’s 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. 

Miley: ‘The award of the Edinburgh Medal recognises the unique contribution that a curiosity-driven and inspirational science such as astronomy can make in furthering education and building technological capacity throughout the world. South Africa has played a pioneering role in this and the OAD, under Kevin Govender’s leadership has led the way.'

The award of the medal signifies the enormous success of the IAU Astronomy for Development programme and its implementation by the OAD. Following a bottom-up blueprint outlined in the plan, the OAD has established nine regional OADs in Africa, Asia and South America and three separate task forces that focus on universities, schools and the general public. 

Astronomy for Development

The IAU Astronomy for Development programme is the brainchild of Leiden Professor George Miley, who is attending the award ceremony. 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 a small office to coordinate the implementation of the plan. This office, 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.

Other Leiden staff members involved with the OAD include Pedro Russo, presently Chair of the OAD Task Force on Astronomy for Children and Schools and Tibisay Sankatsing Nava, a coordinator of the Universe Awareness programme, who was a Visiting Fellow at the OAD.

Edinburgh Medal

The Edinburgh Medal is a prestigious award given each year to men, women and organisations of science and technology whose professional achievements are judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity. The 2016 medal will be presented at 7 pm today by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh to Kevin Govender and the IAU at the Chambers of the City of Edinburgh Council. The present President of the IAU, Professor Silvia Torres Peimbert will receive the medal on behalf of the IAU.

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; the first was to Professor Peter Higgs and CERN in 2013.


The International Astronomical union (IAU), founded in 1919, is the international organisation of professional astronomers, with more than 12 000 members in 73 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. In 2018 Leiden Professor Ewine van Dishoeck,will take over as President of the IAU from Silvia Torres Peimbert for a three-year term. 


The IAU established the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in 2011 as a joint venture with the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), with support from the South African Department of Science and Technology. It is hosted by the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town and tasked with the implementation of the IAU Strategic Plan.

Picture: The Travelling Telescope is a project that promotes science learning to a wide range of Kenyan schools in various locations, exchanging knowledge about the sky through direct observations of celestial bodies using state of the art telescopes. This was an IAU OAD funded activity. Credit: S. Oduori/IAU  Credits: S. Oduori/IAU

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