The Future of Liberal Arts in India 2015 meeting in New Delhi

This week I am at the Future of Liberal Arts in India 2015 meeting in New Delhi. I can’t express how gratifying it is to see so many enthusiastic and brilliant educators gathering together to discuss exciting new curriculum, new universities, and new approaches to educating students in India, the US and Singapore. The conference is a sequel to the Future of Liberal Arts meeting I co-organized with Lakshmi Saripalli at the Raman Research Institute back in January 2014. This new conference has been many months in the making, and has been developed in conjunction with Carleton College, Yale-NUS College, the Ashoka University, and the O.P. Jindal Global University, along with some assistance from Shiv Nadar University. These last three universities are brand-new campuses within India offering new types of undergraduate education. They include liberal arts, and an emphasis on educating the whole student – with leadership development, humanities and arts, and social sciences mixed into the education to produce graduates who will be more creative and more responsive to the needs of India in the coming decades. Amazing presentations by faculty and leaders from across the world have been shared for the first day, which discussed innovative ways of teaching humanities and social sciences, and ways to work to integrate India’s rich cultural past in a form of education that prepares students for the volatile and unpredictable future. The web site for the conference is at, and so far some of my favorite presentations include the discussion about the new IIT Gandhinagar curriculum and ways of integrating theatre into a technical curriculum (with talks by Brian Brophy and Srivinas Reddy), the discussion of India’s vast cultural riches from the VC of the Ahmedabad University, a brilliant opening address from Shiv Vishwanathan, as well as fascinating talks from the President of Carleton College, Steve Poskanzer, on creating a culture of teaching excellence.

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Visit to Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong and Macao

As part of my work organizing “Global Liberal Arts” conferences for Yale-NUS (including our October 2015 campus opening) I am learning more about leading programs in Asia for undergraduate liberal arts. During February 2015 I met with officials from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. My astronomy connections have enabled me to connect with Henry Wong, who is head of the “New Asia College,”  a residential undergraduate College within CUHK.

CUHK has some great exchange programs with many very good universities – including Yale, Occidental, and CMC. The Yale program in particular was interesting, as it includes a set of 8 students chosen carefully from both CUHK and Yale who exchange visits over their breaks. One set from CUHK visits Yale in New Haven during Chinese New Year, and the other set comes to Hong Kong during their Spring Break. During the visits they present papers to each other and take a short course on the politics and culture of the home country. The group then forms a very active alumni group that meets regularly after their time at CUHK and Yale.

The CUHK met with me to describe their international programs, their e-learning programs, and a very interesting general education course they have created which has a pair of interdisciplinary semesters all students take. The first semester is called “In Dialog with Nature” and the second semester is called “In Dialog with Humanity.” Both courses have blended the best works from a wide range of East and West, and ancient and modern thought. The books are really quite interesting, and are a nice intermediate form of common curriculum mid-way between Yale-NUS and some of the other GE programs. Their books they have created for the course are described at

They also gave a great presentation on their Teaching and Learning Center and some of the ways they are fostering better course design, assessment and e-learning. They have adopted a system called “micro modules” where instructors in a very wide range of courses are encouraged and supported to create very short 1-2 class online segments, that they then might later develop into something larger. These snippets of classes serve as a useful tool for sharing teaching techniques and for giving students a taste of the different classes. They have also joined Coursera and have developed 5 courses so far and have plans for more. This is a very exciting, innovative and beautiful campus, and I hope to work more with them in the future!

During the visit I also had the chance to meet with Pomona College trustee and remarkable philanthropist and political leader Bernard Chan, who kindly invited me to dinner and for a short cruise in Hong Kong harbor on his yacht. I also met with Yan-Yan Yip, the CEO of the Hong Kong think tank known as the Civic Exchange, which studies sustainability and livability issues within Hong Kong. Finally a short trip to Macao included the chance to visit the brand-new University of Macao campus, and I was greeted by Professor Chuan Sheng Liu, a brilliant plasma physicist who is leading one of the residential colleges at the University of Macao. A fantastic trip!

