The sky’s the limit: delivering STEM through space

For many of us when we hear the word "astronomy" it piques our interest as we think of an eclipse or a meteor shower. However, because of this we do not immediately think of it as part of our everyday life. Dr Premana Premadi, an astronomer and Professor of Astrophysics at Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, says this is far from the truth. The science of astronomy is a combination of proficiencies in natural science, maths, computation, statistics and many more subjects that we use every day. As well as teaching us about the big blue sky that unites us, this makes astronomy the perfect gateway to get more people interested in STEM.

Under the Newton Fund, Dr Premana Premadi and Dr Rene Breton from University of Manchester have done just that. They have delivered a capacity building programme that combines education in astronomy and STEM training, with a focus on clean and renewable energy sources and water management systems in the remote region of Timor, Indonesia.

When the Indonesian government built a high-tech astronomical observatory in the Timor region, Dr Premadi and Dr Breton decided they wanted their project to improve the lives of the community living around the observatory.

The programme has been pioneering, introducing the first teacher training in the STEM field, as well as the first workshop to introduce radio astronomy to universities in Indonesia. It also helped four high school graduates to receive training in solar energy from a polytechnic institute - a first for the area of Timor. The project has led to the instalment of solar power electricity in the district office and high school, as well as a rain water collection and filtering system - all led by local teachers and students who joined the programme.

The team provided educational materials to students and teachers which introduced basic astronomy projects. The programme promoted the importance of preserving natural resources and the environment, introducing dark sky conservation to villagers close to the new observatory location, as well as village leaders; teachers, schools and students; university graduates; and young faculty members of the main universities in Timor.

The partnership between Dr Premadi and Dr Breton has not only had a positive impact on the community in Timor, but also represents a landmark for the scientific community as there are very few existing astrophysics research collaborations between the UK and Indonesia. It has provided the opportunity for many astronomers to attend international workshops, including in the UK, to learn more about data management, the use of astronomy in relevant disciplines, as well as upcoming innovations in this field. The collaboration is connecting the two countries in terms of conserving our skies from light pollution; an ambition which aims to be addressed by a policy brief that will be submitted to he Indonesian government. Additionally, the partnership is helping to strengthen knowledge on radio astronomy. The University of Manchester houses a highly respected radio astronomy programme, with resources and networks that Indonesian astronomers are benefitting from, and using to develop knowledge and skills in south east Asia.

International collaboration between astronomers, researchers and scientists, and sharing knowledge and expertise, is helping to further the field of astronomy, not only for today, but also for future generations.

Development and innovation in astronomy needs a collaborative effort. The research and equipment needed in this field is expensive, which is why the best way forward is through a global partnership

Dr Premana Premadi, Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia

Project leads: Dr Premana Premadi, Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia and Dr Rene Breton, University of Manchester, UK

Delivery partners: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Indonesia Science Fund (DIPI) and Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP)

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