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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

First doctorate in Thoracic Surgery in Africa awarded
2009-05-12

The University of the Free State (UFS) has become the first university in Africa to award a Ph.D. degree in Thoracic Surgery. The degree was conferred on Prof. Anthony Linegar from the university’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery during its recent graduation ceremony.

Thoracic surgery is a challenging subspecialty of cardiothoracic surgery. It began in South Africa in the 1940s and is a broad medico-surgical specialist discipline that involves the diagnosis, operative and peri-operative treatment of acquired and congenital non-cardiac ailments of the chest.

Prof. Linegar became the first academic to conduct a mixed methods analysis of this surgical specialty, which included a systematic review of all the research done in this field in South Africa. The title of his thesis is A Model for the Development of Thoracic Surgery in Central South Africa. The research was based on the hypothesis of a performance gap between the burden of disease in the community and the actual service provision. It makes use of systems theory and project management concepts to develop a model aimed at the development of thoracic surgery.

The research proved that there is a significant under provision of clinical services in thoracic surgery. This was quantified to a factor of 20 times less than should be the case, in diseases such as lung and oesophagus cancer. According to Prof. Linegar, there are multiple reasons for this. Listed amongst these reasons is the fact that thoracic surgery is not part of the undergraduate education in medical training. There tends to be a low level of awareness amongst clinicians as to what the thoracic surgeon offers their patients. The diagnostic and referral patterns in primary and secondary health facilities, where diseases must be picked up and referred early, are not functioning well in this regard. In addition, relatively few cardiothoracic surgeons express an interest in thoracic surgery.

Prof. Linegar’s model is named the ATLAS Mode, which is an acronym for the Advancement of Thoracic Surgery through Analysis and Strategic Planning. It includes the raising of awareness of the role of the specialist thoracic surgeon in the treatment of patients with thoracic diseases as part of the solution to the problem. Furthermore, it aims to develop an accessible and sustainable specialist service that adequately provides for the needs of the community, and that is appropriately represented in health administration circles.

His promoters were Prof. Gert van Zyl, Head of the School of Medicine at the UFS, Prof. Peter Goldstraw, from the Imperial College of London, United Kingdom (UK) and Prof. Francis Smit, Head of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UFS.

Prof. Linegar has been with the UFS since 2004, is a graduate from Stellenbosch University in 1984 and completed his postgraduate training in Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Cape Town. He was granted a Fellowship in Thoracic Surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, UK and has since held consultant positions at the UFS, Stellenbosch University and in private practice. He has been involved in registrar training since returning from the UK in 1994 and has extensive experience in intensive care medicine. He has published widely, has presented papers at many international conferences, has been invited as a speaker on many occasions and has won awards for best presentation on three occasions.

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  
12 May 2009
 

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