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Berkeley Lab-founded Program Shares Astronomy With African Youth

Susan Murabana majored in economics, but science is her true calling, or more specifically, science education and outreach. She loves nothing more than inspiring young people to engage in science and discover new concepts. So when she came across the educational program Global Hands-On Universe (GHOU) several years ago, she immediately knew she wanted to get involved.

GHOU was started in the early 1990s by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory astronomer Carl Pennypacker, who has now brought it to thousands of teachers in more than a dozen countries around the world. Murabana leads the effort in Africa—already she has reached hundreds of schools in her native Kenya and is making progress in other African nations as well.

Astronomy is a young science in Africa: the few undergraduate programs that exist at African universities are less than four years old (excluding South Africa), according to Murabana. In fact, Pennypacker says Murabana may be one of the most highly educated women in astronomy in Africa (excluding South Africa). This year, she helped launch the African Astronomical Society, the first professional association for astronomy in Africa.

Murabana has been spending the fall at Berkeley Lab, working with Pennypacker to get more hands-on research experience of her own while collecting more resources to expand GHOU in Africa. One of the tools GHOU instructors use is Stellarium, an online 3D planetarium. “On one trip to a rural village, I showed them Stellarium on my laptop and the students went wild with questions,” she said. “One of my dreams is to have a science program in Kenya to showcase everything.”

But it’s not just about Africa learning from the West. “I want to collect traditional sky knowledge in East Africa from different communities, and have something from Africa that we can share with the rest of the world,” she said.