Latest News Archive

Please select Category, Year, and then Month to display items
Years
2017 2018 2019 2020
Previous Archive
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 host one of three world summits on crystallography
2014-04-15

 
Prof André Roodt from the Department of Chemistry at the University of the Free State (UFS), co-unveiled a special plaque in Poznan, Poland, as president of the European Crystallographic Association, with prof Gautam Desiraju, president of the IUCr (front right) and others to commemorate the Nobel prize winner Max von Laue. (Photo's: Milosz Ruszkowski, Grzegorz Dutkiewicz)

Prof André Roodt from the Department of Chemistry at the University of the Free State (UFS), co-unveiled a special plaque in Poznan, Poland, as president of the European Crystallographic Association, to commemorate the Nobel prize winner Max von Laue at a special Laue Symposium organised by prof Mariusz Jaskolski from the A. Mickiewicz University in Poznan.

Max von Laue, who spent his early childhood in Poznan, was the first scientist to diffract X-rays with a crystal.

2014 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Crystallography, and it was recently officially opened at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, by the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon. The International Year of Crystallography celebrates the centennial of the work of Max von Laue and the father and son, William Henry and William Laurence Bragg.

As part of the celebrations, Prof Roodt, president of the European Crystallographic Association, one of the three regional affiliates (Americas, Europe and Africa; Asia and Australasia) of the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr), was invited by the president of the IUCr, Prof Gautam Desiraju, to host one of the three world summits, wherein crystallography is to showcase its achievements and strategise for the future.

The summit and conference will take place on the Bloemfontein Campus of the UFS from 12 to 17 October 2014 and is titled: 'Crystallography as vehicle to promote science in Africa and beyond.' It is an ambitious meeting wherein it is anticipated to bring the French-, English- and Arab-speaking nations of Africa together to strategise how science can be expanded, and to offer possibilities for this as nestled in crystallography. Young and established scientists, and politicians associated with science and science management, are the target audience to be brought together in Bloemfontein.

Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, acting Director General of the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), has committed some R500 000 for this effort, while the International Union of Crystallography provided R170 000.

“Crystals and crystallography form an integrated part of our daily lives, form bones and teeth, to medicines and viruses, new catalysts, jewellery, colour pigments, chocolates, electronics, batteries, metal blades in airplane turbines, panels for solar energy and many more. In spite of this, unfortunately, not many people know much about X-ray crystallography, although it is probably one of the greatest innovations of the twentieth century. Determining the structure of the DNA was one of the most significant scientific events of the 20th century. It has helped understand how genetic messages are being passed on between cells inside our body – everything from the way instructions are sent to proteins to fight infections, to how life is reproduced.

“At the UFS, crystallography finds application in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Mathematics, Geology, Engineering and the Medical fields. Crystallography is used by the Curiosity Rover, analysing the substances and minerals on Mars!

“The UFS’s Departments of Chemistry and Physics, in particular, have advanced instruments and important research thrusts wherein X-ray crystallography has formed a central part for more than 40 years.

“Crystallography has produced some 28 Nobel prize winners over the past 100 years and continues to provide the means for fundamental and applied research,” said Prof Roodt.

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.

Accept