By Anima McBrown
If there was ever any doubt that South Africa, and particularly our local young scientists, are way ahead of their game – then the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists that took place on Saturday 30 July here at Rhodes has quelled all such uncertainty.
Running parallel to the National Science Week’s Open Day the project invited high school learners from Grahamstown and its surrounds, as far afield as Queenstown, including Adelaide and For Beaufort, to come and participate in an exciting competition that would see its winners receive bursaries to study Science at Rhodes.
In two undergraduate laboratories in RU’s Chemistry and Pharmacy building, learners displayed their projects at different workstations. The labs were a buzz of bright ideas, ambitious efforts and the kind of innovation we want to see promoted and supported if South Africa and the African continent will truly become the next big leaders in the globe’s Science and Technology boom.
I was struck by the big designs and sophisticated proposals on display: Grade 9 learner Uvimbabazi Keza, from Victoria Girls High School (VGHS), presented a project about the Aerodynamics of Paper Planes (asking which design flies furthest); Mary Waters’ Sinenathi Duma and Linen Kunene (Grade 10 learners) looked at which popular drink is more prone to staining teeth. As expected, the higher the grades the more grand the project ideas: Thobelani Maphazi, in Grade 11 at Kwa Komani Comprehensive, investigated how to convert a smartphone into a microscope by creating a stand microscope; a fellow Grade 11 learner from Graeme College – Kabir Sonne – asked whether it is possible to terraform Mars in order to make the atmosphere more suitable for mankind.
Clearly today’s big dreamers and tomorrow’s future scientists are on the right path. Bantu Ntsaluba, 2nd year RU lecturer in the Geology department and one of the judges, talked about some of the requirements for a learner to leave a lasting impression. “I am looking for something new, with practical solutions to real life problems”, he commented. He wanted to see projects that addressed national and international needs, projects that answered to the call for innovation and imagination. From what was presented, it is true that some of the Expo contestants did bring new ideas and fresh perspectives for what we can consider excellence in the field of Science and Technology.
Joyce Sewry, RU’s Deputy Dean of Science, had this to say: “I think a special mention must go to the Scifest staff who put it all together, Pumza Tshebe and her staff. Good projects take a lot of time and effort (once the idea has been formulated0 and it is indeed a team effort of the learner, parents and teachers. The original ideas are very important, and that is probably the most difficult part – to come up with an original idea, a question to be researched”.
The five learners who eventually came out as frontrunners are Megan Green (Victoria Girls High School), Emma Goodes (VGHS), Sarah Goodes (VGHS), Sebastian Amner (Graeme College) and Thabiso Modigoe (Adelaide Gymnasium).
They showed that the potential of our young people is limitless; all we have to do is continue to provide the resources needed to develop their scientific and technological aspirations. Where there is quality education as the foundation, and sufficient funding, any dream can be made a reality.
As Ntsaluba so rightly prompted, what we should look forward to now is making Science Expos such as these bigger, wider reaching events. At a regional level, Science Expo should grow and become a landmark occasion like the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.
With the support of the Department of Science and Technology and Eskom, educational launching pads such as this Expo for Young Scientists are paving the way and moulding brilliant, determined future leaders in Science and Technology.
Congratulations to all the participants and the overall winners. We look forward to them joining the RU family in the coming years.
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