Full STEAM ahead for astronomy in Uganda!

May 15, 2024

End of April, the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics) festival took place at Kyambogo University in Uganda. One of the highlights: the mobile planetarium set up by Benard Nsamba, head of the MPA partner group and Branco Weiss fellow.

How do you inspire young students to consider pursuing a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)? With his MPA partner group, Benard Nsamba decided to use astronomy and in particular a mobile planetarium, funded by the Branco Weiss foundation. The planetarium debuted during the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics) festival, held from April 24th to 26th, 2024 at Kyambogo University in Kampala, Uganda.

During a press conference on April 20th, 2024, shortly before the STEAM festival, the first mobile planetarium in Uganda was unveiled and the first planetarium show presented. It will aid in the achievement of the societal goal of the Branco Weiss project led by Nsamba which is to use astronomy as a tool to inspire/motivate high school students to consider pursuing STEM-related careers. The press conference was attended by the Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. Eli Katunguka Rwakishaya and the Dean of the Faculty of Science Ass. Prof. Edriisa Mugampoza of the Kyambogo University. 

In total about 1000 people visited the planetarium during the STEAM festival, primarily from Ugandan high schools and universities, but also some members of the public. The group performed 55 planetarium shows during the three days, with each session lasting about 20 minutes. There were two short shows per session, each about 10 minutes long: The first was a short description of basic concepts in astronomy, such as stars, planets, moons, the solar system, constellations, and galaxies, with an additional brief discussion of the different types of optical telescopes. The second part of the planetarium show was entitled “Journey to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy”.  This full dome video was developed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and is aimed at enlightening the public and students about what is found at the Center of our Galaxy. It starts with a journey from the driest place on Earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile, through billions of stars to the Center of our Galaxy, where a black hole is consuming anything that strays into its path.

In addition to the planetarium shows, Benard Nsamba was also a keynote speaker of the subtheme “Unveiling the Wonders of Space Science for Community Advancement”, inspired by Uganda’s launch of its first satellite. The discussion did not only serve as a platform to brainstorm how Uganda can leverage its satellite technology to develop home-grown solutions for local challenges but also to acknowledge the historical role of the diverse cultural beliefs regarding celestial bodies in fostering a sense of responsibility, promoting self-reliance and economic growth.

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