News Releases

UWI to host International School for Young Astronomers

For Release Upon Receipt - November 23, 2009

St. Augustine

Students of all levels who have a passion for astronomy may not see it as a viable career in the Caribbean. But an initiative from The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus, Department of Physics could change that.

Since December 7th 2009, and carded to continue until December 18th 2009, the University has been hosting the 31st International School for Young Astronomers (ISYA), which is bringing regional students into contact with professional astronomers and making the field of Astronomy more visible to decision makers in the region.

Next on the agenda is a public lecture and jazz saxophone musical performance by Trinidad-born Professor Stephon Alexander, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Haverford College, USA. The lecture, titled “Music and Cosmology,” will take place on Thursday 17th December, at 5.30 pm, at Daaga Auditorium, UWI St Augustine. Professor Alexander’s lecture will focus on the relationship between Einstein's theory of space-time and gravity (general relativity) and the structures in our universe that resemble the inner architecture of music.

"Astronomy is really a culmination of all other basic sciences and mathematics, but its relevance is understated in underserved regions like the Caribbean,” stated Dr Shirin Haque-Copilah, Head of the UWI Physics Department and co-chair of the 2009 ISYA. “The skills acquired for Astronomy are applicable in other fields.”

Chaired by Dr. Jean-Pierre De Grève of Brussels University, the ISYA annually provides a forum for aspiring and practicing astronomers to collaborate with other professional astronomers. ISYA 2009 is co-organised by UWI St Augustine, and the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and is supported by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Literature (NASL), the Kavli Prize, and the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (NIHERST) and CARISCIENCE in Trinidad.

ISYA 2009 coincides with the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), marking 400 years since Galileo first looked through the telescope. To mark this occasion, ISYA, for the first time, involved a two-day workshop for primary and secondary school teachers in Trinidad on December 8th and 9th. Teachers were trained in practicing and teaching Astronomy at the relevant levels in the schools and received software and observational training sessions.

The visiting Astronomers also led a session for children aged 9 to 12, titled "Imagine the Universe," on December 16th.

To further mark the IYA celebrations, visiting professor Edward Guinan of Villanova University, USA, delivered a public lecture titled “The Once and Future Sun: The Sun's Impact on Climate and Life,” on December 10th. Since 2006, Professor Guinan has served as co-chair of the IAU astronomy education and outreach programme. His lecture focused on the effects of the sun's magnetic-generated energy on the Earth's climate, and the role the sun may have played in global warming over the past 150 years. Guinan also explored how the sun's ever-increasing luminosity affects the Earth's long-term climate and its habitability.

To find out more, please contact Dr Shirin Haque-Copilah, Head of Department, Senior Lecturer and Astronomer, Department of Physics, at or (868) 662 2002 Ext. 2050, 3123.


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About Professor Edward Guinan

The principal investigator on more than 40 NASA research projects, Edward Guinan has utilised more than 10 different orbiting space observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra and XMM-Newton X-Ray telescopes. Guinan also studies the habitability of planets hosted by other stars. He is working on improving the cosmic distance scale by measuring accurate distances to nearby galaxies using binary stars. Under a grant from the National Science Foundation, Guinan is developing an artificial intelligence program for coping with the deluge of data streaming in from ground-based and NASA orbiting missions. Guinan has published more than 500 papers, edited three books and has been the recipient of the Outstanding Research Award and Alumni Award from Villanova University. Guinan earned his academic degrees from Villanova and from the University of Pennsylvania. Guinan has served as president of the International Astronomical Union's Commission 42 on Close Binary Stars and on Division V Variable Stars.


About Professor Stephon Alexander

Stephon H. Alexander is a Trinidadian born associate professor of Physics at Haverford College, USA. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from Brown University in 2000, with a dissertation titled “Topics at the Interface between String Theory and Cosmology.” From 2000 to 2002, he held a postdoctoral fellowship from PPARC (the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council of the United Kingdom). He recently won the National Science Foundation CAREER award and was elected a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. His research focuses on unresolved problems—such as the cosmological-constant or dark-energy problem—that connect cosmology to quantum gravity and the standard model of elementary particles. In particular, he uses observations in cosmology to both construct and test fundamental theories.


About The International Astronomical Union

The IAU (International Astronomical Union) is the largest international Astronomy body and this is the first time that the ISYA is being held in this region of the world, the last one being in Turkey. Eight Professors of Astronomy  and two other specialists from the USA, France, Belgium, UK, and Chile will be teaching the courses in Trinidad on Planetary Astrophysics, Binary Stars, Stellar Evolution, Extrasolar planets, planetary and atmospheric science and Astrobiology, Data Reduction and analyses (using time obtained on the international robotic telescope). The graduate students are from Italy, Uraguay, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Nigeria, including six from Trinidad.


About UWI

Over the last six decades, The University of the West Indies (UWI) has evolved from a fledgling college in Jamaica with 33 students to a full-fledged University with over 40,000 students. Today, UWI is the largest and most longstanding higher education provider in the English-speaking Caribbean, with main campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, and Centres in Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Christopher (St Kitts) & Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. UWI recently launched its Open Campus, a virtual campus with over 50 physical site locations across the region, serving over 20 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. UWI is an international university with faculty and students from over 40 countries and collaborative links with over 60 universities around the world. Through its seven Faculties, UWI offers undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Pure & Applied Sciences, Science and Agriculture, and Social Sciences.