Contact Us  |  Search:   
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Policy and Global Affairs
Home About BISO Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Quick Links

Contact BISO
Board on International Scientific Organizations
Policy and Global Affairs
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth Street
Washington, DC 20001 USA
Tel: +1 202-334-2807
Fax: +1 202-334-2231

International Visitors Office
For visa-related issues, visit International Visitors Office

Contact the IVO

Tel:+1 202-334-2807
Fax:+1 202-334-2231

BISO Events Calendar

Events of US National
Committees and
international unions
associated with BISO


BISO Home > USNC/IAU Homepage > USNC/IAU Activities and Events


2015 Proclaimed the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015)
The United Nations' General Assembly has designated 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). In proclaiming an International Year focusing on the topic of light science and its applications, the United Nations has recognized the importance of raising global awareness about how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health. The IYL Global Secretariat at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) will play a central role in coordinating the actions of the international scientific community and stakeholders with the UNESCO International Basic Sciences Programme. A selection of IYL 2015 resources, including press releases, can be found on the website of the European Physical Society.

United States to Host IAU General Assembly in 2015
The IAU General Assembly is coming to the United States! Honolulu, Hawaii will be the venue of the IAU’s XXIX General Assembly from August 3-14, 2015. The last IAU GA held in the U.S. was in Baltimore, MD in 1988.

The meeting website is already up at For now, the website contains basic information, but in the coming months, additional information will be added, including program specifics, travel advice, and tour opportunities. For example, tours of telescope facilities in Hawaii will be offered before, before, during and after the GA but will not conflict with the scientific sessions. The IAU GA will replace AAS’ regular summer meeting in 2015. As Kevin Marvel, executive officer at the American Astronomical Society, stated at the IAU General Assembly in Beijing, “The next General Assembly will be an interesting and exciting conference, enabling collaboration and networking while enhancing our scientific understanding of the universe through shared discourse.” We hope to see you there!

Note: If you missed the January 2015 AAS international travel grants deadline to attend the IAU General Assembly, more travel grants will be available for the spring and summer of 2016. The deadline to apply for these grants is January 8, 2016, as per the AAS website.

2012 IAU General Assembly
The IAU XXVII General Assembly (GA) was held in Beijing, China from 20-31 August 2012.  The GA was the largest ever organized, attended by almost 3,000 scientists from about 80 countries, including the United States. A National Science Foundation grant to the American Astronomical Society provided travel funding for approximately 100 U.S. astronomers. 
The opening address was given by Xi Jinping, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China. The vice president’s remarks addressed not only astronomy, but the importance of science and technology both to individual countries and to the entire world. His thoughtful remarks, widely distributed in China both in print and on television, may be read in full here.

An exciting scientific program was offered at the GA. It focused on both recent results and astronomical history. Eight Symposia, seven Joint Discussions, and eighteen Special Sessions were held. These covered a wide variety of topics, particularly development, advancement, and collaborations within astronomy. 
Scientific questions were addressed, and four resolutions were approved. The IAU website notes, “these included new guidelines for the designations and specifications of optical and infrared filter passbands, the redefinition of the astronomical unit of length, the establishment of an International Near-Earth Object (NEO) early warning system, and the restructuring of the IAU Divisions in order to bring them in line with current major research areas in astronomy and enable the IAU to be more involved with education and outreach.”

The IAU is one of the few international unions with individual members, and 1,006 new members were approved. This brings the total IAU individual membership to almost 11,000. Members represent 90 different countries.

Finally officers for the 2012-2015 triennium were elected. These include president Norio Kaifu (Japan), general secretary Thierry Montmerle (France), assistant general secretary Piero Benvenuti (Italy) and president-elect Silvia Torres-Peimbert (Mexico). Robert Williams (USA) will serve as past president.

Scientific Decisions from the 2012 IAU General Assembly 
The IAU, through its divisions and national members, addresses topics of importance to the worldwide astronomical community. At the 2012 IAU General Assembly in Beijing, three scientific resolutions were approved. The U.S. delegation supported all of these. Brief summaries of the resolutions follow and more detailed discussions can be found on the IAU website (online PDF).
  • Guidelines for the designations and specifications of optical and infrared astronomical photometric passbands. This resolution was proposed by IAU Commission 25 to alleviate the considerable confusion that has existed and continues to exist in the defining and naming of photometric passbands of all spectral widths in the visible and infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The resolution aims to minimizes such confusion, and has been a long-time goal of members of Commission 25. The resolution was approved unanimously by the GA.
  • The re-definition of the astronomical unit (au) of length was proposed and supported by the IAU Division I Working Group on Numerical Standards. The resolution was introduced by Dennis McCarthy, U. S. Naval Observatory (retired), President of IAU Division I. The resolution was unanimously approved, so now the astronomical unit (au) is defined as a fixed number as: au=149 597 870 700 m exactly. This definition can be used with all-time scales such as Barycentric Coordinate Time, Barycentric Dynamical Time, Geocentric Coordinate Time, Terrestrial Time, etc. This eliminates possible conflicts with SI units, dependence on theories of motion, and requirements for additional conventions within the relativistic framework.
Establishment of an International Near Earth Object (NEO) early warning system. This resolution was proposed by IAU Division III Working Group on Near Earth Objects. It addressed the threat posed by NEOs. As stated in the resolution, there is now ample evidence that the probability of catastrophic impacts of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) on the Earth, potentially highly destructive to life, and for humankind in particular, is not negligible and that appropriate actions are needed to avoid such catastrophes that would arise for the largest NEOs. Thanks to the efforts of the astronomical community and of several space agencies, the cataloguing of the potentially hazardous NEOs, the monitoring of their impact possibilities and the analysis of technologically feasible mitigations is reaching a satisfactory level. Even the impact of small- to moderate-sized objects may represent a great threat to our civilizations and to the international community. The resolution notes that NEOs are a threat to all nations on Earth, and therefore all nations should contribute to avert this threat. The resolution recommends that the IAU National Members work with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and the International Council for Science (ICSU) to coordinate and collaborate on the establishment of an International NEO early warning system, relying on the scientific and technical advice of the relevant astronomical community, whose main purpose is the reliable identification of potential NEO collisions with the Earth, and the communication of the relevant parameters to suitable decision makers of the nation(s) involved.

