Around 69 000 bright-eyed budding scientists attended the annual Scifest Africa held in Grahamstown from 12 - 18 March this year. Exhibitors and sponsors included a growing number of organisations from across 12 countries.
The aim of SciFest, supported by the Department of Science and Technology, is to promote awareness and engagement in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI). This year the theme was "Into the Space!" giving SANSA the perfect opportunity to get involved with the scientists of tomorrow. Many schools lack science resources and information, so the experience of SciFest gives students the opportunity to fill a gap in their learning and explore elements of science that they never knew existed.
SANSA was proud to host many of them at workshops and competitions designed to introduce learners to space, as well as being involved in FameLab.
FameLab is an international competition which encourages scientists to present exciting concepts in their fields to an audience, and 2014 is the second year of South African participation. Gladys Magagula, SANSA Mission Control Specialist, was a semi-finals judge in Gauteng, and Dr Sandile Malinga, SANSA CEO, helped to judge the final event where bright young experts from seven provinces represented South Africa’s most talented science communicators. Nine finalists put all their passion into their final talks, but Raven Motsewabangwe from North-West University blew the judges away. Raven captivated the audience by using an analogy of alien’s invading Earth to explain viral infections. He will represent South Africa in the international final in the United Kingdom in June this year.
Watch an overview of the FameLab finals on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4BSufg50NI
The workshops, run by SANSA staff, included Launch Day – which took learners through the launch and uses of SA's first Cubesat, TshepisoSAT. A Space Food Tasting workshop showed them what the first meals eaten in space were like – gloopy food packaged in tubes like toothpaste. Shutting off the sense of smell and sight helped the students get a feel for what food tastes like in space, where human senses are muted. A Mission Control workshop showed young audience how agencies like NASA communicate with the Mars Rover, and a session dedicated to EOSAT1 gave them insight into what Earth observation is used for, and why it's important. The Fundisa disk project, which is packed with remote sensing data for students and teachers, was demonstrated.
SANSA also hosted the popular satellite building competition for 30 Grade 6 learners. Vaughan Cuff from Moorehole Academy came first with his excellent satellite. Cuff said that he would like to build all kinds of different things in the future for space exploration, and ideally study architecture and engineering when he goes to university. He said that the satellite building completion taught him a lot about satellites and that it was the highlight of his time at SciFest.
Elisa Fraser, SANSA Science Advancement Manager, and her team organised the competition which was a resounding success, resulting in 30 unique interpretations of a model satellite.
SANSA wanted to have an interactive engagement with students this year, using the workshops and competition, but also Lego robotics at the stand and space weather screens to give learners a glimpse into the effects the sun has on our atmosphere.
The Sun attracted learners like Langa to the SANSA stand. A Grade 7 learner from Davidson School in Alice, Langa's name means Sun in Xhosa, and this has him curious about how the Sun affects Earth, how long it will continue to sustain life, and what it's made of. Langa wants to be a doctor or social worker, in order to help struggling families, and his interest in science is sure to help him – and curious learners like him – in their journey to success.