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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

UFS sports scientist joins Cricket SA
2016-05-11

Description: Ross Tucker Tags: Ross Tucker

Prof Ross Tucker South Africa’s premier sports scientist
Photo: Supplied

Considered as South Africa’s premier sports scientist, Professor Ross Tucker has been appointed to be part of an official panel of experts to assess the performance of Cricket South Africa (CSA). Tucker is a Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Free State (UFS) School of Medicine. On joining the UFS, his plan was to help place the University onto the global map, and to become a leading voice in the sports science landscape. His involvement in sports around the world is fulfilling his vision.

(Professor Ross Tucker from @UFSweb has been appointed to be part of an official panel of experts to assess the performance of @officialCSA) - Tweet.


Having an enviable reputation in the world of sport worldwide, he was named in the Mail and Guardian’s list of Top 200 Influential Young South Africans, and by the Minister of Sport as one of the 100 Influential people in South African Sport in 2013.

The official panel, commissioned by CSA, is to review the performances of elite Cricket teams - primarily the Proteas, but also the U/19 and women’s teams - with the aim of addressing the challenges encountered by the teams. Alongside other members, including former Protea player, Adam Bacher, and world-class rugby player and 1995 national captain, Francois Pienaar, Prof Tucker is to evaluate what has worked and what hasn’t, in order to make recommendations, and guide strategies and tactics that will yield some World Cup successes.

 

On his vision for Cricket South Africa, Prof Tucker said he sees the opportunity as a chance to drive an elite, high-profile agenda, and set an example for all sports to follow. “We want to improve South African cricket, helping to chart a course for winning the next World Cup and dominating the world”, he said.

 

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