Young astronomer returns to Africa with hopes of inspiring others
Margaret Ikape will be teaching at West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers, the same place she first looked into a telescope.
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Margaret Ikape remembers seeing a fireball dash across the sky one night in Nigeria when she was very young.
"It was very cool but it made me want to know more," said the University of Toronto master's student in astronomy and astrophysics.
Questions started rolling into her mind: Do stars really move? How fast do they move? How far are they from here? How big are they?
It was a youthful curiosity that later led her to the University of Nigeria to try and find answers. She got plenty of conceptual knowledge but modern resources were scarce and there was practically no demonstration of what she was learning from the books.
That's until she attended the West African International Summer School for Young Astronomers, a program started three years ago by UofT's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics. Its goal is to expose young Africans to the field of astronomy, and in the case of Ikape, it sure did.
"I had never looked into a solar telescope before," she said, remembering how fascinating it was to see sunspots for the first time.
This week she will be returning to the same conference in Accra, Ghana, this time as a cosmology instructor. Another UofT student, Jielai Zhang, will be teaching galaxy formation at the same conference.
"I am actually very excited to be going back to this summer school. It means a lot to me," she said, noting there are many other kids who have the same basic questions she was asking herself back then. "I hope I can inspire them to go further."
Still dreaming of becoming an astronaut, Ikape is thrilled that Ghana recently became the first African country to launch a satellite in space.
"We need more projects like that from Africa," she said. "There's so much more out there in the universe and we still know very little about it."