Science in Action

Prize Winners

First Place

Photographer: Pieter Uys
Title: A technician observes the laser refurbishment of a generator rotor

Laser cladding technology has the potential to extend the lifetime of high-value components, saving South African industry significant maintenance or replacement costs. The CSIR supports local industries by servicing these components using sophisticated laser technologies and has signed two international licensing agreements with companies in the United States of America and India.

Second Place

Photographer: Jeremy Kravitz
Title: Dropping down

Scientists dropping down on small platforms towards the sea ice surrounding Antarctica during the winter cruise in July 2017 aboard the SA Agulhas II. As the ocean water begins to freeze, very small ice particles called frazil start to form and continuously accumulate and bond together forming larger ice particles. These features continue to grow larger and larger, eventually forming what is known as Pancake Ice, creating raised ridges on the perimeter due to the constant bumping into other pancakes in rough seas. These scientists will place sensors onto the pancake ice which will record GPS location, speed, and wave height. The data will contribute to a multi-disciplinary research mission which aims to study sea ice dynamics and thermodynamics in the Antarctic marginal ice zone (MIZ). Biogeochemical measurements were collected along with the collection and testing of frazil and pancake ice for physical properties which will contribute to the improvement of computational simulations of sea ice dynamics and climate models.


Photographer: Lucas Erasmus
Title: When light meets matter

This photo was taken during the evaporation process of a luminescent material, utilising the Pulsed Laser Deposition system at the University of the Free State. During this process, high energy light pulse, that is invisible to the eye and camera, is directed to the luminescent material that is kept in place as seen in the right side of the image. The high energy light pulse is absorbed by the material that causes the electrons and protons of the material to separate. This results in the formation of a plasm, of fast moving particles as seen by the luminescent red-purple glow in the centre of the image. These high energy particles are accelerated in vacuum to a heated silicon substrate as shown in the left side of the image, where they collect for the formation of a thin film. This thin film forms part of the research in the enhancement of the energy efficiency of solar panels.

Photographer: Kervin Prayag
Title: Stare down

In June 2017, I was given the unique opportunity to assist researchers working on black sparrowhawks (Accipiter melanoleucus) in Cape Town. On the day in question, the task was to ring a juvenile. Pretty straightforward, one might think. However, arriving at the tree on which the nest was built, I realised that this would not be the case. The nest was located at a staggering 20-30 meters up a pine tree. Armed with ropes and harnesses, one of the researchers started making his way up to the nest. In the meantime, the adult sparrowhawks took cognisance of what was happening and quickly became aggravated. Simultaneously having to avoid branches of smaller trees on his way up, the researcher now had to contend with the two angry adults constantly zooming back and forth, attempting to deter him from coming any closer. Once at the nest, time was of the essence, as a long delay can lead to the parents abandoning both the nest and chick. The gravity­defying skills demonstrated by the climber were impressive. Even more spectacular, however, was the blinding speed at which the juvenile was weighed, ringed and blood drawn, amongst other things. In what seemed like no time at all, the chick was carefully delivered back up to the nest the same way it came down. This photo demonstrates the level of precision and focus needed by these researchers to get the work done quickly and efficiently, while causing the least disturbance. With this work, Dr. Petra Sumasgutner (pictured), aims to get important insight on the establishment of urban raptor populations.


Photographer: Shivan Parusnath
Title: Big eyes

This Greater Galago (Otolemur crassicaudatus), also known as a “bushbaby” is caught in a Sherman trap, a common piece of equipment used to trap small mammals for scientific study. This bushbaby was lured into the trap with bait made from bananas, peanut butter and oats. Once caught, the animals are safely moved into larger cages and either sedated for further study or released.

The researchers on this specific project only do this research with permits and ethics approval from an internationally renowned university. In this multidisciplinary project, the researchers are investigating various aspects of the ecology and life history of the species, including behaviour, thermoregulation, gut microbiome, and dental ecology amongst others. In this way, each animal caught provides data to several different studies, to maximise the output from the capture process.

The animals are then given a stimulative to wake them up, and are safely released in the location of capture.

Photographer: Celine Hanzen
Title: Monitoring our rivers wellbeing

Monitoring our water resources helps us understand change in our environment and the need for effective management and/or conservation. Here, a scientist is labelling macro-invertebrates samples collected while performing SASS (South African Scoring System, rapid assessment for water quality using macro-invertebrates) in the Mandini river, Thukela catchment.

Photographer: Natalie Wood
Title: Bucky ball building

In the image, you see a local Uitenhage school girl busy constructing a model of a Bucky Ball Molecule from special plastic tubing and connectors, as part of a pre-National Science Week activity held at the Uitenhage Science Centre in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. The Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre facilitated the activities for the day. Not only did the learners have a chance to explore the science centre, but they also engaged in fun activities including building various molecules in pairs as well as a giant geodesic dome as a group. They engaged in science that was beyond the curriculum, showing them that even simple every objects like soccer balls are derived from the beauty of science, like the Bucky Ball. Scientifically known as Buckminsterfullerene, it is a spherical fullerene molecule with the formula C₆₀. It has a cage-like fused-ring structure which resembles a soccer ball, made of twenty hexagons and twelve pentagons.

Photographer: Chris Oosthuizen
Title: Whiskers and teeth reveal what seal eat …and when     

Animal whiskers, like human hair, are metabolically inactive once fully grown, meaning that the atoms derived from whatever the animal eats are incorporated and locked in place during whisker synthesis. Similarly, mammalian teeth are archival tissues storing information about an animal’s foraging habits in annual growth layers (akin to tree rings). Stable isotope analysis of the luxuriant whiskers and elongated canine teeth of Antarctic fur seals, pictured here, provide scientists with a powerful tool to trace the feeding ecology of these ocean predators. Whiskers, which show changes in eating habits over a year, can be collected from living animals, while teeth recovered from seals that died of natural causes can reflect changes in diet over the seal’s life. Stable isotope analysis of whiskers and teeth thus provides scientists with a figurative telescope to research predator-prey food web interactions, even when seals are foraging in the remotest parts of the Southern Ocean.

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*The copyright of the photographs entered into the competition remains with the photographer. The photographs may be published in connection with the SA Science Lens competition, acknowledging SAASTA, the SA Science Lens competition and the photographer. For enquiries regarding permission to use photos, please contact Joanne Riley, Science Editor at SAASTA, at or 012 392 9349.



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