Postgraduate Physics student points out the UK and Benin.

Student embarks on space mission to Africa

A University of Exeter student’s passion for astronomy is taking her to West Africa.

Postgraduate Physics student Aude Alapini, will share her knowledge with more than a thousand people in six cities in Benin.

Leaving Exeter on 27 March, Aude will spend ten days in Benin with 13 colleagues from the Observatoire de Paris, three colleagues from the Beninese astronomy club ‘Orion-Benin’ and a team of local organisers. Together they will run a series of conferences, science activities and observing sessions for school children, teachers, academics and members of the general public. The mission is part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and aims to get more people excited about astronomy and science.

Aude is half Beninese and has been involved in scientific outreach in Benin since 2006, when she went for her first scientific mission in this country. She returned with fellow students in March 2007, to donate physics equipment and books to schools and to run an observation event for the total eclipse of the moon. Now she is returning to the country for her most important mission yet, to build on Benin’s growing interest in astronomy.

Aude Alapini said: “I have spent seven years learning physics and astronomy at universities in France and the UK, and I believe it is time for me to share this great knowledge I have acquired with the community. Benin is a favourite destination for me, partly because I am half Beninese but also because Benin is a developing country much in need of science and technology knowledge inputs from the developed world. Our coming trip to Benin will enable even more Beninese to hear about science and astronomy in a fun way. We are also bringing a lot of books and scientific equipment that will stay in Benin and will be used in schools and universities to spread this knowledge far beyond our visit.”

Astronomy has special significance in Benin. The Sun and the Moon are embedded in Beninese religious beliefs and have always been important symbols in the country’s traditional culture. Since the total solar eclipse of 2006, a growing interest for scientific explanation of the Heavens has been developing in Benin.

Aude’s visit is funded by the University of Exeter’s School of Physics. The mission is a collaboration between the University of Exeter, the Observatoire de Paris (France), the Beninese astronomy club ‘Orion-Benin’ and the town of Savalou (Benin).

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) is supported by UNESCO. IYA 2009 is a year-long worldwide celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture across the globe. One of the objectives of IYA is to use astronomy to promote science among young children, minority groups and in developing countries.

Aude Alapini added: “During the IYA 2009, efforts are being put into astronomy outreach and finding funding for exciting outreach projects such as our outreach mission to Benin is more possible than ever. I am lucky to be funded by the School of Physics for this project.“

As part of IYA 2009, the School of Physics is also planning an astronomy open evening on 1 April, which is free and open to all.

Date: 19 March 2009

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