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Launch Of Universe Awareness Initiative

by Staff Writers
Prague, Czech Republic (SPX) Aug 23, 2006
The Universe Awareness initiative is being officially launched at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly in Prague today, by an international team of educators, astronomers, and anthropologists.

Universe Awareness (UNAWE) is an international project that will expose underprivileged young children, aged between 4 and 10 years, to the inspirational aspects of astronomy. This will be done through games, films, songs and other entertainment using cartoon characters and inspiring imagery. The team overseeing the development of UNAWE has representatives from 15 countries on 5 continents.

"By conveying a feeling for the vastness and beauty of the Universe UNAWE aims to broaden the minds of the children, to enhance their understanding of the world and to demonstrate the power of rational thought." Said George Miley, Royal Netherlands Academy Professor at Leiden University, who pioneered the UNAWE concept.

Universe Awareness will develop country-specific materials, professionally produced and adapted to local delivery techniques, teaching environments, and languages, in tight collaboration with local communities. There will also be training provided, and an international network for teacher communication.

The rationale of Universe Awareness is that exposing children to the beautiful images captured by modern telescopes and the vastness of the Universe inferred by modern science will help give them a balanced perspective on the world.

"Wonderment of the night sky has been a source of inspiration throughout the history of humankind. Astronomy has deep roots in most civilizations and as such can help us understand our identity and diversity." Said Dr Carolina �dman, UNAWE project manager, also at Leiden Observatory.

Successful UNAWE pilot projects were carried out in Venezuela and Tunisia during 2006.

The full UNAWE programme will be implemented in 2009 (planned to be the International Year of Astronomy), in at least 4 emerging countries and 4 disadvantaged regions of EU member states. UNAWE has been endorsed by distinguished scientists and international personalities, including 3 Nobel Prize winners.

"Astronomy involves natural sciences and technology and has strong links to philosophy, the arts and human development. Because of its multi-facetted nature, astronomy is a unique discipline for exciting young children and imbuing them with an appreciation of both science and culture." Said Claus Madsen from ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, which is supporting UNAWE.

"Knowledge about the Universe should be a birth right of all children, but access to this knowledge is most difficult in disadvantaged regions and communities throughout the world." Said Dr Cecilia Scorza de Appl, Chair of the UNAWE Education sub-committee.

At present UNAWE has contacts, collaborators and contributors in the following countries: Chile, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Venezuela.

The aims of UNAWE are in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in promoting universal primary education and gender equality in schools.

The following organisations have endorsed the Universe Awareness programme:

- Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy (ASTRON)

- European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE)

- European Schoolnet (EUN)

- European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO)

- Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

- International Astronomical Union (IAU)

- The LOFAR Foundation

- Netherlands Research School in Astronomy (NOVA)

- Netherlands Organisation for Space Research (SRON)

- Leiden University (UL)

- Universit�t Heidelberg (ZAH)

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Los Angeles (SPX) Aug 23, 2006
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