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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

Prof Marais awarded the first UFS Book Prize for Distinguished Scholarship
2015-03-19

Prof Kobus Marais

Prof Kobus Marais, from the Department of Linguistics and Language Practice, was recently awarded the UFS Book Prize for Distinguished Scholarship for 2014.

The prize, awarded for its first time in 2014, consists of an inscribed certificate of honour with a monetary award of R50 000 paid into Marais’s research entity. The book for which Marais received this award is Translation Theory and Development Studies: A Complex Theory Approach (2014, Routledge, New York).

“It falls within the discipline of translation studies, but it is actually an interdisciplinary approach, linking translation studies and development studies,” says Marais.

Therefore, it aims to provide a philosophical underpinning to translation, and relate translation to development.

“The second aim flows from the first section’s argument that societies emerge out of, amongst others, complex translational interactions amongst individuals,” Marais says. “It will do so by conceptualising translation from a complexity and emergence point of view, and by relating this view on emergent semiotics to some of the most recent social research.”

It fulfils its aim further by providing empirical data from the South African context concerning the relationship between translation and development. The book intends to be interdisciplinary in nature, and to foster interdisciplinary research and dialogue by relating the newest trends in translation theory, i.e. agency theory in the sociology of translation, to development theory within sociology. 

“Data are drawn from fields that have received very little if any attention in translation studies, i.e. local economic development, the knowledge economy, and the informal economy, says Marais.”

The UFS Book Prize for Distinguished Scholarship was initiated in 2014 to bestow recognition on any permanent staff member of the UFS for outstanding publications which consist of research published as an original book, on the condition that the greater part (50% or more) of the book has not been published previously. This stimulates the production of significant and original contributions of international quality by our staff. In this way, the UFS is striving, through a series of award-winning books, to enhance the quality of specialised works published by our staff members.

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