SITARE: Southampton-IUCAA Training for Astronomical Research and Education

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Provision of *Quality Education* remains a key challenge to sustainable global development. Quality education leads to economic progress through innovation, personal growth and well-being, and reduction of socio-economic inequalities (including gender). Developing countries often suffer the most in terms of this provision. Despite the formulation of miriad strategies to raise the basic education level of their populations, high quality education remains confined to a small elite minority. Targeted approaches addressing specific needs in the higher education sector remain sparse. In particular, the pure sciences are often neglected in lieu of applied subjects such as engineering and information-technology. Yet, blue-skies education and research is critical for driving innovation and development.

Here, we address the issue of pure science development in the low/middle-income country (LMIC) India and the least developed country (LDC) Nepal. We will focus on astronomy and astrophysics education and research activities as a means to encouraging Masters' level university students to go on and pursue higher level research. The students will learn transferable skills in data analysis and critical thinking, allowing them to apply their knowledge well beyond astronomy.

There is a clear and definite need for such capacity building. India is on a path to constructing and operating major new infrastructure focused on astrophysics research. This includes IndIGO (the first gravitational wave LIGO detector outside the USA), the recently-launched AstroSat mission (a world-leading high-energy astronomy satellite), and their involvement in several major international projects such as the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) and South African Large Telescope (SALT) consortium. The UK has core expertise in all of these. However, there is also a shortfall of Indian expertise with the requisite advanced skills to fully develop and exploit the projects. Much funding at present is concentrated in the Indian space programme (ISRO) and in engineering schools (IITs), and both of these have demonstrated success. Yet, India is from being competitive in blue-skies research capacity. Both the AstroSat and the IndIGO teams are keen to recruit fresh young talent and bring in additional resources (IndIGO is currently heavily reliant on US contributions). Additionally, there is a need for young scientists to take the lead in developing TMT and SALT projects; India has a significant share in both which is currently underutilised for SALT.

Nepal's state is far worse. Despite having access to some of the clearest skies in the Himalayas, and a youth force with high aspirations, opportunities for development of pure science research are almost non-existent. Most Nepalese youth are never exposed to the excitement of research. In fact, many of them simply never get the chance to travel abroad.

Our approach will be two-fold: (1) We intend to host a series of workshops in four geographical regions of India, and one in Nepal. Up to ~80 students from a host university and surrounding colleges will be targeted, some of these being quite isolated from big cities. Each workshop will include lectures on a range of frontier topics in astrophysics and data science that the UK (and Southampton in particular) has core expertise in. One-on-one sessions with students will be held to encourage them and answer queries on career possibilities.
(2) Select students will participate in longer training camps in IUCAA and at Southampton, where they will carry out a short research project and will receive international exposure and interaction with their UK peers.

Our strategy includes capacity building through core learning, outreach activities, hands-on training and cross-border interactions. The aim is to allow the next generation of research stars ('sitare') to shine brightly in these countries. Provisions are included for sustainability beyond the end of the project

Planned Impact

This is a capacity building proposal. Outside of the astrophysics academic communities at Southampton and IUCAA, the primary beneficiary is the higher education sector. Masters level students will be trained through a series of focused workshops, research projects, outreach activities and cross-border exchanges. The aim is seeding the development of young scientists who are eager and confident of pursuing research. A gender ratio of ~unity will be maintained in our training camps and workshops. We will strive to engender the philosophy of gender equality amongst the participants.

The training imparted will include transferable skills including statistical analysis, communication and presentation skills, and critical thinking. This will be beneficial for any other sector that the students decide to work in. In addition, we will encourage those with the appropriate interest to consider engineering aspects of the large Indian projects (especially IndIGO) and will ensure that they can be put in contact with industrial contacts involved in the project.

Interaction with UK scientists and international exposure during the UK visit be important novel elements for many of these students, especially those in the LDC Nepal. We expect this to help with international understanding and tolerance, albeit on a very small scale (i.e. on the scale of individuals).

With regard to the broader society, each workshop includes a public talk to be delivered by one of the UK (or IUCAA) staff for a non-expert audience. Additionally, the IUCAA training camp has an outreach (public engagement in a common space) component. Translators are available at IUCAA and help will also be sought from the universities them to help with delivery in local languages, if required. The aim is to create a culture of science amongst the public and parents and families of future scientists.

Finally, our project includes a component of survey data gathering. These will include socio-economic and learning impact questions: e.g. the personal background of the students, the educational levels, interests and needs, in addition to testing core learning gained through the lectures delivered and outreach activities conducted. The results of such a survey will be compiled and fed into the next phase of SITARE. In addition, our hope is to publish these findings for teaching networks in the subcontinent, and report the efficacy of the workshop in journals popular with young scientists there (e.g. the 'Resonance' journal): http://www.ias.ac.in/Journals/Resonance_%E2%80%93_Journal_of_Science_Education/
We will also be more than happy to report any relevant socio-economic and educational statistics (anonymised) to STFC and RCUK, subject to LMIC/LDC permission.

We emphasise that we have prior experience with partnerships involving knowledge transfer and international exchange. See, e.g. the attached Memorandum of Understanding setting out an umbrella framework for collaboration between the UK and the Indian partners, as well as the previous UGC-UKIERI Thematic Partnership won by our team, which allowed international exchange of 3 students and was highly successful: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~pg3e14/ukieri/

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Research collaborative partnership with IUCAA 
Organisation Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA)
Country India 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution 1) Research exchanges; 2) Joint publications; 3) Joint educational initiatives
Collaborator Contribution 1) Staff time 2) Studentship support 3) Local support
Impact See publication list. Joint grants (STFC GCRF, UGC-UKIERI Thematic Partnerships). Public talks.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Press engagement for SITARE 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Several national and international press releases to advertise the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~pg3e14/sitare/press/index.html
 
Description Public talks in India 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public talks organised around the regional SITARE workshops, delivered by visiting UK as well as Indian lecturers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.facebook.com/iit.bh/videos/talk-by-prof-poshak-gandhi-on-the-beauty-and-fury-of-black-ho...
 
Description UK Training Component of SITARE 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact UK workshop for the selected best students from India/Nepal to visit Southampton for 2 weeks for final stage of capacity building workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Workshops for Masters Students across India/Nepal 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Held 5 workshops across remote universities in India and Nepal, with multi-layered training in data science, with the aim of incentivising STEM research uptake.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~pg3e14/sitare/press/index.html