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Fanaroff Lecture 2020

Photos by Dr Anthony Holloway


On Wednesday February 19th the Newton Fund DARA Big Data project hosted the second Fanaroff Lecture. This is a public lecture held to raise the importance of international science communication for policy engagement by honouring scientists who have been instrumental in developing policy. Our speaker was Dr Marga Gual Soler, who is a world leader in the field of science diplomacy. Dr Gual Soler was introduced by Dr Bernie Fanaroff for whom the lecture series is named. 


Dr Gual Soler joined the United Nations after gaining a PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of Adelaide. Her ambition was to bridge the worlds of science and international policy. Since then she has led the development of science diplomacy globally, advising the EU and multiple national governments on science diplomacy strategy and training thousands of students around the world in this emerging field. She was responsible for overseeing the landmark agreement between the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Cuban Academy of Sciences, after full diplomatic relations resumed between the USA and Cuba in 2015. 


The 2020 lecture was titled ‘A Journey in Science Diplomacy’. Dr Gual Soler opened by looking at large scientific and diplomatic organisations already in place around the world, such as CERN, ESO (European Southern Observatory), ISS (the International Space Station) and SESAME (Scientific Excellence in the Middle East). Dr Gual Soler had recently returned from the largest-ever all-women expedition to Antarctica to promote the role of women in science diplomacy and climate action and she talked about the many countries involved in scientific endeavours on that continent and how they are working together. Climate change was inevitably also covered as she had seen for herself the changes to the continent that are taking place due to warming temperatures. 


Dr Gual Soler also discussed the SciDip public online course, hosted by herself and Dr Tom Wang of the AAAS Centre for Science Diplomacy. This is the first ever online course fully dedicated to science diplomacy and covers the framework and definitions of the field and its evolution in history. Additionally she covered her own career path and the projects she has worked on in various countries within the EU and also South America. An important theme of the lecture was how science can be used as a common language to bring countries and their people together. As science diplomacy is such a new field with much potential for development Dr Gual Soler covered how she became established in science diplomacy herself, offering advice for those who would like to enter the field. She stressed that it was not an easy area to work in as governments can often be very resistant to the idea of change, and (as with other fields) there is a lack of diversity that needs to be addressed.  

  • Dr Gual Soler has very kindly shared her slides from the lecture which can be accessed here (151.1MB, please note this is a large file)

  • Several audience members left questions for both Dr Fanaroff and Dr Gual Soler; click here to see the questions and answers


The lecture received enthusiastic feedback from those in attendance, who found it insightful, engaging and highly relevant to the current international climate. The attendees included many staff and students from the University of Manchester but also from national institutions such as the British Council, the BBC and the UK Parliamentary & Scientific Committee.


Following the event Dr Gual Soler said, “It was an honour to pay tribute to Bernie Fanaroff for his enormous contribution to science in culture and society, both in Africa and globally. I loved visiting the SKAO (Square Kilometre Array Observatory) headquarters at Jodrell Bank before delivering my lecture and seeing first-hand how astronomy brings together the worlds of science and diplomacy. It shows that you can have inclusive scientific, cultural and societal development all together.” 






The lecture is named in recognition of Dr Bernie Fanaroff’s extensive achievements working with unions in South Africa and his work as part of Nelson Mandela's ANC government. It also honours his advocacy in championing the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, not only as a purely scientific endeavour for South Africa, but also as an important component of economic growth and international recognition. To astronomers, he is most well-known for his research into the evolution of radio galaxies, famously reflected in the Fanaroff-Riley classification scheme.


The lecture was followed by a dinner at the Manchester Museum, where DARA and DARA Big Data students mingled with other guests and Dr Fanaroff talked further about his vision of the SKA’s potential to bring large scale co-operation across many African countries. 


The first Fanaroff Lecture, held in 2018, featured Dr Rob Adam, Director of the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO); you can read more about it here.

DARA and DARA Big Data students at the Fanaroff Lecture dinner, February 2020

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