Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement 2023 awarded to Daniela de Paulis and El Mehdi Essaidi
Europlanet Press Release
The 2023 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement has been awarded jointly to the artist, Daniela de Paulis, for her interdisciplinary programmes to bring space and planetary science to international audiences, and the science communicator, El Mehdi Essaidi, for his community-centric work in southern Morocco to share the wonders of our Solar System and the Universe.
Federica Duras, chair of the Europlanet Outreach Jury, said: “It is a great source of honour for Europlanet to recognise the achievements of these two inspiring professionals with such different projects, resources, outcomes. Above all, it shows us that bringing people closer to planetary science, and more generally to the wonder of the Universe, can be done in many ways, and it’s great to see how it’s being done in different parts of the world.”
Daniela de Paulis is an interdisciplinary artist, whose installations and performances have a strong public engagement component. She has collaborated with astronomers and space scientists for many years and is currently a SETI Institute Artist-in-Residence (SETI AIR). Her latest project, “A Sign in Space”, invited people around the world to help decode a simulated message from an alien civilisation. The message was transmitted from Mars orbit on 24 May 2023 by the European Space Agency (ESA) mission, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, and was received by three radio telescopes on Earth. The project reached people in 174 countries and over 85,000 people have viewed a livestream of the event. Almost 5,000 people registered on the online platform Discord, where the message was extracted from the raw signal data within less than 10 days; however the process is ongoing as people on Discord are now trying to decode and interpret the message. The design of the project required coordination with ESA, the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), the US-based Green Bank Observatory and the SETI Institute, as well as teams of radio astronomers, planetary scientists, engineers, communicators, artists, poets, philosophers, anthropologists and computer scientists, collaborating over different time zones for more than two years.
Claudia Mignone of INAF, who proposed Daniela de Paulis for the prize said: “The visionary idea of Daniela de Paulis brought together a wide audience from over a hundred countries, who have been sharing their thoughts and discussing themes related to space exploration and the quest for life in the Universe, but also what it means to be human at this particular time in history and what we are capable to do when we harness our collective knowledge.”
El Mehdi Essaidi, from the Asif n Ait Bounouh Association for Culture and Awareness in Ait Bounouh / Tafraoute, works to empower students and enhance science literacy in isolated and underserved communities in southern regions of Morocco. Through programmes that are tailored to the specific cultural contexts and local dialects, including astronomy workshops, hands-on experiments, story-telling, stargazing events, mentorship opportunities and observational research projects, El Mehdi Essaidi has motivated young individuals to pursue their dreams in the field of astronomy. By engaging both children and adults, he aims to create a ripple effect that spreads scientific curiosity throughout the community, and provide a relatable role model who shares their language and cultural background. With his latest project, “Asif Stars”, he has enabled communities in Morocco to conduct observational research using the Las Cumbres Observatory telescope network.
Dr Youssef Oukhallou, President of the Youth Policy Center in Morocco, said: “El Mehdi Essaidi’s contributions to education and public engagement, particularly in the field of astronomy, have had a transformative impact on the lives of numerous individuals and communities, particularly in rural and marginalised areas.”
The winners are invited to give prize lectures at the Europlanet Science Congress 2024 in Berlin from 8-13 September 2024.
El Mehdi Essaidi leading an observing session. Credit: Asif Astronomy Club.
Daniela de Paulis
X (formerly Twitter): @danieladepaulis
El Mehdi Essaidi
Asif n Ait Bounouh Association for Culture and Awareness
Chair, Europlanet Outreach Jury
Europlanet Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
Since 2005, Europlanet (www.europlanet-society.org) has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.
The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC).