International School for Young Astronomers - 2009

In 1956, before the small nation of Trinidad and Tobago gained independence, and before any university existed there, Mr. William Edwards moved to the, cold, wet, Canadian west coast to study at the University of British Columbia. Despite a longing to someday return to his beloved Trinidad, he lived out a happy life in Canada as a high school Math teacher.  He became a dual citizen and raised a family. One of his daughters (myself) became an Astronomer.

Figure 1: Young astronomers in Trinidad and Tobago!

Growing up eating pigeon peas and rice, and playing the steal drums I have always been curious of Trinidad. Imagine my excitement when I learned that the International School for Young Astronomers (ISYA) would be held in Trinidad from December 6-18 2009, during the International Year for Astronomy no less! I quickly contacted the organizers to see how I might be able to help out. I am grateful to Prof. J-P De Greve and Dr. S. Haque, for the opportunity to participate in this school.

Developed by the International Astronomical Union, this year marks the 31st edition of the 2-3 week long school. Professors and students at the host institute, in this case the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), act as the local organizing committee, gaining enormous visibility along the way. The UWI Physics department offers two Astronomy courses, has a 40cm rooftop telescope, an Astronomy professor, and has seen 4 graduate students over the last 3 years. There are two active amateur astronomy groups on the island as well, the Astronomical Society and CARINA (Caribbean Institute for Astronomy).

Another important initiative of ISYA is to provide a forum for students chosen from developing nations across the globe to share their knowledge and build a network. This year, 17 countries are represented with students from Nigeria to Columbia, and instructors from all over Europe and the United States (as well as this displaced Canadian). I have been inspired by the enthusiasm projected by the grad students during my proposal writing workshop. Another highlight was the wonder and curiosity of the elementary school students at Trinidad's National Science Center as I introduced them to the scale of the Solar System.

It is a special feeling for me to teach and promote Astronomy with ISYA at UWI, the university which did not exist for my father's time. Here, pigeon peas are served for lunch and sweet steel pan music floats down the streets. If you would like to learn more about ISYA, Gerbaldi and Guinan have published a nice description which can be found in Transactions IAU, Volume 3, Issue 26B, Edited by Karel van der Hucht, p. 238-24.

Louise Edwards