Hi Hafez, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Tell us about yourself, what you did before this?
Hi, I’m Hafez Murtza, the founder of Apadilangit. I was born in Melaka and raised in Kuala Lumpur.
I was a consultant as well as a manager of one online education organisation before I founded Apadilangit in 2016.
For our readers who might not be familiar with Apadilangit, could you explain a little about Apadilangit?
Apadilangit is an astronomy and space science education programme. We aim to spark children’s interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM), and of course, astronomy.
Globally, Apadilangit is known as Universe Awareness Malaysia; an international collaborative programme joined by other 63 countries. The organisation is supervised by Leiden University and International Astronomical Union under UNESCO.
As such, we work collaboratively with Planetarium Negara and the National STEM Centre. Our programmes include space camps for kids in kindergarten, primary schools, secondary schools as well as for the public. We also give public talks on all things space awareness, and, at times, we hold sky observation events that are open to the public.
How did you get started?
In 2016, we went to Palembang, Indonesia, to observe a total eclipse phenomenon. Attending the event, we realised that it’s important to have a proper platform that serves to raise space awareness; one with strategic plans that can measure the impact of such awareness.
Also, I was highly inspired by the best practices that were shared when I was at the Communicating Astronomy to the Public Symposium event in Fukuoka, Japan in 2018. Coming back, I reimagined Apadilangit. A few months later, Hazim joined me and he helped me realise the vision that I had.
In November 2019, we went to Mitaka Campus National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and presented our IMPACT DOME at a space symposium. The symposium was organised by IAU (International Astronomical Union), Astronomy for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Symposium. IMPACT DOME, in short, is a miniature sky aimed to help visually impaired people to learn about stars, constellations and cardinal direction.
Apadilangit has also been selected by Dato’ Seri Mazlan Othman, Malaysia’s first astrophysicist, to lead a Light Sound project during the 26 December Annular solar eclipse. Light Sound is a device that can turn light into sound. It helps visually impaired individuals to hear solar eclipse. The device allows them to experience the eclipse with auditory sense. The project was funded by the International Science Council, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
What continues to capture your fascination with space science? Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you?
When I was young and when I looked up at the sky, I kept asking myself, “What’s up there?” Wondering if anyone or anything is out there and what’s happening outside and beyond our earth. My curiosity and my interest in space science intensified when I began watching space-themed movies like Star Trek. I fell in love with this particular phrase “Space: the final frontier.”
Star Trek chronicles a story where its characters were on a mission to explore strange new worlds. They were tasked to seek out new life and new civilisations, going to where no man has gone before! I was also inspired by Ibn Haytam, the father of optics and al-Khwarizmi. They are both Muslim astronomers. Not forgetting, I like the way how Carl Sagan and Bill Nye communicate astronomy to the public.
What do you hope to achieve with your Apadilangit space camps?
Apadilangit, the word itself starts with “Apa?” meaning “What.” It epitomises curiosity. Curiosity leads to discovery and the acquirement of knowledge. This is the foundation of Apadilangit. We aim to spark curiosity in them to explore, to ask questions and to figure it out. All of this can pave the way for acquiring new knowledge. This knowledge and its awareness can perhaps advance humanity.
“Di Langit” means “In the sky.” The term refers to anything that’s above Earth’s horizon up to space. We wanted to promote astronomy because astronomy, is, by far, the best way to get these children to feel inspired. They feel Inspired to move forward, to dream big, and above all, they feel inspired to look and reach beyond their limitations.
Last but not least, we hope Apadilangit can serve as a gateway to knowledge of space exploration for kids. With our space camps, we want them to get interested in science; and pursue studies in STEAM when they grow up.
Why do you think the study of outer space important for children?
Astronomy is interdisciplinary. For that reason, the subject has far-reaching impacts that extend beyond academia and the natural sciences. Astronomy was born out of the humankind’s desire to understand their place in the Universe and our fascination with the night sky. The Universe is an excellent and exciting vehicle for introducing the scientific method. In a way, it also promotes a concept that nature can be interrogated by rational means.
More importantly, it gives us perspective. See when you reflect upon the vastness and the beauty of the universe and our place within it, you’ll get that perspective. Such a perspective can help broaden the mind and stimulate a sense of global citizenship and universal solidarity with humankind. Moreover, astronomy seeks to satisfy our fundamental curiosity about the world we live in, and answer the ‘big’ questions.
Dave Finley asserts that “Astronomy has been a cornerstone of technological progress throughout history, has much to contribute in the future, and offers all humans a fundamental sense of our place in an unimaginably vast and exciting universe.”
Any advice for budding astronomers in Malaysia? What career path they should take?
2 bits of advice. For those who want to make astronomy as a hobby, find local astronomy clubs. Join their activities. Learn and grow along the way. For a start, it’s not necessary to have a telescope. But, later, when you want to get serious, you should get one. At least a binocular.
Astronomy is multidisciplinary. Try to relate and contribute in a way that you think you can. If you’re good at writing, write a good article promoting space awareness. If you’re an engineer, play with those big and sophisticated things that excite you. If you’re into photography, learn and do astrophotography.
Astronomy is the branch of science that studies the universe, the stars, galaxies, comets, planets etc. Astronomy graduates can become astrophysicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and so forth. Sharpen your science and math. Learn physics. Learn to code. Photography as well as it will help you in the field of astrophotography. Above all, always be curious.
Share with us at least 3 space science books, fiction or non-fiction that have inspired you the most. Feel free to suggest more than 3.
Cosmos by Carl Sagan.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.
Astronomy for Dummies.