Armagh Observatory Involved in Major European "Universe Awareness" Project


The European Union (EU) has granted 1.9 million euros to support a 6-country educational programme, based on Universe Awareness (UNAWE). UNAWE is an International Astronomical Union (IAU) endorsed programme that uses the beauty and grandeur of the Universe to encourage young children, particularly those from an underprivileged background, to have an interest in science and technology and foster their sense of global citizenship from the earliest age. UNAWE was founded five years ago and is already active in 40 countries comprising a global network of almost 500 astronomers, teachers and other educators.

The grant has been allocated to European Universe Awareness (EUNAWE), a European branch of the global UNAWE programme, and is aimed at implementing Universe Awareness programmes in six countries over three years: Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom. The project will include organising teacher-training courses and developing hands-on material for children. In the long term, EUNAWE aims to help produce the next generation of European engineers and scientists and to make children from underprivileged areas realise that they are part of a much larger European community.

Professor Mark Bailey, Director of the Armagh Observatory, which is leading the UK element of EUNAWE, said: "The Observatory’s involvement in the international Universe Awareness programme is an important strand of its wider programme of Science in the Community. It will help to deliver the Observatory’s longstanding objectives to improve access to scientific knowledge generally and to Northern Ireland’s scientific and cultural heritage in particular." An early Universe Awareness meeting was held in Armagh in 2006 for representatives from astronomy and education groups in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland outlining the positive benefits of international collaboration in UNAWE and developing pilot activities.

Leiden University Professor George Miley, Vice President of the IAU and founder and Chairman of UNAWE, is delighted by the news: "With its combination of social, educational and scientific goals, UNAWE can play a unique role in furthering education and development. The allocation of this grant is a recognition by the EU of the importance of UNAWE and is an important step towards realising our ambition to have an active UNAWE programme in every country in the world by 2020."

UNAWE was founded in 2006 at Leiden University in the Netherlands with support from the Royal Netherlands Academy and the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. It became a Cornerstone project of the successful UN-ratified IAU/UNESCO International Year of Astronomy in 2009 (IYA2009). During IYA2009, thousands of UNAWE activities were organised in more than 45 countries. For example, in Venezuela, 43 teacher training sessions reached more than 1500 teachers and well over 60 000 children. The grant will empower UNAWE to continue to inspire a passion for astronomy as part of the legacy of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.

UNAWE is also an integral part of the IAU Strategic Plan 2010–2020, which is called Astronomy for the Developing World. This is an ambitious blueprint that aims to use astronomy to foster education and provide skills and competences in science and technology throughout the world, particularly in developing countries. The Plan is being implemented by the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town. UNAWE is the first activity of the IAU Strategic Plan to receive external funding and it is a good indicator that additional funding for other activities may be available.

Kevin Govender, who was recently appointed Director of the OAD, adds: "Introducing very young children to the beauty and scale of the Universe stimulates a sense of awe and wonder which plays a significant role in their development. We are delighted that the EU has decided to support the implementation of this unique programme."

EUNAWE will be officially presented during a public event held at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on the 24th May 2011.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Mark Bailey or John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; mebat; jmfat

Notes for editors:

EUNAWE invites journalists bloggers, educators, astronomers, amateur astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts to attend the event on 24th May 2011, at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. If you plan to attend, please send an email with your name, institution and e-mail address to russoat

The IAU is an international astronomical organisation of about 10,000 professional astronomers from 90 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and surface features on them. In 2009, the IAU coordinated the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the largest science education and public outreach event in history, reaching hundreds of millions of people in 148 countries.

European Universe Awareness is coordinated by Leiden University (the Netherlands) in collaboration with partners in Heidelberg University (Germany), INAF — Arcetri Observatory (Italy), the South African Astronomical Observatory SAAO (South Africa), Universitat Politècnica De Catalunya (Spain), and the Armagh Observatory (United Kingdom). The new grant for EUNAWE was awarded under the auspices of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme.


Universe Awareness website
IAU Strategic Plan 2010–2020, Astronomy for the Developing World
European Universe Awareness Narrative Information

For more information:

Pedro Russo
UNAWE International Project Manager
Leiden, the Netherlands
Tel: +49 89 320 06 195
Cellular: +4917661100211
E-mail: russoat

Professor George Miley
Co-Chair UNAWE International Steering Committee and IAU Vice President
Tel: +31 71 5275 849
Email: mileyat

Additional contacts:

Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
ESO ePOD, Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6761
Cellular: +49-173-3872-621
E-mail: larsat

Ian Corbett
IAU General Secretary, Paris, France
Tel: +33 143 258 358
Cellular: +44 7919 888 942
E-mail: icorbettat

Last Revised: 2011 February 9th