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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

The Essop twins bring ‘UNREST’ to the UFS
2015-03-19

 

UNREST, an exhibition by Hasan and Husain Essop, is now at the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery in the SASOL Library on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. It will be on until Thursday 2 April 2015. 

The 28-year-old twin brothers are the winners of the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art. Born and raised in Cape Town, they have been collaborating since their graduation from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2007. They both completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Postgraduate Diploma in Art at Michaelis. Subsequently, they earned Postgraduate Certificates in Education at the University of Cape Town.

Husain specialised in Photography, and makes all the important technical decisions when setting up a shoot. Hasan specialised in Printmaking, and therefore has a lot more freedom in the post-production and printing of the work. They both contribute to the subject matter and editing of the photographs, always discussing new ideas and locations to shoot. They speak very visually to each other, and many ideas are born from their conversations. They draw on popular culture, the media, and Hollywood as inspiration because those are the things that interest the youth and shape the next generation.

“Our series of works highlight a multi-cultural clash between religion and popular cultures,” say the Essops. “We explore the dominating influence of Western theatrics and those narratives that are constructed to depict a certain reality. Inspired by Hollywood’s visual language and tactics, we create our own narratives. Each photograph reflects us in a battle of moral, religious, and cultural conflicts. Two dominant personalities appear, East and West, with all their stereotypes. Environments are chosen as stages on which to perform and define our behaviours.”

The Essops’ work has been included in various private and public collections, including the Spier Collection, the Durban Art Gallery, and the South African National Gallery. The Goodman Gallery has hosted two solo exhibitions of their work – Halaal Art (Johannesburg, 2010,) and Remembrance (Cape Town, 2012,).

The Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery hours are Monday to Friday from 08:30 to 16:30.

For enquiries, contact Angela de Jesus at +27(0)51 401 2706 or DeJesusAV@ufs.ac.za

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