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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

Badminton players show their class
2007-06-04

Kovsie badminton players showed their class at the 2007 All African Championships held in Rose Hills, Mauritius during May, just as they did last year in Algeria.

In the individual championships in the men's double event Chris and Roelof Dednam again successfully combined for gold with a victory in the final over Steve Malcouzane and Georgie Cupidon of the Seychelles. Chris Dednam and Michelle Edwards also made the final
round in the mixed double event, but were beaten by Georgie Cupidon and Julliette Ahwan (Seychelles) to settle for a silver medal.

In the men's singles event Chris Dednam equalled last year's performance and was awarded with bronze, having lost 24-22 in the third set in the semi-finals in a marathon match against Eli Mambwe (Zambia). It was therefore once again in the men's singles where South Africa could not vest their supremacy in Africa. But, Chris improved his tally of medals to gold, silver and bronze. Roelof also showed good form by making the quarter-finals in the singles as well as the mixed doubles.

Fellow Kovsie, Wiaan Viljoen, joined the Dednam brothers and the rest of the South African team for silver in the team competition.

A week earlier, in the Mauritius International tournament, Chris won gold by winning the mixed doubles event with Michelle Edwards (against the same Georgie Cupidon and Julliette Ahwan), while the Dednam brothers had to settle for silver in the men's double event losing to Germany's Thomas Tesche and Jochen Cassel.

Chris and Roelof Dednam have qualified, because of their current position on the world ranking table, for the men's doubles in the World Badminton Championships to be played in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in August this year.
 

Roelof and Chris Dednam

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