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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

R40 million construction contract with black empowerment group starts at UFS
2006-09-04

During the ceremonial kick-off of the biggest construction project in the history of the UFS were from the left: Ms Vuyiwe Mkhupha (Manager of   Sikeyi Construction), Prof Frederick Fourie (Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS) and Prof Steve Basson (Head of the UFS Department of Chemistry). Photo: (Gerhard Louw)

R40 million construction contract with black empowerment group starts at UFS   

The biggest construction contract in the history of the University of the Free State (UFS) to the value of R40 million has started on the Main Campus in Bloemfontein.  The contractors are Ströhfeldt Construction, in a joint venture with Sikeyi Construction, a black empowerment partner.

The contract comprises the extensive modernising, refurnishing and extension of the Chemistry Building.  This is the highest amount the UFS has ever spent on the refurnishing of a building. 
 
A number of initiatives have contributed to the fact that the UFS Department of Chemistry is one of the foremost chemistry departments in the country:
 

  • Expensive equipment and apparatus to the value of almost R20 million were acquired by the department the past year;
  • The basis of this is a strategic partnership with Sasol, the biggest research and development company  in the country;
  • The purchase of the most advanced 600MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectro meter in Africa;
  • The purchase of a single crystal X-ray diffractometer; and
  • The purchase of a differential scanning calorie meter, used to test the effect of heat on chemicals.  This apparatus comprises of the most advanced detectors in the world.

“Natural scientists need the necessary equipment, apparatus and laboratories to be able to exercise world-class science.  Three years ago the UFS top management made a strategic decision to focus strongly on research and on our  laboratories and lecture halls,“ said Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, during the launch of the Chemistry Building’s refurbishment.

“I regard this project as a symbol of our investment in science and the academy,“ said Prof Fourie.

Prof Fourie said that the UFS spent almost R100 million in the last 5 years to renovate the Main Campus.  New buildings such as Thakaneng Bridge were built and other such as the Reitz Dining Hall was renovated and converted into the Centenary Complex.  “These projects, together with the refurbishment of the Chemistry Building, also show how the UFS contributes to the development and growth of not only Bloemfontein, but also how we invest in the Free State,“ said Prof Fourie.

According to Ms Edma Pelzer, Director: Physical Planning and Special Projects at the UFS, the current building originally comprised of the Moerdyk Building built in 1949 and a newer wing built in 1966.  This building became too small and obsolete and a new part is now being added to the eastern side.
  
According to Ms Pelzer a great deal of the project comprises the dramatic upgrading and modernising of laboratories, existing mechanical systems and the installation of new systems.  “The nature of the work of staff and students demands sophisticated mechanical systems such as air conditioning, fume hoods, the provision of gas, etc and therefore these received specific attention.  The research laboratories, lecture laboratories and office areas will also be separated for safety and greater efficiency,” said Ms Pelzer.

“Interesting design solutions for the complex needs of the department were found and I foresee that the building and its immediate environment will be an adornment to the Main Campus after its expected completion in 2008,” said Ms Pelzer.

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel:  (051) 401-2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
14 September 2006

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