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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

UFS mathematician rates as top reviewer
2017-09-27

Description: Abdon Atanaga Tags: pre-publication peer reviews, Prof Abdon Atangana, Institute for Groundwater Studies, Publons for Publons Peer Review Awards 

Prof Abdon Atangana is a professor at the
Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University
of the Free State.
Photo: Rulanzen Martin

South Africa was included in the top 30 countries in terms of researchers who added the most pre-publication peer reviews. 

Prof Abdon Atangana, a professor of Applied Mathematics at the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS), is included in the list of top reviewers from top countries, as determined by the number of verified pre-publication peer reviews added to Publons for Publons Peer Review Awards 2017.  

Producing the most verified peer reviews

He rated in the top 1% of reviewers (9th), in all fields, who performed the most verified pre-publication peer reviews at Publons for Publons Peer Review Awards 2017. In 2017 he also received the following awards:
- Top reviewers for UFS in the category Mathematics, rating in eighth place. In this category Stanford University rated second. Rating in ninth place is the University of Luxembourg.
- Top reviewers for Mathematics (rating 1st). In this category the Southern Illinois University and the Johns Hopkins University in the US rated in 27th and 25th place respectively. 
- Top reviewers for Engineering (rating 47th)

Prof Atangana’s research interests are methods and applications of partial and ordinary differential equations, fractional differential equations, perturbation methods, asymptotic methods, iterative methods, and groundwater modelling.

Passion for the development of science
Key to his success as peer reviewer is his passion for the development of science, his ability to write fair reports about a given manuscript, as well as his knowledge of what has been done and what the challenges are in a given field to be able to give a report that will help the advancement of science. 

“Due to the impact of my research papers in the field of mathematics and applied mathematics and also my international recognition in the field of applied mathematics, many editors in more than 100 journals of applied mathematics trust my opinion to assess whether a submitted paper in a given journal of mathematics and applied mathematics can be published or not,” said Prof Atangana.

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