The OAD Team

The OAD does not conduct astronomy research. For questions on astronomy, please visit the IAU webpages Contacts for other IAU matters such as membership, outreach, education etc. are listed at



Kevin Govender: Director

Kevin began work at the OAD on 1st March 2011 as its first Director. He has extensive experience in using astronomy for development during his previous position as the Manager of the SALT Collateral Benefits Programme at the South African Astronomical Observatory. He also chaired the Developing Astronomy Globally Cornerstone Project of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) and was involved in the development of the IAU Strategic Plan. Kevin is the first South African to be awarded the prestigious Edinburgh Medal for Science, jointly with the International Astronomical Union.

Email: kg at (replace at with @)
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 460 9350

Vanessa McBride: Astronomer

Vanessa joined the OAD in January 2017. At the OAD she acts a link between the professional astronomer community and the development community. Vanessa has a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Southampton. She has spent the last ten years in astrophysics research and teaching, most recently in a joint position between the University of Cape Town and the South African Astronomical Observatory. Her research interests include X-ray binaries, the Magellanic Clouds and early-type stars.

Email: vanessa at (replace at with @)


Ramasamy Venugopal_large format

Ramasamy Venugopal

Ram is in charge of managing the OAD Call for Proposals and the projects funded by the office. He spent time as a Visiting Fellow at the OAD following his MSc in space studies at the International Space University. An engineer by training, he has worked in software development at Verizon and telecom services configuration at Ericsson in India. He is also an active member of the Space Generation Advisory Council.

Email: rv at (replace at with @)


Nuhaah Solomon

Nuhaah Solomon: Administration Officer

Nuhaah joined the OAD on 6th June 2011 to coordinate the administrative aspects of the office. She brings vast experience of working in administrative and events management roles in some of the most fast paced environments in the corporate world. Her previous roles include project management, stakeholder relations and coordinating international meetings and events.
Email: ns at (replace at with @)
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 460 6297

Current Visitors

Tawanda Chingozha

Tawanda is a PhD Researcher at Stellenbosch University. His work focuses on development economics, particularly around land reform, migration and informality and how they are intertwined with poverty reduction and inclusive growth – in a data scarce context. Therefore, his research centers mainly on the use of remotely sensed data to measure socio-economic change, as well as the related disciplines of machine learning and citizen science. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the OAD.

Email: tchingozha at (replace at with @)

Amidou Sorgho

Amidou just submitted his PhD thesis in astrophysics at the University of Cape Town. His research mainly focuses on the distribution and kinematics of neutral hydrogen in galaxies. From Burkina Faso, Amidou has used small telescopes during his undergraduate to conduct outreach activities to the public and school learners. As a fellow at the OAD, Amidou works on a flagship project that aims at optimising the impact of astronomical facilities (such as small observatories) on local socioeconomic development.
Email: amid.ast at (replace at with @)


Nikhita Madhanpall

Nikhita is a OAD-DARA Big Data Fellow, based at the Cape Town office. She will be developing and implementing data science and machine learning hackathons/workshops to enable data-intensive research skills development in South Africa and in the AVN partner countries. She recently completed her PhD in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. Her area of research is cosmology and extragalactic astronomy. She previously worked as an RFI Scientist at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory.
Email: nikhita at


Marie Korsaga

Marie is an astronomer from Burkina Faso. She completed her PhD in astrophysics from the University of Cape Town and Aix-Marseille University. Her research area focuses on the formation and evolution of galaxies, particularly on the distribution of dark matter in galaxies. As a fellow at the OAD, she is working to highlight the role of the global astronomy community in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on development.
Email: marie.korsaga07 at


Thummim Mekuria

Thummim is an Ethiopian student finishing up a joint Astrophysics and Philosophy degree at Pomona College, USA. As an intern with the OAD, she is working with Nikhita Madhanpall on collecting data for a machine-learning hackathon, and adding to Marie Korsaga’s research on non-medical scientists who are contributing to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.



Jane Choi

Jane has a degree in Socio-cultural Anthropology from Beloit College, the United States. She currently works at the British Consulate-General in Cape Town as a Trade and Investment Advisor. In her spare time, she volunteers for the OAD. The latest OAD project Jane worked on was the Astronomy for Development online course. This Project Design course aims to provide a helping hand to anyone who intends to submit an application to the OAD Call for Proposals.


Samyukta Manikumar

Samyukta completed her BSc in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. She works as an astronomer and science communicator for the Travelling Telescope, an astronomy outreach enterprise based in Kenya. She volunteers for the OAD, contributing her skills in digital and graphic design.



