SA astronomer lands top job at global science body

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 25 Oct 2023
Astronomer Dr Vanessa McBride, newly-appointed science director at the International Science Council.
Astronomer Dr Vanessa McBride, newly-appointed science director at the International Science Council.

South African astronomer Dr Vanessa McBride has been appointed as science director at the International Science Council (ISC), based in Paris.

With over 15 years of international scientific expertise, McBride will lead the organisation’s science unit, overseeing scientific initiatives, project management and collaborations, and provide strategic guidance to enhance the ISC's impact across the globe.

According to a statement from SA’s National Research Foundation (NRF), the position recognises McBride’s significant contributions to the scientific community, particularly her work with the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD), a collaborative effort of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the NRF.

Hailing from Cradock in the Eastern Cape, McBride will work alongside distinguished scientists from around the world.

The ISC is a non-governmental organisation with a global membership that brings together over 220 international scientific unions and associations, as well as national and regional scientific organisations, including academies and research councils.

The council catalyses and convenes scientific expertise, advice and influence on issues of major concern to both science and society, through its members.

“We are thrilled to be welcoming Vanessa to the International Science Council,” says ISC CEO Dr Salvatore Aricò.

“Her demonstrated experience in the practice of science and experience in science matters in both the Global South and Global North will bring clear value-add to the ISC portfolio of science activities, and the ISC as a whole.

“Vanessa’s positive outlook on the ability of science to contribute to public understanding of science by policy-makers and communities at large will also elevate the ISC’s standing within and outside of the ISC constituency.”

She joins the ISC from the International Astronomical Union’s Office of Astronomy for Development, where she bridged the gap between the academic astronomy and development communities as research lead.

McBride was previously head of research at the South African Astronomical Observatory, and is an active researcher in the field of massive stars. She continues to serve as an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Cape Town.

According to the ISC, her focus resides in the dynamics of stellar objects in binary systems, which in astronomy refer to two bodies, usually stars that are gravitationally bound and orbit each other around a common centre of mass.

During her tenure at the IAU OAD, McBride championed the expansion of astronomy across Africa. Her efforts culminated in a victorious bid, ensuring SA becomes the host for the International Astronomical Union’s General Assembly in August 2024.

“This landmark event, a first for the African continent, is anticipated to draw thousands of international astronomers. Central to this initiative was Vision 2024, a strategic plan spearheaded by Vanessa and her team to optimise the assembly’s positive impact across Africa,” says the NRF.