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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

Great turnout for Hannes Meyer Symposium in Cardiothoracic Surgery
2017-05-05

Description: Hannes Meyer Symposium  Tags: Hannes Meyer Symposium

Symposium attendees watch attentively as
Dr Johan Brink demonstrated a MAZE procedure
with a pig’s heart.
Photo: Supplied

The University of the Free State’s Faculty of Health Sciences hosted the annual Hannes Meyer Symposium in Cardiothoracic Surgery. The symposium was organised by Prof Francis Smit, head of the department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the UFS, with the support from the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of South Africa and the European Association of Cardiothoracic Surgery (EACTS). Over the past 16 years this symposium has steadily been growing in stature and prestige leading to the resounding success that was this year’s event.

Medical advancements explored
The aim of the symposium is to provide an overview of the latest advances in Cardiothoracic Surgery and perfusion as well as providing hands-on training via simulation to trainees from South Africa and the rest of the African continent. Didactic lectures and papers by registrars were an integral component of the symposium. The South African community was represented by various heads of departments, trainees, senior specialists and perfusionists from all the training centres in the country. There were also delegates representing Uganda, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia.

Heart surgery off to new heights
Simulation in Cardiothoracic Surgery and Perfusion can be compared to airline pilots with high risk, with complex surgeries being first done in simulators before being attempted in the real world. The UFS is proud to have a state-of-the-art simulation facility, which was used to facilitate the programme.

The range of simulation was extensive and included simple procedural models to complex full theatre setups with Human Performance Models in perfusion that simulated crisis scenarios with the aid of computerised devices that react in real time to human intervention.

Industry support highly appreciated
This event was coordinated by Dr Jehron Pillay, senior registrar in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Marilee Janse van Vuuren, deputy-director clinical technology, in the department. This was the first time that such extensive simulation models were used in the programme and judging from the positive response received, it has certainly set the benchmark for all future events.

The event has received invaluable support over the years from EACTS that has selected Bloemfontein as the site of its African training programme as a result of the high level of training and education achieved here.

The academic discussions were chaired by Profs Marko Turina and Jose Pomar (past presidents of EACTS) and Pieter Kappetein (past secretary general of EACTS) who are extremely well known internationally for their contribution to advancing Cardiothoracic training and education.

Our guests from EACTS presented didactical lectures on research methodology, international randomised trials and discussed recent developments and controversies in cardiothoracic surgery.

Registrars from all South African units presented a thoracic and cardiac surgery paper from each unit highlighting specific disease conditions, moderated by heads of departments and the international panel.

An event of this magnitude requires significant financial support and the medical industry in South Africa stepped up to the plate in providing financial and logistical support in order to make it possible.

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