The IAYC started in 1969, an auspicious year that also saw humans landing on the moon for the first time. In every summer over the proceeding 50 years, the IAYC has been bringing together young people interested in astronomy and cultural exchange. We estimate that over 1700 participants have attended the IAYC (it’s hard to give exact numbers because we don’t have complete records and many people attended multiple times).
Last year, we reached out to our past participants - oldies - and asked them to fill out a survey to try and understand where their lives had taken them since they had attended the camp. Amazingly, over 300 people responded, covering every year the camp has run. The results were astonishing and heartwarming. The IAYC has been a formative part of many people’s lives, and many IAYCers have gone on to be successful astronomers (among all other kinds of careers).
It turns out this kind of study is rare in outreach. Very few organisations like the IAYC have been operating consistently for such a long period of time. This is especially impressive given that the leadership of the organisation changes relatively frequently. We realised that our findings would be valuable to other researchers interested in best practices for outreach, and so we presented our initial analysis at the Communicating Astronomy with the Public (CAP) conference in Fukuoka, Japan (2018).
After receiving even more responses, we started a conversation with Nature Astronomy about a potential publication in their journal. In the process we discovered that quite a lot of IAYCers have gone on to publish in top astronomical journals (including Nature), sometimes co-authoring with other participants! There’s a lot of evidence that supports astronomy as a tool for effective outreach and the IAYC is somewhat unconventional in its approach to education. There are no lectures or classes at the camp and we encourage a style of working that is much closer to a research program like a masters or PhD.
We are very excited to announce that this has now been published, and you can read our article here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-019-0965-y
If you are aged between 16-24 then hopefully this will inspire you to come to the camp, and if you’re an educator hopefully this will give you some ideas for improving and evaluating your own outreach practices!
Hannah, Josh and the rest of the team at IWA
Anticlockwise from top left: IAYC 1980 in Violau, Germany; IAYC 1982 in Schauinsland, Germany; IAYC 1984 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt; IAYC 2015 in Klingenthal, Germany; IAYC 2016 in Nettlecombe, UK. Credits (anticlockwise from top left): Christoph Mayer; Jaap Vreeling; Jaap Vreeling; Radka Dančíková; Daniel Mortimer (University of Cambridge).
Images used with permission from Nature Astronomy and the authors.