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The sky is the limit: delivering STEM through space

The sky is 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. As an astronomer and Professor of Astrophysics at Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, Dr Premana Premadi says that 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 everyday. This makes astronomy the perfect gateway to get more people interested in STEM, and to also learn more about the big blue sky that unites us. Dr Premana Premadi and Dr Rene Breton from University of Manchester have done just that, and more. 

Under the Newton Fund, they delivered a human capacity building programme. The project combined science 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.

The government of Indonesia were building a high tech astronomical observatory in this particular area and Dr Premadi and Dr Breton wanted their project to better the lives of the community around the observatory. Henceforth, their project, involving STEM education and training, was directed towards teachers and high school students due to the still very low efficacy of education in the Timor area. The two-year project constituted an important foundation for promoting sustainable development, by thoroughly providing basic knowledge, skills, and real STEM ideas.

The programme introduced the importance of sustainability in the development context, particularly relating to the preservation of natural resources and the environment. For example, promoting dark sky conservation to villagers close to the new observatory location, as well as village leaders; teachers, schools and students; fresh graduates from University; and young faculty members of the main Universities in Timor. Students and teachers also received education materials on astronomy, which introduced them to basic astronomy projects and encouraged them to appreciate their clean and beautiful sky.

The programme has been pioneering, having introduced the first teacher training in the STEM field, as well as the first workshop to introduce radio astronomy to Universities in Indonesia. It has also supported 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 installment 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 partnership fostered between Dr Premadi and Dr Breton has not only had a positive impact on the community in Timor, but has also represented a landmark for the scientific community, particularly since there are very few to no existing astrophysics research collaborations between the UK and Indonesia. It has provided the chance 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. This collaboration is connecting the two countries together in terms of conserving our big beautiful sky from light pollution; an ambition which aims to be addressed by a policy brief that will be submitted to he Indonesian government. Additionally, this 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 the South-East Asian region. 

Astronomers, researchers and scientists need to work together and share knowledge and expertise by actively engaging with the international community. Joining global collaborative efforts will help 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)