For a few years now, the International Astronomical Union has had a dedicated office to promote astronomy as a “tool” for development, to encourage astronomy activities in countries where perhaps it isn’t a very common pastime or profession. Astronomy is known to be an effective “gateway” for science education, so the idea is that promoting astronomy as a fun and inspirational activity for all will drive people to learn more and explore, and get a bit more science goodness into their lives or that of their children. Any astronomer who’s given talks in schools, led public observing nights or participated in Stargazing Live, has stories of the enthusiasm they see in people of all ages for space, the planets, the stars and the Universe.
The Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), based in South Africa and headed by .Astronomy alum Kevin Govender, leads this great initiative. Since last year, funds have been made available to support astronomy-related projects around the world, specifically in those countries without an established astronomy community or to reach communities that may not have access to astronomy resources. I was happy to play a small part in determining how those funds were allocated, and as a result the IAU has supported some really exciting and worthwhile initiatives this year.
The OAD recently issued its 2013 call for proposals for the second round of this programme, with a deadline for application of 31 August. There are three categories: Universities & Research, Children & Schools and Public Outreach. If you have an idea or a pet project that you’d like to see funded in these areas, particularly for reaching those communities that regular funding streams aren’t getting to, you should consider putting in an application.