Annika Müller

Annika is a student of Media Design at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. She was a graphic design intern at the OAD for a month. During this time, she designed templates for an OAD brochure, Yearbook, postcards besides advising on various design matters. After her internship, Annika is continuing to contribute as a volunteer, creating materials for OAD events.



IMG_7967Pierre-Yves Lablanche

Pierre is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences working on machine learning techniques for astronomy and astrophysics. He used to be a scientific educator for an astronomy club in France for several years and has always been involved in public engagement activities for science everywhere Pierre has been, from France and Germany to Tanzania and South Africa. Lately he has been focusing on how to make astronomy available to people with any kind of disability.
Email: plablanche at (replace at with @)

Past Team Members

Eli Grant

Eli Grant: Development Research and Project Co-Ordinator

Eli joined the OAD in Febraury 2015, bringing an interdisciplinary background in statistics, behavioural sciences and social policy. Eli supports project management, design, implementation and evaluation processes at the OAD. Eli has a PhD in evaluation methodology from the Centre of Evidence-Based Intervention and Nuffield College, University of Oxford (UK). Her doctoral research assessed applications of network analysis to policy impact evaluation and prediction. She has over ten years of experience working in government, academia and the non-profit sector on issues concerning health, international development, criminal justice, education and gender equality.


Wanda Diaz-Merced

Wanda is an astrophysicist from Puerto Rico. She obtained her PhD from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She also spent time doing research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. A long time collaborator with the OAD, Wanda has worked on projects such as AstroSense and run workshops at the school for the blind in Cape Town. She is currently expanding on her work in improving Accessibility and encouraging greater inclusion in Science through her work in Astronomy. She was on a 3-year post doctoral research position at the OAD, funded by the South African National Research Foundation
Oct 2016 – Mar 2019


Amelia Henkel

Amelia Henkel joined the OAD in May where she will work as a visiting fellow through mid-August. She holds a BS in physics (with an astronomy focus) and BA in human rights from the University of Connecticut in the US, her home country. In her undergraduate career, Amelia pursued research on black holes as well as on violence against women, and is very eager to merge her experiences with astronomy and human rights at the OAD. She has also engaged in astronomy public outreach, and has served on several groups and committees that focus on making science a more inclusive space for underrepresented minorities. Amelia came to the OAD to organize its flagship project on science diplomacy through astronomy, which she sees as an excellent way of combining her two seemingly unrelated academic interests.
Email: amelia.henkel at (replace at with @)

Estefany San Andres H.

Estefany, from Ecuador, is a Socio-Cultural Anthropologist with studies in Jungian Psychology. Her work experience is based on design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of social projects with government, non-profit sector and United Nations. Specifically, she has coordinated multicultural public health and socio-economic inclusion projects with refugees, indigenous communities and women. As a visitor at the OAD, she is supporting the inclusion of gender and ethnic approach and strengthening the guidelines for social impacts and relation between Astronomy and local community. Her personal interests include writing, theatre, percussion, dream analysis and art-therapy.  

Max Molaro

Max is a volunteer from Italy. He holds a bachelor degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from King’s College London, UK, and is interested in pursuing a career in the field of international development. At the OAD, he learned how development through science within the UN framework is carried out and how project management and evaluation occur in practice. In his two-month visit to Cape Town, he helped in the operative and administrative aspects of the office, while bringing useful insights to the team from a social science and interdisciplinary perspective. 
Email: molaromax at (replace at with @)
October – December 2018

Anna Voelker

Anna Voelker is a visiting fellow from the United States. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently works as the Astronomy Accessibility Program Coordinator for The Ohio State University (OSU). She graduated from OSU with a B.Sc. in Science Communication and Accessibility and a minor in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Anna is a Brooke Owens Fellow and has previously worked at many space science institutions, including NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute. She is elated to be working with Dr. Wanda Díaz Merced at the OAD to develop accessibility guidelines for astronomy outreach events. Anna is a recipient of the 2018 OSU President’s Prize and is implementing a yearlong project focused on accessible astronomy and disability inclusion in science. Her project will culminate in SciAccess, a science accessibility conference that will be hosted at OSU on June 28 and 29, 2019. If you have any interest in SciAccess, please contact Anna for more information.
Email: voelker.30 at (replace at with @)
September – November 2018
Michelle Willebrands
Coming from the Netherlands, Michelle is a graduate student in astronomy and science communication at Leiden University. She has done research in the field of exocomets and she has also worked to develope an astronomical instrument in an optical laboratory. She is now working for the recently established European Regional Node of the OAD. During the two-month stay in Cape Town for her internship, Michelle will assist in the activities of the Global Office and initiate ideas for the European ROAD. After that, she will be in charge of gauging implementation plan for the European Office.
Email: michellewillebrands at (replace at with @)
September – October 2018

