KARACHI: The Italian consulate general in collaboration with the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) has arranged an exhibition highlighting the achievements and contributions of women to various space programmes around the world.

The exhibition — ‘Space Girls, Space Women: Space through the eyes of Women’ — was held outside the Bahria Auditorium recently.

In addition to Italian consulate and Nust, the student club of the Pakistan Navy Engineering College, Alumni and Industrial Relations, Pakistan Space Science Education Centre and the Dawood Foundation were also part of the programme.

Along with photographs documenting the many achievements and contributions of women, there were simulated models of Mars educating school and college students on the exploration currently under way of our neighbouring planet as well as science workshops designed to get schoolgirls present engaged and interested in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) fields.

According to Nayhan Farooq from the Pakistan Space Science Education Centre (PSSEC), “STEM education in Pakistan is wholly dominated [by] robotics. We thought we’d go a different direction and we thought about space science.”

Mr Farooq spent four years at the Victorian Space Science Education Centre before launching PSSEC with Zartaj Waseem. The latter is a STEM educator.

She pointed to an exhibit in one corner and elaborated, “This is the biggest simulated Mars surface that we’ve set up in Pakistan. If we have a rover engineering course, for example, then we teach how you run the simulator over the Mars surface that you see here. The rovers are remotely controlled but they can be programmed to work autonomously. That’s what we teach children — how to programme a rover on this simulated surface.

“If you take a closer look, you can see the rocks. It’s very different from driving on a smooth surface. There you have the challenge of the rover on this surface.”

Ms Waseem hoped that their work, and especially the exhibition, would encourage young girls to pursue education and careers in STEM-related fields.

Anna Ruffino, the consul general of Italy in Karachi, is a science and space enthusiast and the exhibition was very close to her heart.

“What we tried to do today is to encourage young generation, young girls especially, but also boys to choose a career in science,” she said speaking to Dawn. “Especially in the space sector. Space is not only the future of humanity, but already a part of our present.”

“There was a lot of enthusiasm from the Italian Space Agency for bringing this exhibition to Pakistan,” she added. “This exhibition was presented in very few countries. And I’m very proud to be able to bring it here.”

She related that Italy was leading in space technology.

She hoped that the exhibition would change how STEM studies were traditionally seen as mostly a boy’s field.

“We have to encourage girls especially because we often have this prejudice that science is not a thing for women,” she said. “The other part is of course to support women empowerment. This exhibition combines both things.”

The exhibition is important because women’s achievements have been vastly under-represented in science, especially space, according to Dr Laura Patrizii from the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics.

“There is a lot of under-representation of women’s achievements in the humanities but especially in science,” she says. “We occupy very few high-level positions. Everywhere. This happens no matter what part of the world you are from.”

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018

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