I-HOW: IAU Hands-On Workshops


Vast amounts of astronomical data are currently available in archives scattered around the world, for instance in the archives of telescopes run by big consortia, like ESO, NSF’s NOIRLab, NRAO, ALMA, ATCA, LOFAR, etc., or space missions developed by NASA and ESA, or by national space agencies like JAXA, ISRO, etc.

The IAU Hands-On Workshops (I-HOW) is an initiative to train young scientists in developing countries in accessing, analysing and using those data for their research projects.

These ‘capacity building’ workshops will raise awareness of scientists in developing countries on the availability of astronomical data from ground-based telescopes and space missions that can be used to solve specific astronomical problems, will provide the seeds to open up and expand research in those countries into new horizons, and will foster international collaboration between young scientists in the developing countries and established staff members in developed ones. 

Past experience shows that there are hidden troves in the science archives of big telescopes, and that data in those archives often have not been exploited fully by the PI’s of those observations. By expanding the community that uses these instruments, these workshops will also enhance the scientific impact of those astronomical facilities, thereby benefiting the institutions who built them.

The proposal is to carry out about 2 of these workshops per year, covering different areas of astronomical research/instruments/wavelength ranges in each workshop. The exact number of workshops per year depends on the budget that the IAU has available for this programme, the number of requests from the community to hold them, and the availability of lecturers.

The initiative will be organised as follows:

Organisation of the programme:

  • The IAU will establish a steering committee in charge of this programme. The programme will have a Director who keeps the overview of the whole programme, and vice-chairs who are in charge of specific areas (e.g., a vice-chair per wavelength range.). Prof. Mariano Mendez has been appointed by the IAU Executive Committee as the current director through 2024.
  • The IAU will open the possibility for individual members to submit proposals to organise a workshop. Those proposals will be evaluated by this committee and, depending on the number of proposals received, the committee may decide to rank them and support a fixed number of them per year.
  • The usual lead time from the moment a proposal is submitted until the workshop takes place is about 1 year. This period is necessary to allow for the evaluation and ranking of the proposals, for holding a pre-workshop site visit by the vice-chair in charge of the workshop to establish that the facilities are adequate for the workshop, for announcing the workshop to potential candidates in the area of the world where the workshop will take place, and for selecting the participants.

The main characteristics of the individual workshops will be the following:

Format of the workshops

  • 50% or more of the time of the workshop will be dedicated to analysing astronomical data. During this part of the workshop the participants will carry out a specific project under the supervision of one of the lecturers. For this, each student will have a desktop computer or laptop provided for the duration of the workshop. 
  • The other half (or less) of the workshop will consist of classical lectures on astronomical topics that are related to the projects of the participants, and that can benefit from the techniques/instruments/wavelength range that are part of the hands-on sessions.
  • There will be separate workshops on different wavelength ranges, instruments, or analysis techniques.
  • The scientific topics of a workshop will be driven by the availability of data in the archives of ground- or space-based instruments. The astronomical part of the workshops will be driven by the science topics enabled by those data.
  • Each workshop will last 2-weeks to allow for enough time to carry out the projects.
  • The science lectures will be given in the mornings, and the lectures on data retrieval, software installation and use, and analysis sessions will be done in the afternoons.
  • The number of participants (so-called students) will be 30-40. This number is driven by the number of lecturers, between 8 and 10, such that each lecturer supervises between 3 and 4 students for the 2-weeks period.
  • Participants: The target participants are PhD students, postdocs, and young staff members willing to learn how to analyse data, use a new technique, or learn to deal with a wavelength domain in which they have not worked before and which would improve the quality of their own research. Advanced master students may be allowed to participate. 
  • Participants will be selected on a competitive manner on the basis of their CV and other application material.
  • About half of the participants will come from the host country (given that this country will provide about 50% of the funds; see below), and the other 50% will be selected from applicants from countries in the same region of the world. If there is significant interest from candidates from other parts of the world, there should be a proposal to organise a similar workshop in that region of the world at a later time.
  • The lecturers will be scientists working in different fields, who have a practical knowledge of the techniques and software used to analyse the kind of data that the workshop is about. Instrument scientists directly involved in the design of an instrument or the analysis software for that instrument are particularly good candidates for this. 
  • It is convenient to have a more or less fixed core of 3 or 4 lecturers for each topic offered. This ensures the continuity and the quality of the workshops.
  • The lecturers are expected to stay for the full duration of the workshop, to ensure the interaction with the participants and to be able to supervise their projects during the whole workshop.
  • There should be a proper gender and age balance among the lecturers and participants. 
  • Local researchers may act as lecturers as well.

Conditions for eligibility of a proposal for a workshop

To be eligible, the proposal for a workshop should satisfy at least these two conditions:

  • Data should be publicly available in the archives of some telescope/space mission, and participants must be able to access those data from their home institutes at no cost.
  • Software to reduce and analyse those data must be available, free to use and accessible to the participants to install on their own computers or on the computers at their home institutes.

Financial aspects

  • The costs of each workshop will be covered more or less equally by the IAU and the local organisers, on the basis of a pre-agreed budget. Some of the local contributions may be in kind. 
  • The lodging and food of the lecturers and the participants will be covered in full during the workshop. There will be no registration costs.
  • The travel costs of all lecturers will be covered in full according to IAU travel rules.
  • Some students will receive partial support (25-75%) for travel costs. They should try and obtain support from their own institute for the rest. The rationale for this is that the home institute of the participants will benefit from their scientists taking part in these workshops, and so it is expected that they contribute to a small part of the costs of the travel.
  • Lecturers and students will be lodged in the same hotel, and will have meals together, to maximise the teacher-student interactions.


Steering Committee Members (2021)


Mariano Mendez


Bradley Frank
Matteo Guainazzi
Heidi Korhonen
Violette Impellizzeri
Themiya Nanayakkara



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