Latvia-based space scientist wins Europlanet award

Latvians may not have gone to the moon or sent a probe to Mars, but a Latvia-based space scientist has won a prestigious award for her work promoting planetary science and knowledge of the cosmos.

The 2018 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science has been awarded to Dr Amara Graps for her far-reaching work to inspire and promote space activities in the Baltic region within the scientific and industrial communities, in education and in wider society.

The Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science aims to recognise achievements in engaging European citizens with planetary science and to raise the profile of outreach within the scientific community. Established by Europlanet in 2010, the Prize is awarded to individuals or groups whose efforts have significantly contributed to a wider public engagement with planetary science.

Amara is based in Rīga, and is the founder of the not-for-profit organisation, Baltics in Space, Lead Scientist at the University of Latvia and Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, based in Tucson, Arizona.

The Europlanet Prize, which includes an award of 4,000 Euros, will be presented during the European Planetary Science Congress 2018 in Berlin, Germany, on Monday 17th September.

EPSC conference 2017

In fact, Amara was also our guest at LSM for the Minutes From Latvia podcast in which she talked about her work and the European Planetary Science Congress she was in the process of organizing. And it was that effort that played a major part in winning her the award, according to Europlanet, which said:

"The activities of Baltics in Space in support of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2017, which took place in Riga from 17-22 September last year made a significant contribution to raising the profile of space in Latvia and the Baltics with audiences ranging from members of Parliament, business, the media, educators and schools.

"By compiling a catalogue of the skills and space capabilities in the region, as well as organising a showcase exhibit at EPSC, Baltics in Space facilitated opportunities for researchers and industry based in the Baltics to build new and competitive space collaborations with each other and with the international space community. An exhibition on the Solar System was visited by 600 local schoolchildren during EPSC and has since been visited by 10,000 children at the Zinoo Science Centre in Cesis."

Responding to the news, Dr Graps said, “The aim is to create a community where Baltic space workers can collaborate to complement each other’s skill sets. We have the capabilities to achieve unique projects when we work together.”

Mārtiņš Zemītis, Economic Adviser at the European Commission Representation in Latvia said: "We were truly delighted to cooperate with Amara Graps in organizing the largest ever gathering of planetary scientists in the Baltic States - the European Planetary Science Congress 2017 in Riga. Amara's personal commitment made the Congress much more than a large event, allowing for genuine outreach of the world's best planetary scientists into the Baltic society and contributing to bridging the science skills gap among the younger generation. We appreciate Amara bringing space to the Baltics and the Baltics into space."

Dr Régis Courtin, Chair of the Europlanet Prize 2018 Judging Panel, said, “The judges were impressed by the dedication and immense personal effort that Dr Graps has invested in building collaborations and raising the profile of space in the Baltic Region.”

Dr J.L. Galache, Chief Technology Officer of Aten Engineering, who nominated Dr Graps for the Europlanet Prize, said, “Amara is the rare scientist who realises, naturally, intuitively, that she is not extending the boundaries of human knowledge for herself, but for everyone, and she can’t wait to share that knowledge with those around her, young or old, near or far." 

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