Invited Speakers

See abstracts here

Donald Kurtz

Don Kurtz was born in San Diego, California, to an American father and Canadian mother. He obtained his PhD in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin in 1976, then spent 24 years in South Africa at the University of Cape Town, where he was a Professor and Fellow. Don has dual British and American citizenship, plus South African permanent residence, and is Professor Emeritus of Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire, Extra-ordinary Professor at North-West University in South Africa, and Visiting Professor at the University of Lincoln. He holds an A-1 research rating from the South African National Research Foundation. He was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society 2022 “Service Award” for a lifetime of service to astronomy and outreach. He is frequently invited to speak internationally to both professional astronomers and to the public. He now lives in Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Francoise Combes

Françoise Combes is a professor at Collège de France, chair of “Galaxies and cosmology”, and  member of the Academy of Sciences. She works at the Paris Observatory on the formation and evolution of galaxies, their dynamics and their co-evolution with supermassive black holes, as well as on models of dark matter. She has received several awards, including the CNRS Gold Medal (2020), the Tycho Brahe Prize from the
European Astronomical Society (2009) or the Lise Meitner Prize from Göteborg (Sweden, 2017). She was elected member of the European Academy (2009) and president of the French Astronomical Society (2002-2004).

Lina Canas

My background is in Astronomy and Geophysics and I was in the last year of my PhD in science teaching and communication (with my thesis/focus on development and implementation of inclusive outreach activities in astronomy in particular for blind audiences) when I took a position as a science communicator for the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Tokyo, Japan.

At a professional level, I have been working in astronomy outreach for over 15 years with a particular focus on public engagement in astronomy, multicultural volunteer network management and multi-national project management. Bringing science, astronomy, to diverse and underrepresented audiences has always been the focus of my professional life.

My current role as Director of the IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach focuses on implementing the IAU goal of promoting astronomy through access to astronomical information and communication of the science of astronomy. We do this by coordinating global outreach programmes around the world in over 120 countries.

Alemiye Mamo Yacob

Mr Alemiye Mamo is an Astronomer and science communicator by profession. He is among the few individuals who laid the foundation for space Science development in Ethiopia. Mr Alemiye is currently working as coordinator of East Africa Regional Office of Astronomy for Development (EA-ROAD), National outreach coordinator (NOC) and researcher at Ethiopian Space science and technology institute (ESSTI) based in Ethiopia.  Mr Alemiye has been working in the development of astronomy and space science in Ethiopia for the past two decades. He is one of the founders of the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) and a contributor in the establishment of Entoto Observatory which is now upgraded to ESSTI.

Roy Maartens

Roy Maartens is SKA/SARChI Professor of Cosmology at the University of the Western Cape since 2010, where he leads a team of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers working on cosmology with MeerKAT, SKA and other surveys. He was a lecturer at Wits University 1983-93 and then at the University of Portsmouth, UK in 1994-2009, where he was the founding Director of the Institute of Cosmology & Gravitation. He is a Fellow of the International Society of General Relativity & Gravitation.

Michelle Lochner

Born in South Africa with a PhD from the University of Cape Town, Dr. Michelle Lochner is a Senior Lecturer with a joint position between the University of the Western Cape and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (formerly SKA South Africa). Her focus is on cosmology and trying to get the best out of combining optical and radio telescopes like the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, in Chile, as well as the Square Kilometre Array and its precursor, MeerKAT, in South Africa. She works on developing new statistical techniques and using machine learning to tackle the masses of data we are dealing with in astronomy, currently focusing on the use of anomaly detection for scientific discovery.

After obtaining her B.Sc. from Rhodes University, Dr. Lochner pursued postgraduate studies at the University of Cape Town and completed her PhD in 2014. She then took up a two-year postdoctoral position at University College London, UK, focusing on machine learning techniques in cosmology. She returned to South Africa in 2016 as a researcher at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences before taking up her current position at UWC.

Dr. Lochner is a South African Principal Investigator for the Rubin Observatory, an NRF P-rated researcher and has published 24 peer-reviewed papers and technical reports. She is also the founder and director of an international mentoring programme for women and gender minorities in physics called the Supernova Foundation.

