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Altair, a project launched by Amsterdam-based astronomer Sera Markoff, has been awarded the NWO Diversity Initiative Award. The project introduces primary school children to astronomy and physics. The Diversity Initiative Award is awarded to initiatives that improve diversity in the field. Initiator Prof. Sera Markoff (University of Amsterdam) will receive € 50,000 to help further develop the project. IAU100, an international astronomy outreach project, was the first recipient of the NWO Communication Award. For the centenary celebrations of the International Astronomical Union in 2019, activities and projects were organised all around the world - including in the Netherlands - to promote the importance of astronomy. More than 5,000 activities in 143 countries have reached an estimated 100 million people.

A group of people on the roof at the Anton Pannekoek Institute during one of the Altair events.
A group of people on the roof at the Anton Pannekoek Institute during one of the Altair events.

This week, the NWO Domain Science (ENW) presented five new science awards. The jury considered the winners to be inspirational in the fields of social impact, team science, outstanding scholarship, diversity and communication. The purpose of the awards is to reward researchers working in these fields, and to inspire others to do the same. Eleven winners will receive a total of € 350,000 in prize money.


Markoff wants to use the award to launch Altair+. 'The idea is to work together with a team of students and volunteers to develop new activities for secondary school pupils, also at the Science Park in Amsterdam. We want to keep in touch with the Altair "graduates"from the primary school by organising annual activities, which also involve other pupils from nearby schools and their parents. This is a step towards a "pre-academic" programme. This will hopefully result in more students with a non-Western background studying at the Science Park!'

The jury was impressed with how the project successfully promotes the sciences to a wide range of communities. Children from various ethnic backgrounds are taught by UvA academics, and their parents are also involved with a range of activities on the university campus. This project reaches 140 children a year. The jury noted that it is remarkable that Markoff launched the initiative alongside her regular work as Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics.


The jury commented that the IAU100 project introduced an innovative approach to reaching a wider audience, and was also impressed by the project's inclusivity. The initiators of IAU100 expressly focused on diversity and on countries in which people have limited access to scientific knowledge. The initiative was launched by team manager Pedro Russo and team members Jorge Rivero González, Bethany Downer, Lina Canas and Marieke Baan. The prize money of €10,000 is intended for scientific communications, and will be used for a new outreach project associated with the International Astronomical Union.