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Award winner sees bright future for African stargazing

The winner of an inaugural award for inspiring women in science has sung the praises of Africa as a venue for astronomy research.

Astrophysicist Mirjana Pović, who researches galaxy formation from her base at the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute in Addis Ababa, was presented with the ‘Inspiring Science’ prize at the first Nature Research Awards in London on 30 October.

“In astronomy to get the infrastructure is not cheap, but thanks to the open science and free data that we have nowadays you can really do the good research in astronomy basically from any part of the country,” she told Research Africa.

“You just need access to the internet to download the data. And good scientific ideas. Twenty years ago for example when I was just starting with astrophysics, it was not possible. [Now ] with my students we use the public data and they are publishing in the journals with the high impact factors.”

Pović was given an award for her work to promote women in science in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana via outreach, training and research collaborations.

“It’s really a very good moment to start with an African network of women in astronomy and space science, because these two fields are just starting now with all the developments in Africa, and we want to be present from the very beginning,” she said at the awards.

Speaking after receiving her trophy at the London headquarters of award-sponsor Estée Lauder Companies, she told Research Africa that while brain drain was still a problem, “there are many opportunities now in African countries, because there is such a huge lack of qualified people”.

“It’s really important that you can see it is possible,” she said. “If you offer the work possibilities for the people, they will stay.”

And for women in African science things are also changing—in the past two years when Pović was fully based in Ethiopia only one of the masters and PhD students enrolled in her programme was female.

“Now, this year it is totally 50:50 in terms of the gender – we have four students and two of them are females.”