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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

Exciting open day and Albert Einstein program at Boyden Observatory
2005-05-06

National Science Week, which will be held from 7-14 May 2005, is an annual country-wide celebration of science, led by the Department of Science and Technology.  The department selected a proposal by the Boyden Science Centre to coordinate a week of activities in the Bloemfontein area as one of the many projects in the country.

The project for Bloemfontein and surrounding areas will be delivered though a collaboration between the National Museum in Bloemfontein and the University of the Free State (UFS), including the Research Institute for Education Planning, the Department of Physics and other departments in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

The purpose of National Science Week is:

to create awareness of the important role that science play in people’s daily lives;
to encourage our youth to consider studying and improving their performance in mathematics and science; and
to attract more of our youth into science, engineering and technology (SET) careers.

 

World Year of Physics and Albert Einstein Program at Boyden Observatory

The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) declared the year 2005 as the World Year of Physics (WYP). In recognition of this declaration, the great contribution of Physics to the development of technology, and its importance in our everyday lives will be featured strongly during the National Science Week 2005.

On Saturday 7 May 2005 there will be a public programme at Boyden Observatory from 15:30 as a contribution to the World Year of Physics. The programme will be presented in collaboration with the Bloemfontein branch of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa and will include short presentations on astronomy, space exploration and the sun.

The main presentation will be at 19:00 the evening on the life and work of Albert Einstein. The programme will also include observing sessions through telescopes of objects like the sun, Jupiter and Saturn. There will also be an exhibit on Albert Einstein. Attendance is free but booking is required.  For bookings, phone 051-4012561.

Public lecture programme:

Next week the following exciting public lectures will be presented as part of the Science Week activities:

Monday 9 May 2005 

National Museum:

A discussion on Apocalypse Then: the greatest mass extinction of all time.  The lecture will be presented by Dr Jennifer Botha, Paleontologist at the National Museum.
Bookings: 051-4479609 (entrance is free).

UFS campus:

All lectures at Kine 2, Medical Faculty, UFS campus. Follow directions from the DF Malherbe Road entrance.
Bookings: 051-4012561 (entrance is free).

Tuesday 10 May 2005:

A discussion on the Tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004 at 19:30 (UFS campus, Kine 2 Medical Faculty).

Wednesday 11 May 2005:

A discussion on Is there life out there? at 19:30 (UFS campus, Kine 2 Medical Faculty).

Friday 13 May 2005:

A discussion on Hunting Black Holes at 19:30 (UFS campus, Kine 2 Medical Faculty).  The lecture will be presented by Dr Phil Charles, Director: South African Astronomical Observatory.

Science awareness day at the National museum

The science week will be concluded on Saturday 14 May 2005 with a special Science Awareness Day at the National Museum, Aliwal Street, Bloemfontein. 

The excellent exhibits at the museum will be supplemented with activities, career information and video shows. The duration of the programme will be from 10:00-16:00.  For enquiries, please call 051-4479609.

 

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

6 May 2005
 

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