Celestial Adventures: Inspiring Science and Discovery in Pakistan’s Mountainous Region

By Abeeha Hussain, STEM Ambassador for the OAD supported project “Astro -Phy Quench”

Growing up in the northern reaches of Pakistan, far from the light pollution of bustling cities, I’ve had the incredible experience of gazing upon the vast expanse of clear, star-studded skies. Physics has always held a special place in my heart, with astronomy being a particular fascination. Earlier this year, I embarked on a journey as a STEM ambassador under the project Astro-Phy Quench. This role led me to be part of the activities conducted under emblem of Astro-Phy quench in one of the school chain in the mountainous region of Gilgit Baltistan.

These activities can be categorized into two distinct branches of physics: astronomy and particle physics. In June 2023, we arranged an interactive session for STEM advocates at a High School in Gilgit. The activity was aimed at targeting secondary and higher secondary students to help them build the appreciation of astronomy through hands on utilization of online telescopes.

The online telescope is a platform that provides access to a variety of telescopes located in Chile and the Canary Islands. It constitutes a number of intuitive quests to engage its users starting from the beginner to the advanced level, taking the learner’s understanding from Milky way galaxy to deep space domain. It allows the users to take real-time images of the celestial bodies and schedule missions targeting those objects. The end product is a set of breath-taking, awe-inspiring and high quality images. It feels great to be able to probe the universe and call yourself an “amateur astrophotographer”.

Subsequently, a hands-on activity was conducted in a girls’ High School in Hunza. Here, Grade 12 students were engaged in an activity to make a miniature model of the “ATLAS Detector” at LHC. This hands-on activity was aimed to give an insight to the big questions of what are we made up of? How the universe did began? What is dark energy and dark matter? This activity gave a practical demonstration of all the concepts I had learnt in High School Physics; Electricity and magnetism, furnished my leadership and communication skills, and instilled within me a fresh sense of volunteerism.

Furthermore, the 8th and 9th graders worked on utilizing online telescope and acquainted themselves with its basic functions. The pinnacle of the activity was marked by an interactive Zoom session on the third and final day. During this session, Grade 11 and 12 students connected with Mr Joe Niemela, the 1st Senior Scientist (Emeritus) and Advisor of International Programmes at Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. The session ended with a dynamic Q&A exchange ranging from big bang to high end questions like quantum computing.

In culmination, an exhibition was hosted, offering students the platform to showcase their miniature models and actively demonstrate their practical accomplishments to school administrators, teachers, and younger peers.

Though lasting merely few days, this experience remains etched as one of the most profound and enlightening encounters in my life. I vividly recall wrapping up high school just two days before the activity commenced; consequently, this endeavor infused a fresh perspective into my outlook on life. This experience made clear the transition from a high school student to a responsible person, all the while fulfilling my curiosity and ardor for physics.

My journey of becoming a STEM ambassador is definitely an amazing one. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to enable the underprivileged to partake in a similar journey, exploring the cosmos and delving into the captivating realms of atoms, quarks, strings, and the enigmatic unknown. Witnessing the unifying power of science as it bridges geographical and cultural divides, forging alliances with a shared purpose—unraveling the universe’s secrets—is undeniably remarkable!