Never lose your curiosity or propensity to ask 'Why?' This is what the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment Professor Alison Lewis told primary and junior participants at the opening of the 33rd Eskom Cape Town Expo for Young Scientists.
By being inquisitive about the world, participants would get closer to framing the "really important questions of our time," said Lewis.
"Why if the sun is so hot have we got an energy crisis? Why is food wasted in some parts of the world and in other parts people are starving? Why are we fighting wars and how can we thrive on our planet and preserve it for the future generations?"
The regional expo on 2 and 3 September was hosted at UCT to give young scholars a chance to show off their scientific and technological nous. It attracted hundreds of junior and high school learners from the across the Peninsula.
The Eskom Expo is held annually in 31 regions and the best regional projects will go forward to the Eskom Expo International Science Fair in October.
Projects in 42 categories spanned the gamut of sciences, from the life and natural sciences to computer science, as well as innovation and technology, sustainable development and medical science.
Judges from schools, tertiary institutions and industry were on hand to interact with participants and assess their projects.
Energy was the big topic as the plethora of assignments on solar energy, insulation, cost-effective and renewable energy bore out. Several years ago a project on a hamster wheel producing enough electricity to light up a bulb may have elicited cursory interest. In a time of load shedding it was an altogether more intriguing idea.
And then there were projects that tackled things close to the young scientists' hearts: Which products would best purge hair of unguents like hair gel? How can mainstream school sport offerings be more inclusive for disabled pupils? Does social media increase FOMO ('fear of missing out')? And do mobile phones create a 'disconnect' between family members at the dinner table? (The answer is 'yes', and adults are the main culprits.)
Among the judges were UCT staff and students. One of the judges, Silence Chomunorwa, a part-time IT master's student, was impressed by the junior entrants' dedication and enthusiasm.
"Although most ideas were basic and we have seen these an infinite number of times, one should appreciate that, coming from a primary school learner, it took a lot of hard work, research and commitment to get that info. It is like a thesis to them!
"It's evident that the youth are understanding the challenges South Africa faces and trying to come up with solutions. Some of the projects need the industry and tertiary institutions to take them up and refine them, and who know, some of the problems may be solved.
"A number of learners addressed energy and accommodation issues, which to me are some of the major challenges we face. Some learners even came up with ideas of addressing their personal problems, which of course affect the community too."
Story by Helen Swingler. Photo by Michael Hammond.
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