SciFest highlights teachers’ struggles

Report by Dumisa Lengwati & Tarryn Isaacs

Kitchen Chemistry, in the same vein as the show done by Die Physikanten, encourages the idea of scholars being able to express their lab-making skills outside of the classroom. Dr Stephen Ashworth showcased dramatic chemistry reactions using household items one could find in their kitchen cabinets. Dr Ashworth teaches chemistry at East Anglia University in Norwich, England. While SciFest illuminates a path towards a brighter science future, the problems within science education in South Africa remain when SciFest leaves. Science educators in Grahamstown speak about the issues observed and experienced within schools regarding the lack of institutional support and resources that have a negative impact on the performance of scholars. Some consider Grahamstown schools to be in a privileged position due to the accessibility of resources that are available at Rhodes

Die Physikanten at Scifest Africa 2014

Report by Lillian Magari & Noxolo Mafu.

Following the theme “Into the Space”, Scifest Africa 2014 welcomed award winning German scientist performing group: Die Physikanten. Creating a giant tornado of fire, crashing oil drums using air and making gigantic smoke rings, Die Physikanten aimed to make science exciting and accessible.
Sascha Ott, a scientist from Die Physikanten, believes that the purpose of the show is to allow children to become eager to learn more about science. Although the children were entertained and enthusiastic to interact with certain experiments, science teacher at Ntsika Secondary High School, Solomon Johnson explains that this excitement does not always filter into the classrooms beyond the annual SciFest. The inability to provide such experiments to local school children in a sustainable way, due to lack of resources, creates an absence in general science knowledge for young pupils.

Unearthing Grahamstown

Report by Natalie Austin & Jason Randall

Dr Rob Gess caused a stir with his discovery of Gondwana’s oldest known land animal, Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis, in 2013. He continues to make internationally important discoveries which have opened Africa’s most important window into the 360 million year old Late Devonian world. Most of these he found in the estuarine derived rocks from Waterloo Farm on the outskirts of Grahamstown. Formerly employed by the Institute for Evolutionary Studies at Wits he has recently taken up a Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at his original alma mater, the Rhodes Geology Department.

The scorpion fossil remains are the oldest terrestrial animal remains from Gondwana, one of two supercontinents that existed from 510 to 180 million years ago, before fragmenting into the land masses now known as Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, India and Madagascar. He talks here of his work with Dr Cyrille Prestiani of the Royal Museum of Natural History in Belgium, and an expert in Late Devonian palaeobotany.

Richard Grant – getting science to the classrooms

Report by Natalie Austin & Jason Randall

Many schools in South Africa do not have access to biology or science laboratories or the required resources for practical demonstrations in the classroom. In a Scifest Africa 2014 workshop Toys from Trash, Richard Grant teaches learners how to make science education resources from cheap and accessible household items. Richard a retired Rhodes University lecturer. Working with Dr. Ken Ngcoza from the Rhodes Department of Education they hope to integrate these experiments in all schools in order to make students more excited about the subject of science.

Biotechnology – a science explored

Report by Deneesha Pillay & Megan Flemmit at SciFest Africa 2014.

One of the workshops that The South African Agency for Science and Technology Association held concerned the use of Biotechnology. High school students attended workshops that presented a technique to extract DNA from wheat using everyday household products to give them an understanding of the process and the science.
They also explored how biotechnology is used for genetic modification of organisms and the many controversies around this. The conflict between the humanitarian, corporate and science perspectives has led to great debate about the ethics of Genetic Modification (GM). This video proposes different ideas about the ethics involved and the concerns some environmentalists have with GM.
We also see how biotechnology is used in a sustainable way. The Institute for Environmental Biotechnology at Rhodes University works in parallel with the Belmont Valley Water Treatment Works to clean sewage water to produce water that is less harmful for the environment.

ESCOM in SA energy crisis

Report by Robyn Wertheim & Cindy Archillies

South Africa’s electricity crisis cannot be solely solved by reducing domestic consumption. Eskom’s accountability and their monopoly position are put under the lens by Economics Professor Gavin Keeton and The South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS) columnist Glenn Ashton.