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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

FSSO 12 Cellists & FSSO Big Band, 11 June 2009
2009-05-29

FSSO VIRTUOSI
Thursday 11 June 2009
Odeion
19:30


FSSO 12 Cellists & FSSO Big Band

The next FSSO concert is an interesting and unusual concert with twelve cellists of the FSSO playing in the first half of the programme and the FSSO Big Band after interval.

The recently appointed cellist of the Odeion String Quartet, Anmari van der Westhuizen, is the leader of the FSSO 12 Cellists. They will be playing Bachianas brasileiras no. 1 (Villa-Lobos), an arrangement by JC Jacobs of the Largo from Dvorak’s Symphonie No. 9 (From the New World) and Allan Stephenson’ s Souvenir de Sevilla.

After interval the FSSO Big Band conducted by Paul Loep van Zuilenburg, will play well-known items like American Patrol, Haarlem Nocturne (for those of us who can remember so far back – this was the theme music of the popular Mike Hammer series), Birdland and the theme from Pink Panther.

ADMISSION:
R90 (adults)
R70 ((pensioners, students and learners)
R50 for group bookings of 10 or more
Tickets available at Computicket (at all Shoprite / Checkers shops, Mimosa Mall information desk) and at the doors.
Computicket www.computicket.com


ENQUIRIES:
Ella Kotze, tel. 051 – 401 2342

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