Restless curiosity, wild brilliance, particle physics, rocket building and launching, ancient African interpretations of the night skies, coding and computation in anticipation of the fourth industrial revolution and big data science.
These are some of the activities that Nelson Mandela University’s Faculty of Science at Nelson Mandela University will be offering schools and communities before and during the 2018 National Science Week, which takes place from the 28 July to 4 August.
The activities that the faculty is offering before and during National Science Week (NSW) form part of our Faculty’s larger science engagement strategy for the Eastern Cape, which is all about engaging communities in the Eastern Cape on the compelling multidisciplinary world of science that plays a determining role in our past, present and future.
Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Prof Azwinndini Muronga, says one of the faculty’s goals is to take science communication to the centre-stage by actively publishing in and through various communication and stakeholder platforms.
“We want to share what is happening in science in the Eastern Cape and what we are doing through our Faculty of Science to contribute to this,” he says.
“Our faculty has established a science communication forum in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) to enable this contribution.
“We are also busy developing a transdisciplinary curriculum in science communication in partnership with DST, SAASTA and other faculties at Nelson Mandela University. It is one of several recurriculation streams we are introducing towards an engaged, dynamic African Faculty of Science geared towards making a difference in the Eastern Cape and in society at large.”
Prof Muronga says National Science Week is an ideal hub around which to galvanise the science engagement strategy.
“This annual, national celebration of science taking place in all nine provinces is a wonderful DST and SAASTA initiative that sets out to interest everyone in science, to make Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Innovation (STEMI) appealing to learners, so that that they consider STEMI as preferable career options, and to showcase local innovations in science and technology,” he says.
Each year a new theme is chosen and the National Science Week activities are organized around the theme. The 2018 National Science Week theme is Deepening Our Democracy through Science in celebration of the centenary and legacy of Nelson Mandela. This theme has great significance for Nelson Mandela University, as an institution carrying the icon’s name.
Sub-themes being explored this year include Science Education, Communication and Outreach; Discovery at the Frontiers of Science; Indigenous Knowledge Systems; From Basic Science to Technology and its Application; Science and the Future, and Art meets Science.
A tradition that the Science Faculty started last year when the University hosted the launch of National Science Week is a programme of Pre-National Science Week activities. The Pre-National Science Week Programme will officially launch on 18 July from the Summerstrand North Campus with a symposium on Deepening Democracy Through Science, with speakers from Mandela University and the University of South Africa.
From the launch date to 4 August, the University will be hosting events in Port Elizabeth, George and the rural Eastern Cape community of Mvezo, where Nelson Mandela was born.
“Our Pre-National Science Week theme this year is The Road to Mvezo – so-named because of the significance of Mvezo in this centenary year – and the activities will culminate in the Faculty of Science and the Nelson Mandela University travelling to Mvezo for the 29 – 31 July activities during National Science Week’s focus week,” says Prof Muronga.
“In partnership with the Royal Council, the Mvezo Komkhulu community, and the Nelson Mandela School of Science and Technology, which is situated in Mvezo, we will have several activities here, aimed at members of the public, policy makers, school learners and the media.
“We have also invited learners from the Cala region and all the universities in the Eastern Cape, namely Rhodes, Walter Sisulu and Fort Hare to join us at Mvezo.”
The aim of National Science Week is for everyone, including as many learners as possible, to come and participate in the different science activities and lectures.
Prof Muronga will give a public lecture on 19 July, titled 100 Years of Richard Feynman – A Celebration of Curiosity and Science, in honour of a man considered one of the 20th century’s most accomplished theoretical physicists.
“Feynman was not only a brilliant scientist he also helped to change the straitjacketed image of scientists, as he was a wild, unconventional, compelling human with a brilliant, curious, science-seeking mind,” says Prof Muronga.
A virtual tour of CERN, the Swiss-based research organisation that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, is planned for 23 July and will be followed by a symposium the next day for learners, educators and students on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, focusing on data science and artificial intelligence.
On 25 July, the Science Faculty will host a Science Communication Workshop for students and academics.
A range of science activities will be hosted in Mvezo, Port Elizabeth and George, including STEMI (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Innovation) activities such as rocket building and launching, chemistry shows, and a computer coding boot camp. The Faculty of Science will also be joined by exhibitors from the Eastern Cape and nationally.
“At the same time as sharing science, we are keen to learn science from our traditional communities, such as their understanding of the natural environment and how the grasslands, wildlife and rivers have changed,” says Prof Muronga.
“We look at explanations of cultural practices such as why the Xhosa people put white clay or ochre on their faces; cattle husbandry; and on 30 and 31 July we hope to have night sky viewing by SAASTA and DST in Mvezo and exchange of knowledge with the people of that region about the night sky, the stars, towards A journey through the universe, which is the title of another public lecture I am giving in Mvezo on the 30 July.”