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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 to monitor the use of ARV-drugs on pregnant women and children
2004-12-08

The University of the Free State (UFS) is to establish a Pharmacovigilance Centre that will monitor the effects of Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs on HIV positive pregnant women and children starting early in the new year.

The UFS is one of only two institutions chosen by the Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, to establish such an ARV monitoring centre.

The other centre will be based at Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA) and will concentrate mainly on monitoring the effects of the drugs on adults.

“The establishment of the UFS’s Pharmaconvigilance Centre forms part of government’s Comprehensive Plan on HIV and AIDS, often termed the roll-out plan for ARV drugs. The centre’s primary responsibility will be to specifically monitor the use of these drugs in pregnant women, and children under the age of 13,” said Prof Andrew Walubo of the UFS’s Department of Pharmacology.

“Although most of the side effects of ARV drugs have been identified in other countries, it has now become critical to identify the side effects amongst the South African population. This is important because many people will be exposed to the drugs within a short time. Our aim is so identify the most common side effects and make recommendations for the prevention thereof. The centre will help in detecting the risk of using anti-retroviral drugs in pregnancy and children, and prevention of adverse drug reactions,” said Prof Walubo.

According to Prof Walubo 12 drugs will be monitored – these drugs will be selected according to the patient’s profile.

The centre will comprise of two components: A pregnancy registry, which will focus on a new-born child up until two months and a pediatric registry, which will focus on children who are born of mothers who used ARV drugs and children using ARV drugs.

According to Prof Walubo, the Pharmaconvigilance Centre will also be responsible for offering relevant technical advice, training and selected research on ARV drugs in these patients.

The centre will be fully sponsored by the national Department of Health. It will be based in the UFS’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Pharmacology, and will be run in collaboration with experts from different departments in the faculty.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel: (051) 401-2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
8 December 2004

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