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Vatican Observatory summer school to resume with international class

Observatory, telescope, stars, spinning

Belish | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 03/30/23

The Vatican has selected 25 students from 20 nations for its first summer course since the pandemic began.

After three years of cancellations due to the Covid pandemic, the Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS) is set to resume in 2023. This year’s class will bring together 25 students from 20 different countries at the Papal Summer Gardens of Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, for an intensive four-week course that will further the students’ education toward a career in astronomy.

This year’s VOSS is the 18th iteration of the program and will commence under the theme of “Learning the Universe: Data Science Tools for Astronomical Surveys.” Students will benefit from the extensive knowledge of the Vatican Observatory’s international faculty, which includes some of the world’s experts on applying the principles of machine learning to astrophysical studies.

Fr. Alessandro Omizzolo, a Vatican Observatory astronomer who also serves as dean of the VOSS, noted in a press release that as telescopes continue to become larger they also pull in a lot more data. The 2023 VOSS will explore the science behind surveys of celestial sources, present the concepts of big data and machine learning, and provide a hands-on data analysis experience that will enable students to use these data sets for their own astronomical projects.

The 25 selected students, who are a mix of graduate students and undergrads, will be joined by three young Jesuits scientists from Australia, China, and Congo. Along with the course load of attending lectures, work on projects related to their research, and travel, they may also have the opportunity for an audience with Pope Francis, if the Pontiff’s schedule permits.

These students were selected from nearly 200 applicants who are pursuing an active career in astronomy. Selection was limited so that no nation would have more than two representatives. The final enrollment, including the Jesuits, will see participants from every continent: 10 of the students come from Europe or North America; nine from Latin America, six from Asia, two from Africa, and one from Australia.

Dr. Viviana Acquaviva, of the City University of New York and the Flatiron Institute, will act as a co-chair of the VOSS faculty. She expressed her excitement over the summer program, noting that the students will learn valuable skills that will benefit them in their future careers: 

“I am especially thrilled with the community-building aspect of this school,” said Dr. Acquaviva.  “The importance of finding one’s network and community is an aspect of academic life that can’t be overstated.” She noted that the participants will continue to interact as a supportive community long after the course is over.

Since the Vatican Observatory Summer School program began in 1986, more than 400 students have taken part. While it is open to applicants worldwide, many of the students come from developing countries. Those who are selected attend free of tuition and are granted additional financial support for travel and housing. This ensures that every student accepted can attend. More than 85% continue today as professional astronomers, including some of the most notable figures in contemporary astronomy. 

Those interested in applying for next year’s summer course can find more information at the Vatican Observatory’s website.

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