By / par Paul Delaney
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2018)
Most astronomy Departments across Canada engage in Education and Public Outreach activities. It is important to build strong links with our communities for a variety of reasons, including stimulating the next generation of university students and enhancing the level of scientific literacy among the public.
At York University we have been steadily expanding our Outreach efforts for the past 30 years. A team of approximately 25 (mostly) undergraduate students routinely engages in weekly on-campus Public Viewing nights, a weekly radio program YorkUniverse (on astronomy.fm internet radio), a weekly Online Public Viewing experience, weekly tailored school tours (including observing opportunities weather permitting), summer camp presentations, special events such as Science Rendezvous (comet making, constellation tattoos, crater making), Science Literacy Week (sidewalk solar observing, comet making, public talks), community Star Parties, etc. These undergraduate students are trained in public speaking and are essentially ambassadors of science. In addition, as the Coordinator of this team of very enthusiastic students, I have become a focal point for local and national media, fielding interviews on a weekly basis covering a wide range of astronomy and space-science related stories.
The success of this Team recently led to a discussion between the former Dean of Science, Ray Jawarndhana, and Emeritus Professor and now Philanthropist, Dr. Allan I. Carswell. The result culminated in an announcement on August 9, 2018, of the creation of an Endowed Chair, the Allan I. Carswell Chair for the Public Understanding of Astronomy, to be held in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at York University. All our future Outreach efforts will be coordinated by this Chair whose efforts will expand and strengthen the activities of the Team, particularly to schools and local community groups. Perhaps most importantly, the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Faculty of Science at York University demonstrate by the creation of this Chair a long-term commitment to Education and Public Outreach. I am honoured to have been chosen as the inaugural Chair.
An exciting addition to our enhanced commitment to Education and Public Outreach is the installation of a 1 m PlaneWave telescope in the Allan I. Carswell Observatory scheduled for this November. Apart from enhancing undergraduate and graduate education and research opportunities at York University, the new 1 m telescope will be accessible to the public once it has been commissioned.
All in all, 2019 promises to be an exceptional year for astronomy at York University.