The role of young astronomers' competitions in attracting the pupils to
Faculty of Science, The University of Zagreb
My intention was to find rule of thumb relating school education in astronomy with the
enrollment of professional scientists, primarily astrophysicists.
In Croatia astronomy is not regular school subject but it is possible, either to choose
it as an optional subject, or to participate in out-of-class school groupes enganged with
astronomy. Since the choice depends on the wishes of pupils and equally on the
availability of trained teachers, astronomical activity is realised in relatively small
number of grammar and high schools. Groups generally encompass pupils from one or
several classes, and participation is lossely bound. In this way, from time to time,
astronomy is live in 3 – 5 % of schools.
One of the very important form of the activity is competition at different levels.
Every year there are organized competitions in schools, communities or cities, counties
and finaly on the state level (national astronomical olympiad). Competitions started in
1969. Different organizations were responsible for the competitions, having an executive
committee, State Commission for the Competitions in Astronomy.
Statistics of participants at community competitions from 1969 – 1979, and at
county competitions from 1999 - 2007 is given in the Fig. 1. Nowadays number is
stabilized at 250 participants in grammar schools, and 100 participants in high schools.
For the state competition invited are about 100 participants.
1968 1978 1988 1998 2008
A large percentage of pupils had within these activities the first real touch with the
science. Those who were successfull at the competitions were ipso facto motivated to
study physical sciences and eventually to become professionals. One may ask, what are
conditions necessary to convert amateur astronomer to scientists – physicists or
astrophysicists? What is supporting environment in which grows school activity?
In the Croatian case several facts should be stressed. In Croatia there are 4 350 000
inhabitants, two dozen astronomical amateur societies with own instruments, including
4-5 very active observatories, and one planetarium. Each year there are several
astronomical open-air camps. Astronomy can be partially studied at two universities, with
specialisation at the post-graduate level.
Table 1. lists the professional astronomers, by their initials, affiliations and
professional interest, who participated in the competitions.
PARTICIPATION SCIENTIST POSITION AND INTEREST
1970 K. P. Department of Physics, The University
of Zagreb, stellar physics, close binaries
and variable stars
1970 Ž. A. Faculty of Mining, Geology and Petroleum
1970 E. F. Department of Physics, University of
Charlottesville, meson physics
1970 H. B. Hvar Observatory, Zagreb, variable stars
1970 B. V. Hvar Observatory, Zagreb,
solar physics, flares
1975 Ž. I. Princeton University, Astrophysical
Sciences Department, and University of
Washington, Department of Astronomy,
1975 R. B. Hvar Observatory, Zagreb,
solar physics, spectroscopy
1985 D. D. Faculty of Philosophy, Rijeka,
binary bodies, microlensing
1995-2000 M. J. Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton,
1979 discovered several comets and large
galactic and extragalactic structures
The score is: nine scientists in nearly forty year – who in their youth competed.
The approximate rule is the following:
9 scientists 400 participants
2,4 scientists per decade 40 .
3,8 decades 4 year engagement
Conclusion. Only 2,4 % of heavily interested pupils become astronomers.
The note: Approximately equal number of pupils become professional astronomers
although they have not participated in competitions or have not been embraced by
astronomical education in grammar and high school educational system.