Big bangs wow learners for National Science Week

A group of gung-ho Rhodes Chemistry students celebrated National Science Week (1-6 August) by travelling to a number of Eastern Cape schools with their edutaining demonstration A Pollutant’s Tale.

On Friday morning, Grade 9, 10 and 11 learners at Ntsika Senior Secondary School were treated to an exciting morning of science, punctuated by big bangs and some surprises. The presentation was one of many National Science Week activities initiated by the Department of Science and Technology, aimed at promoting science awareness among learners.

Chemistry lecturer Ms Joyce Sewry introduced the show, reminding the learners of how “everything you use every day is because of science”. The year 2011 is also the International Year of Chemistry so the Rhodes group, headed by Ms Sewry, used some of the teaching materials developed by Bristol University to reach out to Eastern Cape schools.

Funded by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (Saasta) and the Department of Science and Technology, A Pollutant’s Tale was shown at five other schools in the province; rural schools in Peddie and Keiskammahoek as well as Port Alfred and Cradock, ending with a show in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Donning their orange lab coats, Godfred Darko, Sunday Ogunlaja, Kehinde Awokoya and Nicole D’Souza mixed a series of dangerous-looking chemicals to produce a series of startling experiments, keeping the learners wide awake and interested in science. The first of these was liquid nitrogen, which was used to freeze and shatter a rubber tube, a flower and a banana. Boosted by the charisma and enthusiasm of the students, the experiments were cleverly intertwined with an informal lesson on the gases found in the earth’s atmosphere which cause pollution. Some of the learners answered questions and were rewarded with a prize.

Another one of the senses was harnessed when D’Souza passed round cardboard strips dipped in liquids of various smells. The learners had a great time identifying these, which included vanilla, lemon and the unwelcome smell of the glandular secretions of a civet cat! Incomplete combustion, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, was demonstrated by Ogunlaja who set alight a large plastic bottle (which had been washed out with alcohol), producing a raging ball of blue flame.

The serious message of climate change was brought in towards the end of the demonstration, with a simple analogy of a granny sitting at a heater, symbolising the sun and the earth. The solution isn’t to move closer to the heater but to create a thicker, better ‘blanket’ by protecting the earth’s atmosphere. Projecting images of the peak of Kilimanjaro and a severely diminished Lake Chad onto the wall, it was brought home that we can all do something to prevent global warming by making some informed lifestyle changes.

Among the Centre for Social Development’s (CSD) highlights of the week was the performance of a puppet show that enthralled many children keen to follow the main character, Thandi on her journey to discover how our planet works. The children also had an opportunity to play with several interactive educational stations. Ms Vera Adams, the director of the CSD, said: “The CSD is the only stakeholder in the Eastern Cape that provided activities addressing the Early Foundation phase age group (five to nine years). Although the emphasis was on science, it also provided an opportunity for children from very diverse backgrounds to come together and just play and explore.”

The shows for the first three days were staged at St Mary’s Development and Care Centre, after which it travelled around Grahamstown to Victoria Primary and Ntaba Maria Primary School.  Several pre-schools in the vicinity travelled to these venues to watch the show and take part in the activities. “Now that the puppet show has been developed we will be able to do more of these shows at all the crèches and pre-schools that we work in,” said Ms Adams.

Story and picture by Anna-Karien Otto




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