Astro Person of the Week

Astro Persoon van die Week: Die span van Ed en Lynnette Foster (ELF Astronomy)

(An English translation is given below)

Ons was verras, verheug, ietwat verleë en beslis onkant betrap deur die erkenning van OOG (Die Orion Obsevasiegroep) se kant af.  Ons is egter baie bly en besonder dankbaar vir al die aanprysing.  Lees hieronder self wat OOG te sê het en onthou tog dat ‘n knippie sout nie sal kwaad doen nie.

Ten spyte van die koue en soms nat winterweer, wat meeste van ons Wes-Kaapse sterrekykers eerder voor die kaggel laat sit, is Ed en Lynnette altyd aan die wikkel. Skaars is die een sterre byeenkoms of uitreikings aktiwiteit afgehandel of hul begin beplan aan die volgende.

Tesame met Auke Slotegraaf, bied Ed en Lynnette die gewilde “Southern Star Party” byeenkomste aan en die driemanskap is ook elke jaar tydens Nasionale Wetenskapsweek baie bedrywig met allerhande sterrekundige aktiwiteite.

Nasionale Wetenskapsweek is ‘n publieke bewusmakings inisiatief van die Suid-Afrikaanse Departement van Wetenskap en Tegnologie. SAASTA (Suid-Afrikaanse Agentskap vir die Bevordering van Wetenskap en Tegnologie) is aangestel as die uitvoerende agent van hierdie inisiatief en toelae word toegestaan aan verdienstelike persone nadat tenders deeglik oorweeg is.

Benewens al die projekte wat ELF Astronomy aanpak het hul onlangse bedrywighede, waar hul uitreikingswerk by die Athlone skool vir blindes gedoen het, ook OOG se aandag getrek. Hulle het hul uitreiking na siggestremdes nog verder uitgebrei met ‘n besoek aan die Durr familie op Malmesbury. “Astronomy for the Visually Impaired – A visit to the Durr family in Malmesbury 

Ed en Lynnette is nie net met sterre gepla nie, maar het nog vele ysters in die vuur – te veel om hier op te noem. Knyp gerus ‘n tydjie af en loer rond op hulle webblad.

A collage of photos about us put together by OOG

A collage of photos about us put together by OOG

Astro Person of the Week: The team of Ed and Lynnette Foster (ELF Astronomy)

We were surprised, elated, a bit taken aback and definitely caught off-side by this acknowledgement from OOG (Die Orion Obsevasiegroep).  We are, however, very happy and extremely thankfull for all the praise.  Read what OOG said below but please remember that a pinch of salt won’t do any harm.

In spite of the cold, and sometimes wet, winter weather which makes most Western Cape Cape stargazers prefer to sit in front of the hearth, Ed and Lynnette are always on the go. They have hardly finished one stargazing event our outreach activity or they are busy planning the next one.

Along with Auke Slotegraaf, Ed and Lynnette present the popular “Southern Star Party” gatherings and the triumvirate is also very involved in the annual National Science Week with a variety of astronomy activities.

National Science Week is a public awareness initiative of the South African Department of Science and Technology and their business arm, SAASTA (South African Agency for the Advancement of Science and Technology). They are the designated agency that has to carry out this initiative every year. Grants are allocated to deserving applicants after their tenders have been thoroughly evaluated.

Over and above all the projects that ELF Astronomy tackles, their recent outreach activities at the Athlone School for the Blind also drew OOG’s attention. They have extended their outreach activities with the visually impaired further with a visit to the Durr  family in Malmesbury. “Astronomy for the Visually Impaired – A visit to the Durr family in Malmesbury 

Ed and Lynnette not only do astronomy but are also involved in many other projects – too numerous to list here. Take the time to look around their webpage

Astronomy for the Visually Impaired

Visit to the Durr Family in Malmesbury,10 May 2014

In Die Burger of 21 April 2014 an article by Blanche de Vries titled “Seun met swak sig maak deurbraak” (Eng. Boy with poor sight makes a breakthrough) caught Lynnette’s eye and she filed it with the intention that we would try and include Pieter-Jans Durr in our outreach plans for 2014. Lady Luck was on our side because in the meantime, Dr Wanda Diaz-Merced, the blind astrophysicist from Puerto Rico, paid South Africa a visit, and was based at the International Astronomical Union’s Office for Development on the premises of the Southern African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Observatory, Cape Town.

