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An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One)

August 15, 2018

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 17.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Thirteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: August 15, 2018

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,588

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Susan Murabana is an Astronomer and Rotarian, and Founder of the Travelling Telescope. She discusses: family background; the Cosmos series and science communication; communication of astronomy; and understanding science and tackling issues in society.

Keywords: astronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Rotarian, Susan Murabana, Travelling Telescope.

Interview with Susan Murabana: Astronomer and Rotarian, and Founder, Travelling Telescope (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?

Susan Murabana: I grew up in a large family with 6 siblings. My mother was a teacher. She is retired now. My dad taught, but he was still in communications and engineering. I felt that I had supportive parents. They were involved in my education. In fact, my mom taught me at school. I went to high school and learned science, but I ended up doing my degree in economics, which I enjoyed.

When I was doing my final here, I got involved with a group of scientists who were (inaudible) grad and undergrad students who had come to teach science and most of them were astrophysicists. I got connected with the science side at school. So, I think by seeing what I saw them do on the first day of school, I knew now that I wanted to do that.

I wanted to teach and teach science. It was only after a few years. I always loved astronomy, but I did not appreciate it. Only until later I went to Ghana for was a conference and there was a thing on African cultural astronomy. I started listening to the presenters talking about African traditional stories.

I was intrigued and wanted to find out what I could about East Africa and my home and any traditional sky knowledge. I always felt that astronomy was a foreign science or a Western science, but at that time I got to learn that it was practiced in Africa as well. I thought that it was a science I could connect my people with and that got me excited.

So obviously, I got involved in astronomy outreach and I saw the power. The fact of having the telescope out or talking about certain topics sparks curiosity. Because we have all looked up at the sky at some point and wondered as children and that’s what I am trying to promote. Get people, especially young minds in Africa, in Kenya, excited about the sky.

So, I switched my careers. I stopped working for this IT company. I was doing marketing for them, but I was like, “I want to do outreach.” That was difficult, but I had some support from my parents and the support of my siblings and that was important to me. I feel that family is important. It is important to have support.

It is important for parents to support their children in whatever careers they decide to go in to. I was lucky to have that. Especially girls. Girls who want to get into careers that are not traditional. I always felt it was important to get that support. So, moving forward, I am now married, I have two children. My husband and I met in an astronomy group, which is cheesy [Laughing].

We had organized this trip we arranged through my rotary club to go to northern Kenya for a trip. It was a hybrid one. A few members were interested in looking at the sky. So, when this trip was coming up, I suggested to them that we should plan a trip and we got a lot of support from Astronomers Without Borders, to take glasses around schools.

I am the national coordinator of Astronomers Without Borders. They sent a lot of glasses to Africa. We got quite a number. My husband, who at that time mailed and said he was interested in coming to film, made and distributed the glasses and he ended up coming. He was filming, and we met, and he filmed me distributing the glasses and he came on the trip to Kenya. Yes, the rest is history.

That’s how we met. Obviously, astronomy is such a big part of my family life because I met my husband through that. He had come off the idea. He’s a filmmaker by training. He had also done a little bit of astronomy and he had also done public outreach in places in the UK and he came up with the idea for the Travelling Telescope.

We decided we wanted to do outreach. We decided we wanted to donate money to do (inaudible) and work with schools and work with the people of Africa. We intend to go everywhere, everywhere we can reach, we want to come to Canada one day, as the Travelling Telescope.

To work with kids and to get members of the public to enjoy and experience our project. Then we have 2 boys. We have a four-and-a-half-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old. The four and a half is learning about astronomy and he’s been under the mobile planetarium we take around. Sometimes he says he works for the traveling telescope.

2. Jacobsen: There are some prominent names. I think some statistics from Carl Sagan’s ex-wife, where she said over a billion people have seen the Cosmos series, the original. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson has rebooted it.

I think even through a prominent network in the United States. They are professional science communicators and happen to be astrophysicists. With your professional training, what are some of the issues that come up in the clarity of the communication of science? As well, what are some tips for those that want to communicate science to the public?

Murabana: I guess communicating science is, I think in my experience, is difficult in some ways. Because first, it is communicating with different audiences and being interesting. That’s what someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson is good at. As a scientist, he’s a good communicator and he connects with different audiences. For us, we aren’t at Neil deGrasse Tyson’s level [Laughing].

I try to model our activities as interactive, especially with school kids, as much as possible. So, rocket launch with the available materials. That’s one thing we try to push for. Readily available materials. Or trying to demonstrate the sense of scale. Try to show how big the universe is. Another thing we try to use and a global thing is trying to get as many responses.

Right now, the cool thing that is happening is virtual reality and we can use virtual reality headsets in class to teach astronomy. So, we have the headsets. We have the cords to use them and we feel that it is exposing several kids in Africa to what kids in any country of the world have been exposed to. I guess that answers your question.

