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