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South African female learners excel at the 38th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition

From the left: Reabetswe Maputla, Yashoda Naidoo, Zinzi Madiope, SAASTA Project Officer, Marilet Knoesen, Marlizaan Saunderson, Dani van Rensburg and Matjatji Dankuru, Regional coordinator in Limpopo for Eskom Expo for Young Scientist, ready to present their research to the audience.
The award ceremony.
Cultural evening.

Eskom Expo for Young Scientists entered five projects in the 2018 Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition (BYSCC) in China through the generous support of South African Agency for Science and Technology (SAASTA), who took care of the learners’ travel expenses, including flights, meals, accommodation and entrance fees. The five female grade 11 learners from the North West Province, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape, were selected from 600 of South Africa’s future engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and innovators who competed in Eskom Expo, the country’s largest school-level science fair. Their projects were selected because they demonstrated innovativeness, showed a mastery of research skills such as the scientific investigative method, and added to our knowledge base of unique solutions to everyday problems.

One of the young scientists, Reabetswe Maputle observed that residents of the Madibogo Village in the North West Province were constantly falling ill. She extracted Genomic DNA from cultured broths of the water sampled from the village borehole. Through Sanger sequencing the micro-organisms were identified using Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) analysis. The sequencing revealed that amongst others, two opportunistic pathogenic bacteria, pseudomonas aeruginosa and serratia marcescens were present in the borehole water. Reabetswe then used the Kirby-Bauer method to determine their antibiotic resistance profiles and found that p. aeruginosa and s. marcescens indicated resistance to kanamycin, oxy-tetracycline, trimethoprim, ciprofloxacin, penicillin and ampicillin.

Dani van Rensburg was concerned about transfusion transmissible infections (TTIs) and investigated the efficacy of brass and copper filters for blood transfusions. In addition to her findings that copper and brass were effective in reducing the viability of Escherichia coli (E.Coli), Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, Dani found no cellular compromise such as haemolysis for up to 10 minutes of exposure. Yashoda Naidoo studied the role of microbes in the conversion of expired pills into organic fertiliser. Marilet Knoesen and Marlizaan Saunderson designed and built a prosthetic limb for amputees with variable temperature controls so the limb could be warmed in winter and cooled in summer. The contributions of our young scientists show a keen interest and sensitivity to the issues faced by our communities, as well as a commitment to providing cost-effective and viable solutions. While the four research projects presented by the five young scientists won two Gold and two Silver Medals, one of the understated achievements of international participation is learner development.

Participating in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists gave these young women opportunities to explore their creativity, develop problem solving and research skills, and to find innovative solutions to everyday problems. When our young scientists are given opportunities to participate in international competitions such as BYSCC they are exposed to unique learning experiences. They engage with other young scientists from various backgrounds and, as one of our BYSCC young scientist recalled, “It was interesting to see how people from different places approached problems”. Exposure to other methods of inquiry and reasoning expands the young scientists’ horizons and enriches their thought processes. In addition to the research, other skills gained are transferable to all aspects of their lives such as critical thinking, improved written and verbal communication and increased self-confidence. Our young scientists are extremely grateful for the life-changing opportunity provided by SAASTA.