Edinburgh Medal for science winner honoured

JOHN HARVEY

Kevin Govender, winner of the prestigious 2016 Edinburgh Medal for Science and director of the Observatory-based Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), was honoured by Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, and other distinguished guests at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Bishopscourt last week.

The cocktail reception last Wednesday, hosted by the British Consul-General in Cape Town, Edward Roman, proved to be the ideal send-off for Mr Govender ahead of his trip to the Edinburgh International Science Festival, where he received the award jointly with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) yesterday Wednesday.

Mr Govender is the first South African to win the Edinburgh Medal, and he joins the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Dame Jane Goodall and Professor Heinz Wolff in receiving the honour. Since its inception, the OAD has harnessed astronomy in the service of global education.

The award was made for the establishment of the IAU OAD, which integrates the pursuit of scientific knowledge with social development for and with those most in need. The office, launched in 2011 by Ms Pandor, is based at the South African Astronomical Observatory in partnership with the National Research Foundation and the South African Department of Science and Technology.

Mr Govender said his entire team at the OAD deserved the award and added that it would not have been possible without the support of the Department of Science and Technology.

“Our goal has always been to take science and make it resonate with the people on the ground. Today we have offices around the world, and we have funded more than 86 projects.

“That is a real testament to our team at OAD – Nuhaah Solomon, Eli Grant and our visiting fellows,” he said. We have so much more to this country (South Africa) than we see, and we want to show the world what we can do.”

Ms Pandor said Mr Govender and his team were committed to developing a pool of young people who were making a “significant footprint on the world”.

“As a department, we are investing a lot more in this field, so that we can develop specialists who will have tremendous value. I can’t imagine what award could be bigger, but if there is one, I am sure you would win that too,” she said.

Announcing the award in February, Lord Provost of City of Edinburgh Council, Donald Wilson, said: “The difference that Kevin Govender and the IAU have made in developing countries is astronomical.

Mr Govender has been leading the OAD since 2011 and has overseen the expansions from its roots in Cape Town, to be extended to a further nine regional offices in Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand and Zambia.

“The IAU strategy to use astronomy to stimulate global development is inspiring, it demonstrates how science, technology and culture impacts on our everyday lives and how we can use science to improve communities. I’m thankful to Kevin and IAU for creating opportunities that might lead us to healthier and wealthier futures,” said Mr Wilson.