We mentioned Pieter-Jans to Wanda on Friday during discussions following her farewell lunch at the SAAO, and she expressed interest in meeting Pieter-Jans.  So when we arrived home, Lynnette set about contacting the Durr Family. There were five numbers listed for the surname Durr, but the very first number she tried turned out to be the jackpot: it was Pieter-Jans’s grandmother.  Wanda was due to address a combined parents and teachers meeting on Saturday morning at the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South but she would be finished by 10:30 or shortly afterward.  We picked her up shortly after 11:00 and headed for Malmesbury. It rained intermittently on the way to Malmesbury, but we arrived on time at the Durr residence where we were warmly welcomed by Mrs Marie Durr, Pieter-Jans’s mother.

While we waited for Pieter-Jans, Marie filled us in on the family background. Pieter-Jans is the youngest of four children and he and his two older sisters all suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, generally abbreviated to RP.  His eldest sister attended the Pioneer School in Worcester before transferring back to a mainstream school in Malmesbury to complete her high schooling.  She then went on to complete a BA (Law) degree at the University of Stellenbosch. The second daughter matriculated at the Pioneer School in Worcester earning a place amongst the top ten in the Western Province. She is currently working on a master’s degree in Psychology at the University of Stellenbosch.  Pieter-Jans’s brother has no visual impediment.  He is a very capable Rugby player and is currently completing a degree in Physiotherapy at the University of Stellenbosch. Pieter-Jans himself was until recently a pupil at the Pioneer School in Worcester, but in 2014 he had expressed the wish transfer to the Swartland High School in his hometown, Malmesbury.  By the time Wanda had related her background to Marie and we had finished the coffee and melktert, Pieter-Jans arrived.

Pieter-Jans admitted to knowing very little about astronomy, an omission which Wanda soon set about correcting with the aid of the posters from the “Touch the Invisible Sky” and “From the Earth to the Sky” series.  She also presented him with the material she had brought along specifically to give to him.  Wanda soon had Pieter-Jans completely at his ease, and before long they were engaged in a lively discussion about the posters which Pieter-Jans eagerly examined.  Marie showed a keen interest in the posters and the discussion too, especially when Wanda pointed out the fact that only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum was visible to sighted people. By far the greater part had to be interpreted using instruments in any case, which is why she promotes converting signals to sound as a means for visually impaired people to participate in astronomy, because of their more acute hearing.

Peter-Jans with one of the posters Wande gave him
Peter-Jans with one of the posters Wande gave him
Wanda and Pieter-Jans warming to the topic of solar weather.
Wanda and Pieter-Jans warming to the topic of solar weather
Wanda and Marie exchange views while Pieter-Jans studies one of the TOuch the Invisible Universe posters
Wanda and Marie exchange views while Pieter-Jans studies one of the “Touch the Invisible Sky” posters
Marie and Pieter-Jans paying close attention while Wanda explains some finer points
Marie and Pieter-Jans paying close attention while Wanda explains some finer points

By the time Pieter-Jans’s father, John, arrived we were ready for the second round of coffee, melktert and rusks. John slipped effortlessly into the discussions and in-between talking, and sipping his coffee also took time to look at the posters.  After coffee, John excused himself as he had promised to attend a rugby match in which his other son was playing.  Before he left though we did take a photograph of the family.

Wanda, Marie, Pieter-Jans, myself and John on the extreme right.  I am holding one of the "Touch the Invisible Universe" posters while John sips his coffee and looks at one of the "From the Earth to the Sky" posters
Wanda, Marie, Pieter-Jans, myself and John on the extreme right. I am holding one of the “Touch the Invisible Sky” posters while John sips his coffee and looks at one of the “From the Earth to the Sky” posters
John attending to the fire Wanda, Marie and Pieter-Jans with one of the "Touch the Invisible Sky" posters
John attending to the fire Wanda, Marie and Pieter-Jans with one of teh “Touch the Invisible Sky” posters

Lynnette and I would like to thank Marie and John for welcoming us, total strangers, into their home and on such short notice too. We intend going back as soon as possible to visit Pieter-Jans and to expand his astronomy knowledge.  On subsequent visits, we also hope to discuss astronomy with his classmates and his science teacher.

Wanda and Pieter-Jans holding one of the "From the Earth to the Sky" posters
Wanda and Pieter-Jans holding one of the “From the Earth to the Sky” posters
The Durr family with Wanda: John on the left, Wanda, Pieter-Jans and Marie on the right
Wanda with the The Durr family of Malmesbury: John on the left, Wanda, Pieter-Jans and Marie on the right

Athlone School for the Blind

 06 May 2014 at the school

Lynnette and I joined forces with Dr. Wanda Diaz-Merced from the IAU’s outreach office in Observatory as well as Cedric Jacobs and Buzani Khumalo from the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), on a visit to the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South. Lynnette and I had already had contact with them on a previous memorable occasion, so we were looking forward to seeing them again. After being welcomed by Mr. Fletcher Fisher, the Principal, we went to the hall and, while chairs and tables were being organized, Buzani, Cedric, Wanda and I fetched the material in the SAAO’s vehicle.  Cedric, Wanda and I set up the radio telescope that Wanda had constructed, while Lynnette and Buzani looked through the very interesting, low-cost demonstration material Buzani had brought along.

