Prestigious Edinburgh Medal to be Awarded to a South African

The 2016 Edinburgh Medal will be jointly awarded to Kevin Govender from the Cape Town-based Office of Astronomy for Development and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) on Wednesday 30 March at the 2016 Edinburgh International Science Festival, to recognise their wide reaching contributions to science. It is the first time in its history that this award goes to a South African.

It is awarded jointly for the creation and practical establishment of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development, which integrates the pursuit of scientific knowledge with social development for and with those most in need. The office, launched in 2011 by the Minister of Science and Technology, the Honourable Mrs Naledi Pandor, is hosted at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town, South Africa, in partnership with the National Research Foundation and the South African Department of Science and Technology. Under the pioneering stewardship of its first Director, Kevin Govender, the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) has successfully harnessed astronomy in the service of global education and capacity building. The OAD was established as part of the IAU's decadal strategic plan "Astronomy for Development," which was initiated and driven within the IAU by the renowned astronomer Prof George Miley.

The Edinburgh Medal is a prestigious award given each year to men and women of science and technology whose professional achievements are judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity.

Kevin Govender and President of the IAU, Silvia Torres Peimbert, will be presented with the Edinburgh Medal at the Chambers of the City of Edinburgh Council on Wednesday, 30 March, 2016. They will give the Edinburgh Medal Address: Astronomy for a Better World as part of the 2016 Edinburgh International Science Festival, in the presence of Lord (Martin) Rees, the Astronomer Royal. The 2016 Edinburgh International Science Festival will run from 26 March to 10 April.

Lord Provost of City of Edinburgh Council, the Right Honourable Donald Wilsoncommented; "The difference that Kevin Govender and the IAU have made in developing countries is astronomical. Govender has been leading the Office of Astronomy for Development since 2011 and has overseen the expansions from its roots in Cape Town, South Africa to be extended to a further nine regional offices in Armenia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Nigeria, Portugal, Thailand and Zambia.

The IAU strategy to use astronomy to stimulate global development is inspiring, it demonstrates how science, technology and culture impacts on our everyday lives and how we can use science to improve communities. I'm thankful to Kevin and IAU for creating opportunities that might lead us to healthier and wealthier futures."

Within its 28 years, this is only the second time that The Edinburgh Medal has been jointly awarded to an individual and an organisation; in 2013 Professor Peter Higgs and CERN received the medal. Previous individual recipients of The Edinburgh Medal include Prof Jane Goodall (1991), Sir David Attenborough (1998) and Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell (1999). The list of previous recipients also include four Nobel laureates: Prof Abdus Salam (1989), Prof Wangari Maathai (1993), Sir John Edward Sulston (2001) and Prof Peter Higgs (2013).

Director ofEdinburgh International Science Festival, Dr Simon Gage said; "The Edinburgh Medal is awarded to an individual or an organisation who have not only discovered great science but have contributed more broadly to society. It's an unusual award that recognises two dimensions of the work - the scientific and the social consequences. I've followed the work of Govender and the IAU for many years, the positive impact in the schools, universities and communities where they operate is incredible and helping to build a better world"

2016 Edinburgh Medalco-recipient Kevin Govender commented; "Besides its technological, scientific and cultural contributions, astronomy fundamentally gives us the perspective we need to change the world, and it is amazing to see how this vision has rallied people and organisations from just about every continent. It has been, and continues to be, a journey driven by many with a shared passion for both science and society."

On behalf of the IAU, its President Prof Silvia Torres Peimbert said; "I am delighted that the work of the IAU in the field of development has been recognised by the award of this medal. Astronomy is an exciting and stimulating pursuit and has a large part to play in inspiring the next generation of scientists from developing countries. I hope this award will highlight this important work and encourage others to contribute."

More information

The IAU (

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 12 000 professional astronomers from around the world. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.


The IAU established the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) in partnership with the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), with support from the South African Department of Science and Technology. The OAD was officially opened by Minister Naledi Pandor on 16 April 2011 at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) in Cape Town, South Africa. It is tasked with the implementation of the IAU Strategic Plan including the establishment of regional offices around the world and three astronomy-for-development "Task Forces": (i) Universities and Research; (ii) Children and Schools; and (iii) Public Outreach.

Kevin Govender (

Kevin began work at the OAD in 2011 as its first Director. During his previous position as the Manager of the Southern African Large Telescope's Collateral Benefits Programme at the South African Astronomical Observatory he worked extensively, especially within the African continent, in the area of "astronomy for development". In 2007 he was part of a small IAU delegation that successfully lobbied the United Nations to declare 2009 the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009). He chaired the "Developing Astronomy Globally" Cornerstone Project of IYA2009 and was involved in the development of the IAU Strategic Plan. Kevin has served the South African education and outreach community in various roles such as Chair of Scifest Africa's Advisory Committee, board member of the Southern African Association of Science and Technology Centres and current member of the Quest Editorial Board and STEM Committee of the Academy of Science of South Africa. Coming from an experimental nuclear physics background and with experience from many community development initiatives in post-apartheid South Africa, Kevin was previously named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans, and received the National Science and Technology Forum's Science Communicator award in 2011.

The Edinburgh Medal

Made of Sterling silver, the Edinburgh Medal is produced by capital firm Alexander Kirkwood & Son and features the original Edinburgh International Science Festival logo - a juggler performing with different symbols of science in the air.

Winners of Edinburgh Medal to date:

" 1989 Professor Abdus Salam

" 1990 Professor Stephen J Gould

" 1991 Professor Jane Goodall

" 1992 Professor Heinz Wolff

" 1993 Professor Wangari Maathai

" 1994 Professor Manuel Pattarroyo

" 1995 Sir John Crofton

" 1996 Professor Richard Levins

" 1997 Professor Amartya Sen

" 1998 Sir David Attenborough

" 1999 Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell

" 2000 Professor Lynn Margulis

" 2001 Sir John Sulston

" 2002 Lise Kingo

" 2003 Professor Wang Sung

" 2004 Professor Steven Rose

" 2005 Professor Colin Blakemore

" 2006 Professor James Lovelock

" 2007 Dr Richard Horton

" 2008 Professor Chris Rapley CBE

" 2009 Professor John Beckwith

" 2010 Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys

" 2011 Professor Carl Djerassi

" 2012 Dr James Hansen

" 2013 Professor Peter Higgs/CERN

" 2014 Professor Mary Abukutsa-Onyango

" 2015 Mary Midgley

Web Links and photos:

" IAU website:

" OAD website:

" Edinburgh International Science Festival:

" South African Astronomical Observatory:

" National Research Foundation:

" Department of Science and Technology:

ABOUT THE NRF:The National Research Foundation (NRF) is an independent statutory body setup in accordance with the National Research Foundation Act. Its mandate is to support and promote research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all ?elds of science and technology, including indigenous knowledge, and thereby contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all South Africans.


Kevin Govender

Director, IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD)

Tel: +27 21 460 9350

Cell: +27 82 487 8466


Twitter: @govender

Lars Lindberg Christensen

IAU Press Officer

ESO ePOD, Garching, Germany

Tel: +49 89 3200 6761

Cell: +49 173 3872 621


SOURCE: Department of Science and Technology Republic Of South Africa