Teacher from Southern Chile Receives 2023 AURA Padre Picetti Prize
Paul Palma from Coyhaique receives recognition for his work to promote astronomy
13 December 2023
Paul Palma from Alianza Austral School in Coyhaique has won the 2023 AURA Padre Picetti Prize, an annual initiative started in 2014 by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) that seeks to recognize leading teachers in Chile who demonstrate a special dedication towards astronomy and encouraging new generations of scientists.
In addition to a commemorative award, Palma was presented with an 8-inch dobsonian telescope and a visit to Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, where he toured the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter telescope.
The award ceremony took place at the AURA Recinto Office in La Serena and was led by the Vice-President and Head of Mission of AURA in Chile, Alejandra Voigt. Additionally, Claudia Tello and Angelo Leita, the principal and vice-principal of Seminario Conciliar School in La Serena where father Juan Bautista Picetti, the inspiration behind this prize, once worked, also participated in the ceremony.
Amongst the many characteristics that made him a deserving recipient of the award, Palma’s everlasting support for his students and his commitment to make them ‘think big’ stood out. His motivation to teach astronomy in the far south of Chile — an area which is not traditionally astronomical — is something to be rewarded.
Palma was the top graduate in his class of educators in physics at the University of Playa Ancha. He further specialized in his field in Heidelberg, Germany, by completing the course The Universe in the Classroom. He is a three-time winner of the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA). In addition, he led the Chilean team at the thirty-first International Young Physicists’ Tournament in Beijing, China and was the mentor for the Chilean team in the International Olympics of Earth Sciences (IESO) for two years. He’s been a teacher at Alianza Austral School since 2016.
The AURA Padre Picetti Prize is inspired by the priest Juan Bautista Picetti from Seminario Conciliar School in La Serena, a renowned clergyman and an enthusiastic teacher, who, with great patience and dedication, spent his life encouraging the passion for science in youth and children. Padre Picetti passed away in August of 2021.
The AURA Observatory presents this prize annually to science teachers and/or outreach workers in Chile. The winner is selected from the nominees by a mixed commission made up of representatives from AURA and external institutions. Palma encourages all education professionals who are passionate about teaching science and astronomy to run for the prize next year.
NSF’s NOIRLab (National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory), the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, operates the International Gemini Observatory (a facility of NSF, NRC–Canada, ANID–Chile, MCTIC–Brazil, MINCyT–Argentina, and KASI–Republic of Korea), Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC), and Vera C. Rubin Observatory (operated in cooperation with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the opportunity to conduct astronomical research on Iolkam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) in Arizona, on Maunakea in Hawai‘i, and on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile. We recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that these sites have to the Tohono O'odham Nation, to the Native Hawaiian community, and to the local communities in Chile, respectively.
Luz María Aguirre
AURA Communications and Institutional Relations Manager
Jr. Public Information Officer