Trying to use films. As I say with my husband, the documentary about our trip to Ghana, those are some of those things we screen for the kids. We also screened some of the Cosmos series. Mars, that film. We try to use different tools to help us with communication. But also, we try to train university students and we realize every individual has different strengths and we try to maximize those strengths.

Some of them, students with degrees in astronomy or studying to get degrees in astronomy, some of them are interested and some are not. We try to maximize the potential and it must be in front of the kids. The ones who are good with social media for example. Using it to transform the different groups that we work with.

We are also trying to get the kids more involved. We run clubs in some of the schools and we are now using music or art as a form of communication. So, we play a Sun song and facts about the Sun in the song. We try and create the song with the students or young kids. So, we come up with the lyrics together, we are singing together.

That’s contagious, for lack of a better word. Kids would relate to it and as they sing, they learn about the Sun. I guess we use as many different tools as possible and appreciating art in our way of communicating.

3. Jacobsen: What do you think is the importance of communication of astronomy in particular?

Murabana: I feel that we’ve all been connected to astronomy first. The Earth goes around the Sun and we all live on that. We have problems now like climate change which is real. What makes me most passionate about it, it was as a child I saw; this lady fight for our planet.

Fight for the environment and plant trees and encouraging Kenyans not to cut trees. Many years later she ended up winning the Nobel Prize and she was a Kenyan and she was a lady. At the time she won it, I had a lot of admiration for her as an adult because I remembered. I could see how affected we were.

So, I struggled. As an adult, I was more aware and seeing the importance of things like that and that’s part of astronomy. Trying to show how unique our planet is and the importance of taking care of it and trying to encourage kids about how important it is at that level.

So, most of the times, the average Kenyan or kid does not think of astronomy for that. They think astronomy is only looking up at the sky and star gazing, but it is beyond that. It is the technologies that have been developed that come back to Earth through astronomy and are being used for maps or things like that.

It is relevant. That’s why communicating astronomy is important for us, for the environment, for every politician to understand the nature of the environmental movement. Also, the technologies and most importantly to encourage more scientists on our continent, so we can have more solutions and technology can develop from within.

4. Jacobsen: If we take the political aspect of science, by which I mean the funding of projects, the knowledge about the world and the policies that follow from that to solve urgent problems and ongoing problems such as climate change, what are some of the risks of politicians?

People in the political class that might not necessarily have scientific training or an appreciation for the fundamental truths that science brings to the table.

If we take politicians, what are some risks in terms of them being either not scientifically trained or not appreciative of the fundamental truths that science brings to the table? So, how might this negatively impact a policy that can then negatively impact society?

Murabana: Yes, I think that populations to have training in understanding it helps for them to tackle issues like climate change. Also, it helps with the supports and financial ones like whatever the government gives to certain issues. It feels like things like astronomy should be taught to everybody, including politicians because of that reason.

Especially, I come from a place where we are starting to get some appreciation and are getting excited about that and I feel that we still have a lot of work to do here. It is so important for people in terms of traditions and culture.

I think that for them to understand it. They need to get more training and there needs to be more awareness for them to make better decisions when it comes to things like climate change, for security for example. These are issues that the world is facing, and Africa is affected by it. We have issues of hunger or famine and it is real.

People are dying because they do not have food and it is something that could be managed or controlled. We should do more outreach with the politicians as well. As I was saying, my parents being part of my journey, those are my leaders. Those are the people that I relate to. I want them to, how do I put it?

At home are the best people who you look at as leaders and if we have politicians in the same line to teachers for example and understanding things like astronomy or producing things that damage the environment, then I think it will make our homes better or where we live better. The other thing is it is not about politics and finding, but it is also about peace.

We have this small planet, and everyone lives here and has needs. If you look at the image of that, there are no borders. We are all one. There is no tribe, there is no race, there is no religion, we are all one. We feel that it is also a message you need to take out. We need to live peacefully together rather than fight for resources or fight because we belong to a certain religion or race or things like that.

The best people to spread that message are our leaders, who are our politicians. Having those images like that of people going to space in the ISS and sharing those images and talking about it and making it more accessible to the public but also getting our leaders to get the public involved. It helps.

References

  1. Travelling Telescope. (2018). Travelling Telescope. Retrieved from http://www.travellingtelescope.co.uk/.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Astronomer; Founder, Travelling Telescope; Rotarian.

[2] Individual Publication Date: August 15, 2018: www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One) [Online].August 2018; 17(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, August 15). An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One)Retrieved from www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A, August. 2018. <www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A. www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 17.A (August 2018). www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A. Available from: <www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 17.A., www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 17.A (2018):August. 2018. Web. <www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Susan Murabana (Part One) [Internet]. (2018, August; 17(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/murabana-one.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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