Wednesday 20 June 2012

Visiting the ESO offices

Yesterday morning I had meetings with outreach people from ESO and ALMA.

The ESO offices in Santiago are in the rather plush area of Vitacura (lots of designer shops and fancy housing). I got the metro at what I found was clearly still rush-hour. 'Busy' doesn't even come close to describing how the trains were! But, there are assistance on hand at the busiest stations to keep things in order - nice touch to an already excellent metro system, I have to say.

Anyway, the walk from the metro station to the ESO office took around half an hour and involved a couple of hairy road crossings, but I made it in one piece, and was delighted to see they have some nice astronomy images around the fencing of the site.

ESO Offices, Santiago
My first meeting was with Laura Ventura and Valentina Rodriguez of the ePOD Chile team. Laura is the Education Officer, and Valentina the Press and Outreach Officer and head of the team. We chatted together about the different activities ESO does in terms of outreach, and that currently, their focus is mostly on wider public outreach and social media. However, they do provide funds to support other astronomy education projects in schools and universities around Chile. For example, next week there is an event in La Serena for various different colleges with an astronomy focus, which ESO are supporting. They also told me of a school in Calama which they have links with, which has a very strong astronomy focus - I may look into visiting the school when I am in that area.

I told Laura and Valentina about some of the projects I've been involved in through my work at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, including our recent links with the ESERO network, the James Webb teacher CPD we run and our Deep Space schools resources (which I also showed them on the internet). I also explained the set-up of the observatory in Edinburgh and the work of the Visitor Centre in general.

Laura showed me some information from an astronomy summer school ESO used to run in conjunction with the European Association for Astronomy Education, for teachers from across Europe. We discussed the challenges of ESO having so many member states, and hence different languages and school systems - making it difficult to run training appropriate for all. The astronomy summer school was run in English, but Laura said that some of the teachers had found that challenging as not all the teachers had the same level of English.

One exciting result of my meeting with the ePOD team was that I will hopefully be able to have an overnight stay at Paranal. Laura is accompanying a group up to do some filming (I think she said for a planetarium film)  from the 4th to 11th July. I was already planning to be in the north around those dates so it works perfectly. Super excited about that opportunity! I also got some nice ESO materials to take away with me including a nice mug with the Helix Nebula on it and some stickers (including one of the E-ELT saying 'Size really does matter' which I found very amusing!

Following my meeting with the ePOD team I went across the site to the ALMA building to meet with the ALMA outreach people. I first met Valeria Foncea who I had been in contact with before I left the UK. Valeria leads the outreach team for ALMA and is Chilean. She also introduced me to William Garnier, who is French and is the Education and Outreach Officer for ALMA.Valeria and I talked a bit about ALMA and she showed me a brand new (hot off the press!) brochure which has been created for the public. Valeria also told me of work the ALMA outreach team have been doing with an AtacameƱo school, using inquiry based learning with the pupils to support their English and Science lessons. There is more information about this project here

Valeria and I also discussed the plans for my visit to ALMA. Valeria has a Columbian journalist visiting and has invited me to join this visit. At the moment, the plan is to visit the Operations Support Facility on 5th July and the Array Operations Site (at 5000m!) on the 6th July. The logistics are still to be firmed up, and I have to send Valeria confirmation that I passed my high altitude medical in the UK so she can authorise the visit. Even though I have done this medical, everyone still has to do another short medical assessment the day before going to the AOS.

I got a few nice giveaways from ALMA too, including one of their brand new brochures, a paper model to make of one of the ALMA dishes (which is earmarked for someone back in Edinburgh!) and a fantastic book all about the flora and fauna of the Chajnantor plain, where ALMA is situated.

William and I then went for lunch at the nearby Museo de la Moda, and chatted lots about our jobs - career paths, diversity of tasks, enjoyment, difficulties.

All in all a fabulous morning and some very lovely people!

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