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17 April 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Science ambassadors
Friends Tekano Mbonani and Chaka Mofokeng are pursuing graduate degrees in respectively Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape. The two got together and decided to reach out to the high school, Leseding Technical Secondary School, where they came from.

It was a full house as more than 120 learners packed the hall at the Leseding Technical Secondary School in the Free State, where two young Astronomy researchers had come home to tell their younger peers about their studies and career prospects across South Africa.

Chaka Mofokeng and Tekano Mbonani are both former learners at the high school. Currently pursuing graduate degrees – for Mbonani in Physics at the University of the Free State (UFS), and for Mofokeng in Astronomy at the University of the Western Cape – the two friends got together and decided to reach out to the high school where they came from.

The event took place in January before schoolwork, tests, and exam preparations are occupying learners’ minds, inviting them to think about the big picture – the future, and how to be part of it. This is timely, because in July last year, the MeerKAT radio telescope was inaugurated in the Karoo. The MeerKAT is the first step to the international SKA telescope project, but it is already one of the best radio telescopes in the world and has placed South Africa firmly on the world map of radio astronomy and engineering.

Building a bridge
“This project enables us to build a bridge between secondary and tertiary institutions. Currently focused on senior secondary students, we aim to promote science through outreach events and activities. Using science and technology-based activities and events, such as stargazing at an observatory or exploring the universe in a planetarium, we want to attract these future secondary graduates. We also provide mentorship, hoping to help them improve their academic performance in matric,” said Mbonani.

For a whole morning, they spoke about their journeys, about science, about the skills that scientists acquire during their studies and all the opportunities such studies open up in an era where the 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to reduce the number of jobs in many traditional professions. They addressed their peers in both English and Sesotho.

Astronomy in South Africa contributes to critical-skills development. Investing in the MeerKAT, for example, meant that over a thousand bursaries were made available through the SKA South Africa Human Capacity Development programme. Young scientists like Mofokeng and Mbonani have the opportunity to be part of MeerKAT science projects through their studies, using machine learning and other skills that are high in demand in today’s world. This was one of the messages they brought home.

Gaining new skills

“As an Astronomy research student, I have gained skills such as data analysis, mathematical modelling, communication and writing, programming, and teamwork, among others. These are requirements for most companies and institutions. With the unfolding of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such skills sets make young and aspiring scientists the perfect candidates for making the most of future opportunities,” reflected Mofokeng.

Most of the learners said they have never attended a science-outreach event. They were inspired by the young scientists’ stories and nearly half of them said they could see themselves pursuing a career in science. The learners also expressed a strong interest in more events of this kind, as well as mentorship during Grades 11 and 12 from peers at university. They asked about the salaries earned by astronomers, how long the studies take, and where astronomers are working in South Africa.

This initiative, started by two bright young scientists, hopefully marks the beginning of many more events of this kind. Mofokeng and Mbonani are already planning what to do on their next trip home.

News Archive

University of the Free State strives towards going ‘green’
2017-08-07

 Description: Benedict Mochesela  Tags: Benedict Mochesela  

Benedict Mochesela from University Estates on the
UFS Bloemfontein Campus. A total of thirty brand-new
water storage tanks, between 5 000 and 20 000 litres,
were installed.
Photo: Anja Aucamp


Eight provinces, including the Free State, were declared disaster areas last year due to the ongoing drought. This had a devastating effect on the agricultural sector, leaving many communities dry.

University Estates at the University of the Free State found an ideal project to make university buildings greener. A total of thirty water storage tanks, varying in size from 5 000 to 20 000 litres, were installed at various buildings on the Bloemfontein Campus. As a pilot phase, these tanks were specifically installed at residences and buildings with high traffic volumes.

Importance of water tanks at the UFS
According to Benedict Mochesela, Project Manager of this initiative, the purpose of the project is to harvest rainwater, which will be used during emergencies when the campus does not have water and the emergency water storage facility is depleted. “This water is not intended for drinking, but for the flushing of toilets,” says Mochesela.

He mentioned that the water will also be used for watering flowerbeds and gardens when the water has been standing for a long time without being used.

Recycling water: An initiative to protect the environment
A number of water storage tanks are already in place at the Qwaqwa Campus and a preliminary phase of using grey water from residences is currently ongoing at the South Campus. Grey water is made up of bath, shower, and bathroom sink water. The water is reused for toilet flushing as well as for irrigation purposes.

“Recycling of water is one of a number of initiatives the university intends to undertake to ensure and show the community that this institution remains conscious of the environment and to changes which we continuously need to adapt to.”

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