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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

Groundbreaking research underway to improve health in the Free State
2009-04-06

 
Some of the researchers in the project, are from the left, back: Dr Sanet van Zyl, Dr Lynette van der Merwe (both of Basic Medical Sciences), Ms Michélle Pienaar (Ph.D. student Nutrition and Dietetics), Prof. Corinna Walsh (project leader, Nutrition and Dietetics) and Dr Dries Groenewald (Chemical Pathology); front: Mr Llewellyn Fourie (M.Sc. student, Nutrition and Dietetics) and Mrs Marleze van Rhyn (Van Rensburg Patoloë).
Photo: Supplied.
Groundbreaking research underway to improve health in the Free State

Ahead of World Health Day on Tuesday 7 April, researchers at the University of the Free State (UFS) have announced that they are involved in an extensive research project to determine how life in urban and rural areas influences the lifestyle of the communities and contributes to lifestyle illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and heart diseases, as well malnutrition.

According to the researchers of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the UFS, the study in various suburbs of Mangaung is a long-term project known as Assuring Health for All in the Free State (AHA-FS) and will monitor communities every three years for a period of twelve years.

Prof. Corinna Walsh of the Department Nutrition and Dietetics is the project leader and works closely with researchers in the departments of Basic Medical Sciences and Chemical Pathology of the School of Medicine in the faculty.

A total of 36 researchers and field workers are involved in the project and information on various nutrition and health aspects are gathered. Those include diet, physical activity, health, knowledge, practices and attitude towards nutrition.

Medical examinations, anthropometric measuring (of the human body) and various blood tests will be done in the study and extensive data on 1 200 people will be available in the end.

The data gathered will be used in intervention programmes planned to prevent and address health programme in these communities.

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt.stg@ufs.ac.za  
06 April 2009

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