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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

Art2 + x [science] = 2 continents fused
2014-04-02


Left: Diamandini by Dr Mari Velonaki. Right: 'Muslim Hairdrying' by Cigdem Aydemir.

Mzanzi resistance art is set to fuse with Australian interdisciplinary art in an experimental ‘boiling pot’ – right here on our Bloemfontein Campus.


Program for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD)

Kovsies and the Vryfees forged a highly-innovative link between South African and Australian artists by establishing the Program for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD). Together we are embarking on a three-year collaboration to see what happens when experimental and community arts are fused.

The project includes intercultural laboratories, art and science exchange programmes, public forums as well developing and presenting experimental art.


Art(ist)s meet science(tists)

For the first time, two Australian artists will visit our Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences in an exchange programme. The one is Dr Mari Velonaki, director of the Creative Robotics Lab at the University of New South Wales. The other is Dr Nigel Helyer, an honorary research fellow at the SymbioticA biotechnology lab at the University of Western Australia.

Dr Velonaki will explore new links between humans and computers that are community orientated. She will work closely with Prof PJ Blignaut and the Department of Computer Science and Informatics. In turn, Dr Helyer will investigate genetic coding and intercultural musical compositions. He will collaborate with Prof J Albertyn at the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology.

Vryfees 2014 and 2015 will also see contemporary and highly-experimental works from renowned Australian artists Cigdem Aydemir and Jess Olivieri. In addition, the festival will present OPENLab – a new national laboratory for early and midcareer artists and creative practitioners interested in making art in the public realm.

The programme is the result of a close partnership between the Vryfees and Situate Art in Festivals, managed by Salamanca Arts Centre in Australia (www.situate.org.au).

It also enjoys the support of:

  • Australia Council for the Arts;
  • NSW Artists Grant Scheme administrated by the National Association of the Visual Arts LTD;
  • Situate Art in Festivals;
  • National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and
  • Modern Art Project SA.

For more information on Piad visit www.vryfees.co.za or https://www.facebook.com/pages/PikoPiad/1435158293383474.

 

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