USNC Active at 2012 IAU General Assembly
Sponsored by the USNC/IAU through a grant from the National Science Foundation and, for the first time, co-sponsored by the Norwegian National Academy of Sciences and Letters, the lunch attracted nearly 280 individuals. Special thanks go to Edward Guinan (Villanova University) and Kevin Grovender (IAU Office of Astronomy for Development) for their organization of the event. The Young Astronomers lunch featured roundtable discussions involving one to two senior astronomers and eight to nine young astronomers. Discussions focus on pre-selected topics, such as career paths, research funding, successful job strategies, fellowships opportunities, the future of astronomy, and job prospects in the U.S. A questionnaire was distributed and completed by the participants at the end of the event. Almost all attendees recommended that a similar event be offered at future General Assemblies. Most of the young astronomers had received their PhD, but a few were either undergraduates, graduate students without a PhD, or in post-doc positions. Almost all were between 20 and 35 years old.
Women’s Luncheon
Sponsored by the USNC/IAU through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the fourth Women in Astronomy Luncheon was again a success.  Organized by the IAU’s Women Astronomers Working Group (WAWG), and in particular Sarah Maddison, Francesca Primas, and Yanchun Liang, the August 27 luncheon attracted a crowd of about 250 people, mostly women.  The geographical distribution ranged from large, developed countries to developing countries. 
Two opening talks were given. The first, by Xiangqun Cui, President of the Chinese Astronomical Society and former Director of the Nanjing Institute of Astronomical Optics and Technology, highlighted the careers of prominent women astronomers in China. The second, by Bryan Gaensler, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) in Australia, discussed specific steps that can be taken by employers to make work environments more supportive of women astronomers.
Each table of 8-10 people of different ages and from different countries then discussed specific issues pertaining to the careers of women astronomers. Many interesting and lively discussions ensued, and summaries of each were prepared for further evaluation.
The Women in Astronomy lunch was followed by a meet-a-mentor session later that day. Hosted by the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), the focus of this smaller event was to discuss specific career issues and questions. Roughly 100 women attended this pre-registered event. The small group settings permitted quieter, more focused conversation between mentors and mentees. 
United States Reception 
The USNC/IAU sponsored a U.S. Reception on August 22, during the 2012 General Assembly. Held at and cosponsored by the Kavli Institute at Peking University, the event was attended by about 120 people. The reception provides a wonderful opportunity for members of the USNC/IAU to meet and talk with current and incoming officers of the IAU, leaders of various astronomical societies, government officials, the local organizing committee, and other important astronomers.

Banner copied from

International Travel Grants and Educational Activities
The American Astronomical Society (AAS) administers a travel grant program open to U.S.-based astronomers for attendance at international meetings. Endorsed by the USNC/IAU and funded by the National Science Foundation, the AAS grant program corresponds to IAU General Assembly years. To attend the IAU General Assemblies and other international conferences, individuals at U.S. institutions may apply to the AAS International Travel Grant Program. 
Learn more about the AAS International Travel Grant program, including submission deadlines.

Valuable educational programs are also reported by IAU Commission on Astronomy Education and Development (Commission 46).  For researchers and students in countries with economic difficulties, travel grants to IAU-sponsored meetings and general assemblies are available.  Grants for Exchange Astronomers, travel awards for short term visits, are administered by the IAU Commission 46.  The IAU also conducts International Schools for Young Astronomers, a Visiting Lecturer Program, and the Worldwide Development of Astronomy.

International Year of Astronomy
The year 2009 marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first use of a telescope to observe the universe.  At the request of the IAU and its members, UNESCO passed a resolution proclaiming 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy, which recognizes the importance of Galileo’s achievements. The International Year of Astronomy presented the opportunity to increase awareness of the field and attract young people to careers in science and technology.

In celebration of the Year, the USNC/IAU worked with the National Research Council Board on Physics and Astronomy and the Space Studies Board to host the symposium Beyond the Decade: The Future of International Astronomy on October 9, 2009.  The symposium explored various dimensions of international astronomy in celebration of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. Three panels respectively discussed contributions of international astronomy focusing on program and activities in six countries and regions; three case studies of multi-national cooperation; and implications for the future from a perspective of four key disciplines.



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number PHY-1318107. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

To comment on this webpage or report an error, please send feedback to the
BISO Site Manager.