Michael Backes

Prof. Michael Backes is Associate Professor, Head of the Namibian H.E.S.S. group, and of astrophysics at the University of Namibia (UNAM), as well as Extraordinary Associate Professor at North-West University (South Africa) and Academic Visitor at the University of Oxford (UK). He received his PhD and MSc in gamma-ray astronomy from TU Dortmund University (D). He got appointed a member of the Global Young Academy (GYA) and elected to their Executive Committee. He is recipient of a UNAM Meritorious Award for Best Academic Performance in the Faculty of Science, and of a GfKl Application Award by the German Data Science Society (GfKl). He was rated an Established Researcher by the South African National Research Foundation, indicative of him belonging to the highest rated 1.5% of researchers in his age group. He is the Namibian lead for a Global Challenges Research Fund project and he also serves as the founding head of the Virtual Institute for Scientific Computing and Artificial Intelligence at UNAM.
His research focuses on gamma-ray loud Active Galaxies, their multi-wavelength and multi-messenger emission, as well as their long-term behaviour, centred around observations with the H.E.S.S. gamma-ray telescopes. Besides that, he is active in the fields of advanced data analysis methods for very high-energy gamma-ray astronomy, and site-testing for future observatories. He is Co-PI of the Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT) and actively works on its establishment and its science program. Besides this hard science research, he pursues societal impact-driven activities on astro-tourism and archaeoastronomy in Namibia.

Mirjana Pović

Mirjana Pović is a Serbian-Spanish astrophysicist, working as an assistant professor at the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI), an associate researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain, and as an honorary lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. She obtained her PhD in astrophysics in 2010 from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (Spain). Her main research interests are galaxy formation and evolution, in particular nuclear activity in galaxies, star formation, morphological classification of galaxies, and galaxy clusters. In addition, over more than 10 years, she worked on development in astronomy, science, and education in different parts of Africa, through different projects and initiatives related to research collaborations, education, institutional development, human capacity building, policy development, and women in science. She is a current secretary of the IAU Division C on Education, Outreach and Heritage, African Astronomical Society Science Committee member, co-convener of the Astrophysics and Cosmology Working Group under the African Strategy for Fundamental and Applied Physics, and founder of the African Network of Women in Astronomy. She received several awards and recognitions for her scientific achievements and contribution to society, in particular for her work in Africa, including the 2018 inaugural Nature Research Award for Inspiring Science, and the 2021 inaugural European Astronomical Society Jocelyn Bell Burnell Inspiration Medal. She believes that through education, science, and technology we can combat poverty in the long term and make our world to be a better place for everyone in the future, regardless of where the children are born.

Jamal Mimouni

Jamal Mimouni is an Algerian astrophysicist, who received his higher education partly in Algeria (B. Sc. in Theoretical Physics in 1977 from Algiers University) and partly in the States (Ph. D. in Particle Physics in 1985 from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia). He is also an actor on the science, society, and the cultural dimension of the scientific debate in the Arab-Muslim world and has developed a keen interest in the philosophy of contemporary science, as well as in spreading scientific culture in societies of the developing world. On the “ground”, he has acted as adviser and resource person to amateur astronomy associations in Algeria and is the head of the well-known Sirius Astronomy Association. He is the current President of the African Astronomical Society (AfAS) based in Cape Town, South Africa. He has been working closely with the Algerian Ministry of National Education as a scientific adviser, and has conceived and directed various regional training workshops for both Elementary School and  High School Physics Teachers: «From Geography to the Cosmos». Finally, he has authored along with N. Guessoum a popular science book in Arabic “The Story of the Universe: from Early Conceptions to the Big Bang” for a University educated readership, and contributed to an academic collective book  «Science and Religion in Islam».

Zouhair Benkhaldoun

Zouhair Benkhaldoun holds a PhD in Astrophysics from Nice Sophia Antipolis University in France and Cadi Ayyad University of Marrakech, Doctor in Energetics from Marseille University in France. In 1985 he founded with three other researchers the first research laboratory in Astrophysics in Morocco at the national center for scientific and technical research at Rabat. Zouhair joined Marrakech University in 1992 and founded with 5 other researchers the laboratory of high-energy physics and astrophysics in 1999. He was also involved in the establishment of the first professional astronomical observatory in Morocco on the Oukaimeden site, inaugurated in 2007 and has been directing it since then. Zouhair works with a group of passionate people at the Association of Astronomy amateurs of Marrakech (3AM), a cultural association aiming to promote astronomy and space science to the public. His research works allow Morocco to be selected for the E-ELT project campaign. He conducted this project as part of the European FP6 program with the support of Hassan II academy for Science and Techniques in Morocco. He is president of the National Committee for astronomy in Morocco (CNAM). Zouhair has been elected president of the ArAS (Arab Astronomical Society), a professional association newly created (December 2016) and working towards the promotion of scientific research in Astrophysics in Arab countries. He is one of the founders of  “Africa Initiative for Planetary and Space Science ” and he is a member of its scientific advisory committee. He is leading an ambitious project to create a 2 meters diameter telescope in Morocco. Zouhair is also leading the Atlas Dark Sky Morocco (ADSM) project. Moreover, he is the author of more than a hundred articles and scientific communications. He is also very active in the domain of science outreach. In recognition of his involvement in the domain of Astronomy, the international astronomical union (IAU) gave his name to the asteroid 133892 Benkhaldoun (2004 RN8). He is part of the research team that just discovered the most important exoplanet system as of today ( This discovery was published in the Nature magazine

