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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

Is milk really so well-known, asks UFS’s Prof. Osthoff
2011-03-17

Prof. Garry Osthoff
Photo: Stephen Collett

Prof. Garry Osthoff opened a whole new world of milk to the audience in his inaugural lecture, Milk: the well-known (?) food, in our Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

Prof. Osthoff has done his research in protein chemistry, immuno-chemistry and enzymology at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria and post-doctoral research at the Bowman-Grey School of Medicine, North Carolina, USA. That was instrumental in establishing food chemistry at the university.
 
He is involved in chemical aspects of food, with a focus on dairy science and technology. He is also involved in the research of cheese processing as well as milk evolution and concentrated on milk evolution in his lecture. Knowledge of milk from dairy animals alone does not provide all the explanations of milk as food.
 
Some aspects he highlighted in his lecture were that milk is the first food to be utilised by young mammals and that it is custom-designed for each species. “However, mankind is an opportunist and has found ways of easy access to food by the practice of agriculture, where plants as well as animals were employed or rather exploited,” he said.
 
The cow is the best-known milk producer, but environmental conditions forced man to select other animals. In spite of breeding selection, cattle seem not to have adapted to the most extreme conditions such as high altitudes with sub-freezing temperatures, deserts and marshes.
 
Prof. Osthoff said the consumption of the milk as an adult is not natural; neither is the consumption of milk across species. This practice of mankind may often have consequences, when signs of malnutrition or diseases are noticed. Two common problems are an allergy to milk and lactose intolerance.
 
Allergies are normally the result of an immune response of the consumer to the foreign proteins found in the milk. In some cases it might help to switch from one milk source to another, such as switching from cow’s milk to goat’s milk.
 
Prof. Osthoff said lactose intolerance – the inability of adult humans to digest lactose, the milk sugar – is natural, as adults lose that ability to digest lactose. The symptoms of the condition are stomach cramps and diarrhoea. This problem is mainly found in the warmer climates of the world. This could be an indication of early passive development of dairy technology. In these regions milk could not be stored in its fresh form, but in a fermented form, in which case the lactose was pre-digested by micro-organisms, and the human population never adapted to digesting lactose in adulthood.
 
According to Prof. Osthoff, it is basically the lactose in milk that has spurred dairy technology. Its fermentation has resulted in the development of yoghurts and all the cheeses that we know. In turn, the intolerance to lactose has spurred a further technological solution: lactose-free milk is currently produced by pre-digestion of lactose with enzymes.
 
It was realised that the milks and products from different species differed in quality aspects such as keeping properties and taste. It was also realised that the nutritional properties differed as well as their effects on health. One example is the mentioned allergy against cow’s milk proteins, which may be solved by the consumption of goat’s milk. The nutritional benefits and technological processing of milk aroused an interest in more information, and it was realised that the information gained from human milk and that of the few domesticated species do not provide a complete explanation of the properties of milk as food. Of the 250 species of milk which have been studied, only the milk of humans and a few domesticated dairy animals has been studied in detail.

Media Release
15 March 2011
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Strategic Communication
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
E-mail: news@ufs.ac.za

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