Global Observatory Network for Solar System Observations (GONSSO)

During the early part of 2015, I organized a conference at Yale-NUS College, Singapore, that gathered astronomers from across Asia to discuss ways to coordinate our observing and to do some exciting new projects in time-domain astronomy. The meeting web site is at The meeting included a day of discussions at our Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and a day at the nearby National University of Singapore.  During the meeting we were joined by astronomers from California (Caltech + Pomona C0llege), India (IUCAA), Thailand (NARIT), Taiwan (NCU and Lulin Observatory), South Korea (SNU), the Phillipines (Chris Go), Malaysia (Malaysian National Observatory), and Turkey (ISTEK). We also had a fantastic clinic on high-resolution imaging of Jupiter from Chris Go, one of the leading ground-based amateur astronomers, and a visit by Glenn Orton, project scientist for the NASA Juno mission, who discussed how a global campaign of observing can support the Juno mission to Jupiter. The next day included presentations from the entire group on their exciting research, and open-ended discussions on how to collaborate. Our next step will be to launch a “global Jupiter campaign” as Jupiter enters opposition. During two three-day windows, our entire network of observatories will work together to create two full-planet maps of Jupiter and these will be analyzed to detect motions within the cloud decks of Jupiter. We also will be working to help incorporate some of these observatories into collaborative projects with the Caltech Zwicky Transient Factory (ZTF) project for time-domain astrophysics. It should be exciting!

Below are some pictures from our meeting.



Above: Chow Choong Ngeow, from Taiwan’s Lulin Observatory and the National Central University of Taiwan explains some of the science highlights from his observatory to our audience gathered at the NUS ICCP9 part of our conference.


The audience for the NUS ICCP9 session – which included astronomers from Yale-NUS, NUS, Pomona College, Seoul National University, Langkawi Observatory (Malaysia), NARIT (Thailand), and other parts of the world.



Chris Go, from the Philippines poses with Bryan Penprase, the conference organizer.



Pomona College student Franklin Marsh poses with Chris Go in the Yale-NUS College computer lab.



Our hands-on imaging clinic made use of the best available software for providing HST-like images of Jupiter. Here both Chris and Glenn help users work with the software packages in the Yale-NUS Computer lab. Glenn confers with Franklin about Jupiter (left), and the group works on their images (right).

Visit to Lulin Observatory, Taiwan

During December of 2014 the National Central University, Taiwan, invited me to visit them and give a scientific talk to their astronomy department. While there I had a chance to visit their Lulin Observatory, one of the leading Asian observatories, with several large 1.0-meter class telescopes and a new 2.0 meter telescope in the works. The Lulin Observatory is near a national park near Jade Mountain – a summit taller than Mount Fuji! Within the Observatory are a number of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars working on projects related to solar system research and collaborations with Caltech’s Palomar Transient Factory. In the coming years the NCU and Lulin Observatory may be hosting student researchers from Yale_NUS College and from Pomona College, as part of a summer undergraduate research internship being designed during 2014-2015. These photos are from the summit of the observatory and show the telescopes, our friendly crew that hosted me during the overnight visit, and some of the instruments. In the coming years Lulin and NCU will be major partners with Caltech in the new ZTF project, and have been developing an amazing new instrument known as the SED-machine.

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Visit to NCU, Taiwan

As part of my astronomy research, I am visiting NCU Taiwan, where Wing Ip has invited me to visit their Lulin Observatory and to give a talk on Friday. NCU is the former Nanjing University from mainland China, which was relocated to Taiwan after 1947. It is one of the leading research universities of Taiwan, and is a partner in the Caltech ZTF project, and one of the global observatories that our ZTF team is working with for following up sources discovered at Palomar.


Global Observatory Conference in Singapore – Jan. 8-9, 2015

We are having a conference in Singapore, gathering astronomers from Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, India and California, to discuss new modes of observing that make use of coordinated global networks of telescopes.

Our web site for the meeting is at – below is a map showing the observatories that are participating in the meeting.

Welcome to my “media platform!”

This is my experiment to bring the many different projects I am working on – liberal arts in Asia, astrophysics of quasars, time-domain astronomy, STEM education, archaeoastronomy, and book writing – all in one place!  Some call this a “media platform” and so for now that is what I am calling it. I hope you enjoy the materials, links and resources here!

Bryan Penprase

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