Professor Mirjana Pović of ESSTI Awarded the Inaugural Jocelyn Bell Burnell Inspiration Medal Award

Source: Nature.com

Prof. Mirjana Pović is an Assistant Professor at the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI), Associate Researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC, Spain), and honorary lecturer at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST, Uganda). She grew up in former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, and obtained her degree in astrophysics from the University of Belgrade. She obtained her PhD in astrophysics in 2010 at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC, Spain), in the field of galaxy formation and evolution. For more than 10 years she has been working on the development of astronomy, science and education in Africa through different projects and initiatives related to research collaborations, institutional development, student supervision, training, lecturing, outreach, and girls and women in science. In 2018 she received the first Nature Research Award for Inspiring Science, for her research achievements and contribution to society. In 2019 the Serbian government invited her to be one of their science ambassadors and she received recognition from ESSTI for her contributions.

Prof. Mirjana Pović has been greatly contributing to the development of astronomy, science, and education in Africa over the past 10 years, and also for starting/strengthening collaborations with Europe. She has led or co-led different projects and initiatives in several African countries, participating in the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), the East-African Regional OAD, and the African Astronomical Society (AfAS). She has contributed to developing human capacities by supervising several MSc and PhD theses in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania since 2014. She has been lecturing at all academic levels in several African countries since 2011. Her activities include the organization of several schools in astronomy, coordination of STEM for GIRLS in Ethiopia initiative, and in general astronomy and science outreach activities in East-African countries, Serbia and Spain.

In 2020, the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) recognised her contribution to astronomy education and outreach in Ethiopia. She was the Secretary of the very first Committee for the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Road Map (2016- 2018), the only foreigner, and woman, among its 12 members and Coordinator of the Space Science Group of the very first committee for the Ethiopian Space Policy and Strategy (2018- 2019). Currently, she is participating in the development of the African Strategy for Fundamental and Applied Physics (ASFAP) as one of its co-conveners of the Astrophysics and Cosmology working group. She has contributed to the institutional development of ESSTI: after her nomination as Assistant professor of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Research and Development Department in 2016, she served as the Head of Department (2018-2020). She served as a member in the committees of Science, Research, Research Ethics, and Thematic Areas and has developed some of the first ESSTI guidelines, leading in 2019 to her recognition by the ESSTI for her contributions and performance.

Together with her African colleagues, she helped in setting up some of the very first research groups and joint projects in extragalactic astronomy in ESSTI and AAU in Ethiopia, University of Rwanda, Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda, the University of Dodoma in collaboration with the Open University of Tanzania, and she is collaborating with the SAAO and UCT in South Africa. Some of the very first publications of astronomical research in-situ in these East-African countries have resulted in the strengthening of collaborations between them, and between African countries and others, further reinforced by Prof. Pović’s co-coordination of several networking and mobility proposals (Astronomy and Astrophysics Arising Across Africa – 5A, EU-RISE, 6 African and 4 European countries, and MATERNA: Mobility in Africa for Training, Education and Research, EU-H2020 network, 7 African and 2 European countries). Prof. Mirjana Pović has also been a member of the Science Organisation Committee and organised several scientific meetings in Africa, such as the IAU Regional Meeting MEARIM, in Addis (2017), IAU Symposium 356 (the first IAU symposium ever in Ethiopia and EastAfrica, third in Africa), the 1st AfAS Business-Science Meeting (Ethiopia, 2019), the 1st AfAS Annual Meeting (virtual, 2021), EAS-EWASS sessions on African-European collaborations in 2018 (UK) and in 2020 (virtual). She is also NOC member of the IAU General Assembly in Cape Town (2024). Prof. Pović served the African Astronomical Society by contributing to defining its strategies for long-term astronomy developments across Africa. She has been a Board member of the AfAS Science Committee since 2019, coordinator of the “Astronomy in Africa Survey”  as a principal promoter of the project. She serves as a role model for women in astronomy and science by actively participating in STEM for GIRLS activities under the Society of Ethiopian Women in Science and Technology (SEWiST); she has set up and coordinates the African Network of Women in Astronomy (AfNWA) under AfAS. Prof. Mirjana Pović deeply believes that through education and science we can fight poverty in the long-term and make our world a better place for everyone, regardless of where individual roots are.

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