Nguyen Tan Vu

Tan Vu is a graduate student of the Global Studies Programme, jointly organised by the University of Freiburg, University of Cape Town, and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Coming from Vietnam, Vu has been long engaging with astronomy outreach and education, starting with Ho Chi Minh City Amateur Astronomy Club (HAAC) and VietAstro. His internship at the OAD involves in different tasks of operations and communications. He hopes what he learns at the OAD also helps to address new issues in interdisciplinarity as well as to explore the new horizons of science for development.
Email: tan-vu.nguyen at (replace at with @)
July – September 2018

Johanna Casado

Johanna Maria Casado is a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Technologies in Detection and Astroparticles (ITeDA) and the University of Mendoza in Mendoza (Argentina). At the OAD, she works with post-doctoral researcher Wanda Diaz-Merced to develop an accessible software for people with disabilities in the field of astronomy and space science. The software helps display data contained in two columns of files. Besides, her doctoral work includes focus group and interaction with other users in order to reach user-centered development.

Email: johanna.casado at (replace at with @)
July – August 2018

Kathy Eastwood

Kathy DeGioia Eastwood is a Professor Emerita of Physics and Astronomy at Northern Arizona University in the United States. She is visiting the OAD as a Fulbright Specialist, and is working with Wanda Diaz-Merced on developing materials to prepare visually impaired students to study physics and astronomy at university. Over her career, Kathy did research on massive stars, taught university courses, worked with K-12 teachers, served as Department Chair, administered grants at the National Science Foundation, and started two successful programs enabling undergraduates to do research.
Email: kathy.eastwood at (replace at with @)
July – August 2018


Sukuma Mkhize

Born and raised in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, Sukuma is an intern at the OAD. He has an Honours degree in astrophysics at the University of Cape Town, through the South Africa National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASSP). His current interests include the interlinks between astronomy, art, and writing.
Email: mkhizesukuma33 at (replace at with @)
June – August 2018


Paul A. Wilson

Paul Wilson

Paul was a visiting fellow who lead the development of the OAD Data Science Toolkit aimed at teaching data science with astronomy. He is a professional astronomer by training, having obtained his PhD in astronomy from the University of Exeter. Paul has done research in several fields including exoplanet atmospheres, brown dwarfs, debris disks and exocomets. At the OAD, Paul developed ways to help astronomers identify and learn skills within astronomy that also comprise important data science skills. Paul also worked on providing people outside of astronomy with teaching materials which use astronomy applications to introduce data science skills.

Email: paul (followed by
Twitter: @Paul_A_Wilson


MuniraMunira Hoosain

Munira is an astrophysics graduate from the University of Cape Town. Her research focuses on extragalactic astronomy. She is passionate about using science to improve the world, promoting diversity in STEM and science communication. For her internship, she produced a booklet highlighting OAD-funded projects that successfully used astronomy for development.
January-May 2018


Melo Mtombeni

Melo is a student of Astronomy at the University of Cape Town. In 2017, Melo was an OAD intern during which he performed project management tasks and also worked towards creating a database for managing internal information.

November-December 2017



AnnikaAnnika Müller

Annika is a student of Media Design at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. She was a graphic design intern at the OAD for a month. During this time, she designed templates for an OAD brochure, Yearbook, postcards besides advising on various design matters. After her internship, Annika is continuing to contribute as a volunteer, creating materials for OAD events.

August-September 2017




Karabo Makola

Karabo joined the IAU-OAD team on the 3rd of May 2016 as an intern. She is an aspiring Communications officer/ Journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Limpopo with a B.A. Honours in Media Studies. In her undergraduate studies, she majored in Communication Studies and Media Studies with modules in public relations, marketing communications, corporate communications, strategic organisational communications, and journalism. Karabo is an avid reader and a lover of life. She is very passionate about journalism and aspires to be a world renowned journalist or communications officer using mass media for social development and social inclusion.

Email: karabom at (replace at with @)
Twitter: @karabsm



Jack Harvey

Jack is a intern from the United States working with OAD for three months. He is starting at Harvard University in September and is interested in studying Astronomy. Jack has previously interned at The Space Telescope Science Institute working on flight guiding on the Hubble Telescope. He has also helped with scheduling on the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope at one of NASA’s facilities. With an affection of new experiences and challenges, Jack will be collecting data on funded projects as well as other tasks.

