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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

Alexander Ramm Cello Recital with Pieter Jacobs (piano)
2016-04-15

Description: Ramm Tags: Ramm

Alexander Ramm

“Ramm plays with enormous musical authority. Unlike many young instrumentalists, he is not intimidated by the reflective or the elegiac; nor is he nervous about the length of pauses, or the creation of inter-phrase silence. He has a phenomenal technique and he demonstrated it to full effect in this captivating performance.” (Cape Times)

Alexander Ramm belongs to the new generation of cellists recognised for his appealing artistic creativity and unprecedented technical skills. Alexander started his musical education at the age of seven at the Glier music school (Kaliningrad) with Svetlana Ivanova. Her extremely serious attitude to music studies and pedagogical talent revealed the rare musical capabilities of this young cellist.

After moving to Moscow at the age of ten, he was accepted to the class of Maria Zhuravleva at the Chopin Moscow College of Music Performance. From 2007, he continued his professional education at the Moscow Conservatory in the class of the renowned musician and the People’s Artist of the USSR, Natalia Shakhovskaya, an outstanding performer and pedagogue who taught most prominent Russian cellists. Since 2012, he has become a postgraduate student at the Hanns-Eisler Hochschule fur Musik under the guidance of the famous cellist, Frans Helmerson.

From the age of nine, when he made his debut as a soloist with the Kaliningrad Chamber Orchestra, Alexander brilliantly performs with solo programmes and as a soloist with leading orchestras in Russia and worldwide.

He is prizewinner at several international competitions:
1st prize: 4th Moscow Competition for young cellists (2003)
1st prize: 1st Cambridge International Boston Competition (Massachusetts, 2005)
Grand-Prix: Moscow Festival of Romantic Music (Moscow, 2006)
4th prize: 5th UNISA International String Competition (South Africa, 2010)
1st prize: 3rd Beijing International Music Competition (Beijing 2010)
1st prize: 1st All-Russia Music Competition (Russia, 2010)
Prizewinner: Janigro Cello Competition (Croatia, 2012)
Prizewinners: Swedish Duo Competition with duo partner Anna Odintsova (2012)
3rd prize: Paulo Cello Competition (2013) – becoming the first Russian prizewinner in the history of this prestigious contest
2nd prize: XV International Tchaikovsky Competition (2015)

Alexander participated in masterclass festivals at Courchevel Academy and Holland Music Sessions, where he took lessons from the famous musicians such as F. Muller, R. Latzko, M. Kliegel and U. Wiesel. In 2011, he took part in the well-known Verbier festival, where he studied with H. Hoffmann, F. Helmerson, M. Suzuki, L. Power and F. Radosh. At the end of the festival, he was awarded the Neva Foundation top-level prize for gifted students.

Alexander cooperates with such outstanding conductors as V. Gergiev, V. Spivakov, A. Levin, K. Orbelyan, V. Polyansky, S. Kochanovsky, M. Fedotov, A. Slutsky, A. Sladkovsky.

He will be accompanied by Pieter Jacobs, a graduate of the University of Pretoria, who then furthered his studies at Yale in the United States, where he pursued his performing career with considerable success as a soloist and chamber musician in Boston, Cambridge and New Haven before returning to South Africa to perform and teach at the University of Pretoria. Pieter is regarded as one of SA’s foremost pianists and chamber musicians.

Programme:

Grieg: Cello Sonata, Op. 36 in A minor (1883)
Barber: Cello Sonata, Op. 6 in C minor (1932)
Prokofiev: Cello Sonata, Op. 119 (1949)
Piazzolla: Le Grand Tango for cello and piano

Date: 22 April 2016
Time: 19:30
Venue: Odeion
Costs: R130 (adults), R90 (pensioners), R70 (UFS staff members), R50 (students and learners), R50 (group booking of 10+). Tickets available at Computicket.

More information: Ninette Pretorius +27(0)51 401 2504.

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