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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

Knific Duo from US lecture and perform at OSM
2017-05-12

Description: ' 000 Knific Duo Tags: Knific Duo

Profs Tom Knific and Renata Artman Knific from the Western
Michigan University School of Music are visiting the Odeion
School of Music at the University of the Free State.
Photo: Supplied

The renowned Knific Duo will not only perform at the University of the Free State (UFS) soon, but will also share their expertise at the Odeion School of Music (OSM). The duo, consisting of Profs Tom Knific and Renata Artman Knific, from the prestigious Western Michigan University School of Music, are presenting a masterclass series hosted by the OSM Concert Agency. The series takes place from 10-14 May 2017 and the concert on 16 May 2017.

Concert features local pianists

The first half of the concert on 16 May 2017 will present a programme leaning towards the classical genre. Apart from three works composed by Prof Knific, it will also include two movements from the Violin Sonata by the Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa. 
In the second half Prof Knific will collaborate with two local pianists, the legendary jazz pianist, composer and music educator, Noel Stockton, and the talented Andile Qongqo, and for a carefully curated jazz programme mainly from the oeuvre of Prof Knific. Random Dreams, a work composed by Stockton will also be included.

Well-known around the world

Prof Knific (double bass) is a Professor at the Department of Jazz at the Western Michigan University School of Music. He has been principal bassist of orchestras from the US to Europe and performed as a soloist and in chamber music festivals around the world. He also is a former president of the International Society of Bassists.

Prof Artman Knific (violin) is a professor of violin at the same institution. Her international career began in London at 21 when she joined the English Chamber Orchestra. Tours of Europe, North and South America and Asia followed where she collaborated with artists such as Herman Bauman and Isaac Stern. She has worked with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim and Christoph Eschenbach, and recorded records for EMI, Decca, and CBS labels.
 
Date: 16 May 2017
Time: 19:30
Place: Odeion (Bloemfontein Campus)

Musicians interested in masterclasses can contact Ninette Pretorius at  pretoriusn@ufs.ac.za

 

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