Stars have fascinated humans ever since they decided to explore, question and study the unknowns of the universe. The study of stars is where human civilisation took its first footsteps in science and astronomy developed into a truly fascinating field, a real test of man's intellect. Worldwide, astronomy and astrophysics are subjects much sought after. It's a shame that in Bangladesh, only a select few universities offer courses in astronomy or astrophysics, and the ones that do, have a hard time attracting students.
With the primary goal of providing astronomy the exposure it deserves in Bangladesh, and a second but equally important goal of recruiting a group of young astronomers to represent Bangladesh at the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) and the International Astronomy Olympiad (IAO) to be held in Romania and Kazakhstan respectively, the 9th Bangladesh Astro-Olympiad kicked off in the last week of January this year. Their campaign began on the 24th of January with the first stage of the competition, recruiting participants from regional centres who would later participate in the national event. The first round went on till the 31st of January and a total of 334 individuals were selected to meet for the final round of the 9th Bangladesh Astro-Olympiad held at the premises of Heritage School, Narayanganj.
The participants began gathering at the venue in the early hours of February 8th for the national round. Many had made the long journey from places like Srimangal and Bogra to attend the finals of the 9th Bangladesh Astro-Olympiad. After the participants were all registered and treated to a polite breakfast, the exams were finally underway. It was a 90-minute exam, where the three best performers would be facilitated by Bangladesh Astronomical Association the chance to compete at the IOAA this year. Salsabil Ashraf Bhumika, a participant selected from the Dhaka region, looked disappointed but according to her, she wasn't disheartened. “This is my first time at a competition like this, and competing at the national level with such amazing company is satisfaction enough for me. I was a little lost this year, but hopefully I can come prepared next time around, I'd like to do so because this olympiad has made me fall in love with a science I hardly knew of,” she said.
With the exam out of the way, the young astronomers were treated to an enlightening speech by special guest, Engineer Sukallyan Bachar, curator of the National Museum of Science and Technology, Dhaka, followed by a fascinating session of Q&A with chief guest, Dr. Ali Asgar, renowned physicist and a former professor of BUET. Questions were asked about astronomy and about physics, about the difference between a quasar and a black hole -- all answered with vigorous enthusiasm.
The winners of the olympiad were announced shortly after lunch at a closing ceremony attended by Professor Bulbul Chowdhury, principal of Heritage School; Imran Habib Rumon of the Biggan Andolon Moncho; CEO of the Narayanganj City Corporation, Mostafa Kamal Mojumder; and Md. Selim Miya, chairman of the 9th Bangladesh Astro-Olympiad. 10 winners were announced from the junior group and 9 from the senior, and the panel of guests handed out the awards. The winners of the grand prize -- the three tickets to Romania for the IOAA -- were Shahreer Jahan of St. Joseph Higher Secondary School, Sowad Sattar of Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET) and Md. Mahmudunnobe of Rajshahi Government Laboratory School. Shahreer Jahan, a third time IOAA-goer, was thankful to the Astronomy Olympiad for his accomplishments, “I have been accepted into the Jacobs University, Bremen, and I know for a fact that my involvement here has been a big factor in that. The olympiads have given me direction as to what I want to study in the future and that's as big a blessing as one could hope for.”
The 9th Bangladesh Astro-Olympiad drew its curtains here, having inspired many to further pursue the study of astronomy. The team leader of the Bangladesh Astronomy Olympiad team, Taif Hossain Rocky believed that they have done what they set out to do -- put together a team and inspire a group of talented young individuals. He was satisfied with the progress he saw from the first year of this competition to now, in its 9th instalment: “In our initial stages, we had to go looking for participants to compete in our olympiad, but now it's the other way around. For me, that's a big achievement in its own. Over the years, we haven't had the best patronage we could hope for, but with continuing assistance like we have had this year, success can't be far away.”
This event was jointly organised by Bangladesh Astronomical Association, Biggan Andolon Moncho and Heritage School; was sponsored by The Daily Star and Heritage School, with media partner, Channel 71.