Lerothodi Leeuw 

Lerothodi Lapula Leeuw is a Professor at the University of the Western Cape. He holds a BSc in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing from Columbia University in New York City, an MSc in Astronomy from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Central Lancashire.

An astrophysicist, Prof Leeuw studies the evolution of galaxies and their structure by utilizing optical, infrared, and radio data observed with telescopes around the world and in Space. As an astroparticle physicist, he explores the intersection of
astrophysics and particle physics and mentors work on the dark sector particles at CERN Laboratory.

Lerothodi has held astrophysics research positions at the University of Toledo in Ohio; the University of Chicago in Illinois: and NASA Ames Research Centre in California, USA; and Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. Before joining UWC he was a Professor in the College of Graduate Studies at the University of South Africa (UNISA). His academic awards and recognition include the National Research Foundation (NRF) Special Recognition Award: Hamilton Naki Award; NRF Rating C2; various RE Research Grants: NASA, SKA, and NRF Research Fellowships, and the English Academy Thomas Pringle Prize awarded for a Short Story publication. Among his civic and professional duties, Professor Leeuw is a member of the Square Kilometre Array South Africa Science (SKA-SA) User Committee and the SIR Laser Centre Advisory Panel, representing South Africa in the International Astroparticle Physics Forum (APIF).

Prof Lerothodi Leeuw has published his scientific work in over 50 international journals. including the highly-rated journal Science.

Carolina Odman

Dr. Ödman is an Associate Professor at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa and Associate Director, Development and Outreach at the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA). Trained in physics at EPFL in Switzerland, she holds a PhD in cosmology from Cambridge University, UK. She has done research in several fields of physics and developed educational programmes based on science from early childhood to postgraduate training. She has also worked in a financial technology startup. She now focuses on researching and bringing a development agenda to science. Her work has earned her numerous awards nationally and internationally. Most recently, she was awarded the NSTF-South32 Communication award for her efforts in translating scientific content into African languages.

Sonal Asgotraa

Sonal Asgotraa is the Program Leader of Astrostays ( – a unique community centric Astro-tourism model that leverages Astronomy for creating sustainable Socio- economic Development opportunities for rural communities. The initiative merges Astronomy and community development initiatives to promote astro-tourism as a more sustainable form of travel that brings the economic benefits of tourism to remote areas, away from built up tourist regions – transforming village homestays into Cultural and Astronomy Hubs and economically empowering rural communities. Sonal was also a team member of the 2013 International Antarctic Expedition led by Polar Explorer, Sir Robert Swan, OBE.

Kenda Knowles

Dr Kenda Knowles obtained her PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Westville) and proceeded to two postdocs funded by the Claude Leon Foundation and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, respectively. A winner of the 2017 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women In Science Sub-Saharan Africa Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dr Knowles is currently a Research Fellow at Rhodes University focusing on the study of galaxy clusters.

Unathi Kondile

Unathi Kondile is the editor of African Science Stars magazine and has over 11-years experience in the field of science journalism in South Africa. He holds a Master of Arts in Media Studies and a BA Film and Media production (Honours) from the University of Cape Town. He is the founding editor of South Africa’s first isiXhosa daily newspaper, Isolezwe lesiXhosa, and the founding editor of the established Science Stars magazine. His research interests are around using vernacular languages to transform the media as well as translating the sciences into vernacular languages. As part of growing science journalism in South Africa, Kondile presents quarterly introductory journalism workshops to scientists across the continent of Africa.


