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South African astronomer wins Edinburgh medal

A South African astronomer has won the 2016 Edinburgh Medal, the first winner from the country since the medal’s inception in 1989.

Kevin Govender will share the award with the International Astronomical Union for the work in setting up the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development, which Govender heads.

In a statement awarding the honour to Govender and the OAD, Donald Wilson, Lord Provost of City of Edinburgh Council, said: “The difference that Kevin Govender and the IAU have made in developing countries is astronomical.”

He added, “The IAU strategy to use astronomy to simulate 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 still trying to let it sink in,” says Govender, who will accept the medal on 30 March in the Scottish city.

The medal is conferred anually during the Edinburgh International Science Festival to leading scientists, measured on the strength of their science and the reach of their work.

 “It’s a huge honour obviously,” Govender says, especially for African astronomy. “I hope that this helps to change potentially negative perspectives about the continent’s ability to lead the world in science and related matters.”

Govender is the third African winner of the medal. Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai won it in 1993. Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

In 2014 the medal was awarded to Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a Kenya-based agricultural scientist working on indigenous vegetables.

Other luminaries who have been awarded the medal include geneticist John Sulston, physicist Peter Higgs,  astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, primatologist Jane Goodall and TV presenter David Attenborough.