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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 mourns the passing away of Prof. Leo Barnard
2009-04-02

It is with sadness that the management of the University of the Free State (UFS) heard about the death of Prof. Leo Barnard. He passed away yesterday afternoon in the George Medi-Clinic as a result of cancer.

Prof. Barnard was associated with the UFS for many years and was Head of the university’s Department of History from 1997–2008. He was appointed as research associate at the department after his retirement last year.

“Prof. Barnard was one of the few military historicists in South Africa. He was amongst others a member of the South African Historical Society and also served on several professional organisations such as The South African Academy for Science and Arts,” said Prof. André Wessels, Head of the Department of History at the UFS.

He served on the editorial committee of the Journal for Contemporary History, an accredited academic journal published by the Department of History at the UFS. He was editor of this journal for ten years. “Prof. Barnard played an important role in the development of the journal, especially in the publishing of special editions. When he passed away, he was working on the latest edition of the journal, which deals with the so-called border war,” said Prof. Wessels.

Prof. Barnard was especially well-known for his mentorship to Master’s and Doctoral students. “At the time of his death he was still providing guidance to students,” said Prof. Wessels.

Prof. Barnard did a lot of research and writing for the UFS’s centenary publication, From Grey to Gold – The first 100 years of the University of the Free State.

“We also sympathise with Mrs Renaldine Barnard and the couple’s four daughters, Eda, Arina, Leona and Elfrieda, their two sons in law and one grandchild. Prof. Barnard has left a gap in the hearts of the people who knew and worked with him at the UFS,” said Prof. Wessels.

The memorial service will be held on Friday, 3 April 2009 in the community hall of Vleesbaai in the Western Cape.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel:051 401 2584
Cell:083 645 2454
E-mail:loaderl.stg@ufs.ac.za
1 April 2009
Prof. Leo Barnard

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