Systems engineer and astronomer, Knight of the National Order of the Lion (The Order of the Lion is Senegal’s highest distinction), Maram KAIRE has become, since May 14, 2021, the 1st Senegalese to have his name attributed to an object of the Solar System with the designation of the asteroid (35462) 1998 DW23 now called (35462) Maramkaire by the International Astronomical Union. In 2021, he also entered the prestigious ranking of “AfricanDOers, the TOP 500 of the most influential Africans in the world” by TROPICS Magazine (Johannesburg, South Africa). 

Co-founder and current President of the Senegalese Association for the Promotion of Astronomy (ASPA), He is presented by the famous magazine CIEL & ESPACE and radio RFI as being the engine of the development of Astronomy and space sciences in Senegal. 
In 2018, Maram KAIRE ensured the Technical Coordination of an important NASA mission carried out in Senegal to observe a stellar occultation by the asteroid ARROKOTH. This activity, as part of the NEW HORIZONS space mission which flew over the planet PLUTON, saw the collaboration of around forty American and French astrophysicists with Senegalese scientists. 

In 2020 then 2021, NASA renews its confidence in it through two new highly important missions to observe stellar occultation by the Trojan asteroids POLYMELE and ORUS, two of the 7 targets that the space probe LUCY will visit between 2027 and 2033. 

Maram KAIRE was appointed, in March 2020, National Astronomy Education Coordinator (NAEC) for Senegal by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the organization that coordinates the work of astronomers and astrophysicists around the world with the mission to help to develop astronomy in the Senegalese education system. 

Initiator of many astronomy development projects such as the SPACEBUS concept (the largest astronomy promotion activity ever organized in Africa), founding member of the African Astronomical Society (AFAS), He is also a member of the Executive Committee AFIPS (Africa Initiative for Planetary and Space Sciences) which works to develop planetary and space sciences on the African continent. 

Between 2015 and 2019, he was Technical Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, in charge of the Promotion and Popularization of Scientific Culture. Focal point of the Ministry on issues related to space, he had to lead partnership projects with the CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales de France) and ARIANEGROUP (Operator of the Ariane rocket) for the development of university courses in science and the installation of a center for the assembly, integration and testing of microsatellites in Senegal. 

A true scientific popularizer in the service of the development of astronomy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), he was awarded a grant, in 2017, from the IVLP program (International Visitor Leadership Program) of the United States Department of State in the field of “science and technology education for young people”. 
He is Managing Director of AFRICASPACE, a company specializing in strategic support for African states in the development and implementation of their space policy. 

Renée C. Kraan-Korteweg

Prof Renée C. Kraan-Korteweg is a Senior Research Scholar at the Astronomy of the University of Cape Town. She worked in Switzerland, the Netherlands, France and Mexico, before coming to South Africa in 2005 as Head of UCT’s Astronomy Department. Her move was motivated by the exciting developments of South Africa’s government in cutting-edge science instruments like SALT, MeerKAT and the SKA, and the accompanying human capacity development efforts.

Renée’s research expertise lies in the mapping of the large-scale structures of galaxies in the nearby Universe using various multiwavelength approaches (from optical, near-infrared to the radio) and trace the evolution of gas in galaxies as a function of time and local environment, with special emphasis on uncovering hidden structures behind our Milky Way to derive their contribution to cosmic flow fields in the nearby Universe.

She has supervised numerous MSc and PhD students and lectured at undergraduate and postgraduate level. She has served as the Chair of the South African Astronomy Advisory Council, the Steering Committee of the international IAU/NRF Office of Astronomy for Developments and was Vice-President of the International Astronomical Union from 2012-2018.  In 2018 she received the Special Commemorative MeerKAT Award from the Minister of Science and Technology for my outstanding contribution to building SA’s scientific and research knowledge base in advancing the field of Astronomy and is the proud recipient of the inaugural AfNWA Senior Award 2021.

Marie Korsaga

Marie Korsaga is from Burkina Faso, where she studied my BSc and Masters in Physics at the Université de Ouagadougou which is the top university of the country. She did her PhD in Astrophysics jointly between the University of Cape Town in South Africa and Aix-Marseille Université in France. Her PhD research focused on investigating the distribution of baryonic and dark matter in nearby galaxies. After completing her PhD in 2019, she joined the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) for a fellowship in 2020, during which I researched the contribution of the science community – and in particular that of the astronomy community – in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marie also worked as a postdoctoral researcher at IAA-CSIC in Granada in 2020 and she is currently a  postdoctoral researcher at Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg and a lecturer at Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo.

Besides her academic activities, she is involved in many projects advocating for the promotion of women in STEM studies, with the aim of contributing towards a more equal gender representation in science, particularly in developing countries.