Lynnette and Buzani discussing the very interesting demonstration material
Lynnette and Buzani discussing the very interesting demonstration material

By the time we had the radio telescope set up the group of about 50 learners from grades four to six and their teachers had taken their places in the hall. Murphy, however, had sneaked in with a bunch of his Gremlin buddies and taken up residence in the loudspeaker of Wanda’s radio telescope. Everything in the system worked but the loudspeaker obstinately refused to produce even the faintest hiss of static, let alone an audible radio signal from the Sun. So at the end of the first round, the score was Murphy 1, Wanda 0 but, like a true professional, Wanda ignored Murphy and launched straight into her presentation. She talked about a variety of astronomical topics and made reference to her own work and the fact that she could not see. The learners were then brought up to the tables in small groups. On the first table was a model of the Sun which Wanda had prepared and on the second table the electronics of the radio telescope and the stubbornly, non-functional loudspeaker. Wanda was on hand all the time to answer questions and guide the eager learners as they worked their way around both tables. They were all very interested in her Sun-model and many of them were also very interested in the components of the radio telescope.

The group of grades four to six learners and teachers at the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South, South Africa
The group of grades four to six learners and teachers at the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South, South Africa
I listen to the Universe!
Dr Diaze-Merced giving the learners a very lively and animated astronomy talk
Buzani Khumalo speaking to the learners
Buzani Khumalo speaking to the learners
Dr Diaz-Merced, watched by Cedric, fights a losing battle against Murphy and the unwilling loudspeaker
Dr Diaz-Merced, watched by Cedric, fights a losing battle against Murphy and the unwilling loudspeaker
Dr Diaz-Merced guiding at the Sun model
Dr Diaz-Merced guiding at the Sun model
Dr Diaz-Merced explains the intricacies of electronic circuitry to the learners
Dr Diaz-Merced explains the intricacies of electronic circuitry to the learners

The next exercise involved allowing everyone to handle a Moon globe while Wanda spoke about the Moon. Thereafter we handed round two sets of braille posters and as they circulated Wanda and I answered questions that examining the posters generated. The one set of posters were the beautiful reproductions from the book “Touch the Invisible Sky” published by Ozone Publishing Group and kindly supplied by Kimberly Kowal-Arcand at Harvard University. The other posters and the Moon Globe were from the Chandra “From the Earth to the Sky” series obtained from Dr Amelia Ortez-Gill via the “A Touch of the Universe” program. After everyone had handled the posters we ended the session and packed up.

The Moon Globe was a lot of fun
The Moon Globe was a lot of fun

 

Non-astronomical activities with the Moon Globe
Non-astronomical antics with the Moon Globe
Lunar eclipse poster from the "From the Earth to the Sky" series
Lunar Eclipse poster from the “From the Earth to the Sky” series
The Solar flares poster from the "From the Earth to the Sky" series
The Solar Flares poster from the “From the Earth to the Sky” series
The Earth From Space poster from the "From the Earth to the Sky" series
The Earth From Space poster from the “From the Earth to the Sky” series
The Sunspots poster from the "Touch the Invisible Sky" series
The Sunspots poster from the “Touch the Invisible Sky” series
The Galaxies poster from the "Touch the Invisible Sky" series
The Galaxies poster from the “Touch the Invisible Sky” series
The Sunspots poster from the "Touch the Invisible Sky" series
The Sunspots poster from the “Touch the Invisible Sky” series
A very serious examination of the Solar Flares poster from the "From the Earth to the Sky" series
A very serious examination of the Solar Flares poster from the “From the Earth to the Sky” series
The Eta Carina poster from the "Touch the Invisible Sky" series
The Eta Carina poster from the “Touch the Invisible Sky” series

I found the session extremely valuable. Just watching and listening to the ease with which Wanda transferred knowledge and information into the dark world of the visually impaired children was an education in itself. It is very obvious that having had to cope with losing her own sight has given her the special tools to introduce a visual subject like astronomy into their sphere of comprehension, I am afraid my own skills at doing this are woefully inadequate and need lots of practice.

 

Dr Diaz-Merced, listening to the universe
Dr Diaz-Merced, listening to the universe

I salute a very dynamic and talented person who has overcome enormous obstacles to achieve her goals. Wanda, you are an inspirational force second to none!