The Edinburgh Medal is a prestigious award given annually to men and women of science and technology whose professional achievements have made a significant contribution to the understanding and well-being of humanity.
On 30 March 2016, The 2016 Edinburgh Medal was jointly awarded to South African astronomer Kevin Govender and the International Astronomical Union (IAU), to recognise their wide reaching contribution to science.
Kevin is the second African and first South African to win this global standing award. The last joint recipients were Prof Higgs and CERN. The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together almost 10,000 distinguished astronomers from all nations of the world.
The event was hosted by Edinburgh's Lord Provost Donald Wilson with an oration by Lord Martin Rees and vote of thanks by Prof Monica Grady as part of the wider Edinburgh Science Festival programme.
Kevin was joined by Silvia Torres-Piembert, President of the International Astronomical Union at Edinburgh City Chambers to deliver this year's Edinburgh Medal Address: “Astronomy For A Better World”.
Kevin took the audience on an animated tour through our galaxy to the largest structures of the universe before returning to Professor Sagan's famous "Pale Blue Dot" photo projected on the back wall. "We don't need a migrant crisis to see we are all connected. We don't need a war to drive innovation. We just need to see the Earth from space. We don't need to have a global sea level rise and mass destruction. We need the perspective that astronomy gives us."
Based at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town, Kevin spoke of the spirit of South Africa and its desire to be at the forefront of research, with projects including the South African Large Telescope (SALT), one of the largest optical telescopes in the world, and the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the largest capacity radio astronomy project ever conceived. "The structures are set up. Now let's make use of them. We're ready to roll out big ideas and big projects. May the exploration of the universe bring us closer to home."
Closing the evening, Professor Monica Grady gave the vote of thanks, saying "There is very little in life that we get for free, but what we do get for free is a view of the night sky. You may not get the Hubble deep range, but what you will get is something which has inspired humanity for generations."
'Astronomy won't change the world but it will change people...who can and will." – Kevin Govender
Images: Kevin Govender twitter