Email: jtharvey6 at (replace at with @)
January – April 2017


Alex Gagliano

Alex is an intern from the United States.  He is an undergraduate from Virginia Tech studying computational modeling & data analytics, with minors in physics and international studies. Alex has worked in the past as a researcher at the Cerro-Tololo Observatory in Chile and an Astronomy Ambassador with the American Astronomical Society. Most recently, he conducted interviews in Gabon to study the influence of astronomy on traditional culture. With the OAD, Alex is working to develop a series of outreach activities and curricula combining astronomy and data science.
Email: galex95 at (replace at with @)
July – August 2016



Jamie Ferguson

Jamie is a research fellow from Scotland. He is a graduate student at the University of Glasgow, studying multimodal technologies that will be used to allow astronomical data to be perceived through sound – with the goal of opening up astronomy to those with sensory disabilities. Jamie has previously worked with Saccade Diagnostics in Aberdeen, developing data visualisation tools to be used by mental-health patients. Most recently, he worked with Pulsion Technology in Glasgow on the research and development of machine learning tools. With the OAD, Jamie is working to develop multimodal software that will allow astronomy to be accessible to anyone, regardless of disability.
Email: 2079576F at (replace at with @)
July – August 2016

Silvia Verdolini OAD Visiting Fellow

Silvia Verdolini

Silvia is an astronomer from Italy. In February 2014 she completed her PhD in Astrophysics at Leiden University (The Netherlands). She is an experienced programmer and numerical modeler. Over the years, she has contributed and collaborated on a number of outreach events and children activities. At the OAD she will be involved in several of the international projects and activities of the OAD, with a focus on helping to develop an impact evaluation cycle for OAD-funded projects.
May – December 2015




Tibisay Sankatsing Nava

Tibisay is a science communicator from Aruba who works in astro-education and communication. She has a masters in Arts & Culture and in Science Communication from Leiden University. For the OAD, she spearheaded the development of a new communications strategy, among other things. Tibisay is also project manager at Universe Awareness, a global astronomy education programme for young children coordinated from Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands.
E-mail: sankatsing at (replace at with @)
Twitter: @tibisaysn
May – September 2015



Laure Catala

Laure was a PhD student from France, working on optical instrumentation for the Southern African Large Telescope, affiliated to both the University of Cape Town and the South African Astronomical Observatory. She lead two projects at the OAD, the first one evaluating the impact of different outreach and education programs in collaboration with social scientists and education researchers and the second one aimed at developing an undergraduate astronomy course for historically black universities.
Email: lcc at (replace at with @)


Rajin Ramphul

Rajin is a Mauritian student doing his PhD in Astrophysics at the South African Astronomical Observatory and with the University of Cape Town. He is working in the field of Galaxy formation and evolution. Rajin is enthusiastic about anything that deals with teaching science as well as for topics related to computing. He worked on a project to apply the skills of astronomical programming to other research domains and undergraduate students in Africa.
Email: rajin250 at (replace at with @)



Eli Kasai

Eli was a PhD student in Astrophysics at University of Cape Town, affiliated to the South African Astronomical Observatory and the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences. From Namibia, Eli has a strong passion helping develop the study of Astronomy in places that lack knowledge in this field, especially in the Square Kilometer Array Africa partner countries where Human Capacity Development programs are a high priority         Email: kunwijik at (replace at with @)



Kodai Fukushima

Kodai is pursuing his masters at Hosei University in Japan. He has been involved in research examining the impacts on society of astronomy. Two of the largest activities were held in Fukushima Prefecture, which was affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and in Cambodia. He visited the OAD office in Cape Town to run trials for a service evaluation. The project, ‘One World Experiment’, is designed to evaluate the impact of Astronomy Outreach on ingroup bias and resource allocation.
Read his 2013 blog for the OAD ‘The Meaning of Astronomy for me‘.
Email: kodai.fukushima417 at (replace at with @)


RajeevRajeev Manick

Rajeev just completed his Masters in Astrophysics at the University of Cape Town, joint with the South African Astronomical Observatory. His area of research is mainly focused on stellar evolution and particularly Post-AGB stars; his upcoming PhD research interest. As part of his contribution to the OAD, he is working on a project aiming to enhance communication between young astronomers around the world and consultant astronomers who are willing to assist young scientists in their research.
Email: rajeevmnck at (replace at with @)




Maya Barlev

Maya hasbeen collaborating with the OAD since early January 2013, specializing in astronomy education resource development. Currently, Maya is traveling the world engaging with how children learn about the Universe both in academic and non-academic contexts, as supported by the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Originally from the U.S., Maya hopes to apply what she learns at the OAD to solving problems of education inequality in her own country and worldwide. She holds a BSc in astrophysics from Haverford College, where she began her work in astronomy education and outreach.
Read Maya Barlev’s open letter to the OAD, relating her experience at the office.
Email: maya.barlev at (replace at with @)