Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pulse Health Care donates a 4.5 inch reflector telescope to Africa HOU.

This past two months have been great for Africa HOU. One of the leading medical equipment distributors in the country, Pulse Health care donated a telescope and a green laser pointer. The equipment was purchased in a store in South Africa and shipped to Kenya. The Africa HOU office has now turned into a star gazing site at night despite the tall building and trees around.

Some of the sponsors have had a chance to look through the telescope and get excited about astronomy. During some of the evening, we have had a chance to bring young children near the office to get a chance and look at the moon through the 4.5 inch reflector telescope. We have also had amazing star gazing moments with young professional.

On December 1st, I had a chance of sharing my passion for astronomy with some young children. We discussed some astronomy key points and gave them a chance to look through the telescope. The children were impressed at the site of the moon and the two "stars" actually planets, Venus and Jupiter. We discussed some issues like how these planets may appear close by but are actually more than 800 million kilometers apart.

The young children between the ages of ten to two years, were excited and begun asking lots of questions. "Why is the moon round and not crescent as we can see?" "What are the things we see on the moon?", "Where does the moon go some nights", "Does the moon have light?". After giving them satisfactory answers I posed some questions to them. One of the questions I posed was which of the three celestial bodies is the biggest. Some of the really young children thought the moon is actually the biggest and others thought its Jupiter. We came to an agreement after a short demonstration of how the distant objects actually do appear smaller.

The sponsors and other professionals were not left behind. One of the gentlemen, an IT specialist who is a physics graduate started science refresher courses after marveling at the site of the moon. The topic of black holes, dark energy and supernova soon begun. Another professional, an engineer could not get his hands off the telescope, he kept playing with the machine as that is what he enjoys, fixing and experimenting. One of our sponsors thought of buying his two-year old son a telescope. Well I think I will encourage him to do so.

Most evenings I have a task at our office. Even the German neighbor who lives close by has now come and asked lots of science questions. Unfortunately she has never had a chance to look through the telescope but am certain that very soon she will.

Astronomy is an interesting science, It sparks scientific curiosity and intrigue. I am starting to see the intrigue in many of these children eyes as we meet. They even call me "msichana wa nyota", the girl of the stars. Some still pose science questions. Recently as I was walking to the office a young girl, maybe four years asked me why the sky is blue. As for my peers, I feel they are now getting some inspiration into science.

We know that with the help of this telescope we will be able to reach many more children out there. If we can get a few more scientists, to ask why?, to find out and make deductions, then maybe we would have served our purpose. Who knows, maybe some of these chilldren will be great discoverers.

To Pulse Health Care, we are extremely grateful for your donation. This will certainly help many young children enjoy science. As we come closer to International Year of Astronomy, we hope to make a greater impact on our future leaders. Asante sana pulse Health Care.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hands-on Universe holds a Teachers' workshop in Kenya

For high school students in the Republic of Kenya in Eastern Africa, star-gazing was enhanced by Hands-On-Universe (HOU), the international award-winning educational program. HOU teaches astronomy, math, and science to primary and secondary level school students by bringing them professional grade telescopic images of the universe. On May 10th and 11th, HOU held an Internet teleconference workshop for nearly a dozen teachers at Kenya High School, a national residency school for girls. This is the first HOU workshop to be held on the continent of Africa.

“There are certain images and concepts that transcend backgrounds and capture everyone's imagination. Turning a telescope to the sky opens that view to all and inspires them to learn more. The HOU program
provides an excellent opportunity to continue and promote this activity and interest." George Smoot

Dr. Smoot is an astrophysicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for his own cosmological discoveries.

Richard Lohman, George Smoot, and Carl Pennypacker in video conference with Kenya High School

Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt - more photos of video conference here.

“The HOU teachers’ workshop in Kenya is an opportunity to bring to African students the wonder and excitement of astronomy,” Smoot said. “HOU motivates young people to learn more about astronomy and related scientific and technical topics, and enables them to develop skills that will help them succeed in a modern society.”

HOU, which began at Berkeley Lab and is now under the Lawrence Hall of Science, will soon be headquartered at a cosmology educational center being established by Smoot. HOU was started by Carl Pennypacker, an astrophysicist and Smoot colleague at Berkeley Lab, in the early 1990s when he began providing high school students with star images from the Leuschner Observatory of the University of California at Berkeley. The students used these images to make actual cosmology discoveries, including asteroids and the first light of a supernova. Pennypacker has since expanded the program so that HOU reaches more than 1,500 classrooms across the world, with growing participation in the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. HOU is also in the process of being extended to the People’s Republic of China.

HOUs inaugural event at Kenya High School was organized by Pennypacker and Susan Murabona, a computer programmer in Nairobi, who is currently also studying astronomy at James Cook University in Australia. Murabona became involved with HOU through Hakeem Oluseyi, a former colleague of Pennypacker's at Berkeley Lab, who is now an astrophysicist at the Florida Institute of Technology. Murabona and Oluseyi met while both were participating in the 2002 Under African Skies Eclipse Expedition, which was sponsored by Cosmos Education (CE), an international non-profit organization dedicated to improving science education in developing countries. Today, Murabona and Oluseyi are working closely with Pennypacker to bring HOU to Africa. HOU is funded by the National Science Foundation.

For more information:
Carl Pennypacker can be reached by e-mail at

Susan Murabona can be reached by e-mail at

For more information about Hands On Universe, visit the Website at