January 2015
Contents / home
Bloodhound's supersonic quest
Deputy Minister visits SAASTA
SAASTA Highlights Report
SAASTA takes science to Beijing
Natural Science Olympiad
Community media pilot project
Crystallography kits for schools
PUB celebrates 10 years of biotech
Reaching visually impaired learners
School debate finals
Science communication workshops
KAT-7 seen as design highlight
Meet Nithaya Chetty
Eskom Expo 2014
SKA SA exhibits at BRICS EXPO
Algoa Bay Hope Spot launched
Inspiring environmental scientists
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

SAASTA takes southern skies and science shows to Beijing

  A three-year-old visitor totally engrossed in completing the constellation puzzles at the South African stand
  A youngster proudly displays the constellation puzzle he completed
  Daniel Motsapi from the ArcelorMittal Science Centre used substances that can be found in any household in his science shows
  A young visitor to the SA stand swirls an air pipe around to produce a variety of musical notes
  Learners decorate the model aircrafts they constructed
  SAASTA's Hubert Mathebula flanked by two of the interpreters allocated to the South African delegation
For the fourth consecutive year, a delegation from South Africa joined a wide range of exhibitors such as science centres, universities, outreach organisations and private institutions from countries across the globe to participate in the Beijing Science Festival in September last year.

This time, SAASTA showcased the southern hemisphere skies using constellation puzzles, and conducted science shows using easily obtainable household materials.

Dr Anton Binneman from SAASTA's Monitoring and Evaluation unit led the South African delegation and was involved in the conference that is organised to coincide with the festival and various round table discussions. Daniel Motsapi from the ArcelorMittal Science Centre was responsible for the science shows, while Hubert Mathebula from SAASTA manned the exhibits.

Daniel used substances that can be found in any household, such as vinegar, cooking soda, drinking straws, candles and other easily available substances in his science shows. The biggest attractions were the vuvuzela and an air pipe that is swirled around to produce different musical notes depending on the speed. "Visitors to the stand found it fascinating that a simple pipe can produce such a variety of musical notes," says Hubert.

The festival's main aim, according to Hubert, is to attract young learners and pre-school children between three and 12 years of age. School groups visited the exhibitions during weekdays, while the younger children came with their parents on the Saturday and Sunday.

"The festival atmosphere was vibrant and filled with fun and excitement," he says. "The young ones wanted to be hands-on and do activities on their own. A good example is a three-year old who visited the South African stand with his dad. He did not want his father to assist him to complete the constellation puzzles and eventually managed to complete them on his own in record time. He was awarded a SAASTA/South Africa key ring for his impressive effort."

Although the festival targets young people, elderly people also visited the exhibits and were mostly looking for toys to purchase for their families and to enjoy some of the interesting activities. "A number of people wanted to buy our puzzles for their own use," says Hubert.

The Beijing Science Festival was hosted at the promenade precinct of the Beijing Olympic Park, commonly known as the Olympic Green, where large marquees were erected to accommodate the exhibitions. The precinct is flanked by four well-known iconic structures: to the east is the Beijing National Stadium, commonly known as "the bird's nest" on account of its architectural design; to the south is the Olympics aquatic centre, commonly known as "the water cube" with its beautifully designed walls that resemble the natural pattern of bubbles in soap lather; on the western side is the National Indoor Stadium; and on the northern side the Ling Long Pagoda.

"The interesting architectural designs and eye-catching structural forms of the buildings make the precinct a very attractive area," says Hubert.

Foreign participants

Foreign participants in the festival included science festivals from Germany and Russia; a Maths outreach programme from Arizona, USA; a science museum from Boston; an agency for science advancement from Argentina; and a public outreach institution from France.

"I found it interesting that science festivals in Germany and Russia not only focus on staging science festivals, but also conduct outreach and public awareness programmes as part of their core functions. The science festival in Germany owns a couple of mobile labs that conduct outreach activities at schools and hospitals, not only in Germany but as far afield as France and Italy," he says. "The Russians presented innovative science shows that appealed to young kids, using chemicals to blow up balloons, liquid nitrogen and dry ice to make frozen candy, and performed interesting scientific stunts that attracted crowds of youngsters."

Most of the local exhibitors were private companies showcasing science toys and selling these to the public. Most of the toys are small-scale science exhibits that can be used at home, with robotic items being the most popular.

Although the exhibitors spent most of their time at the exhibitions, they did have an opportunity to visit a good restaurant in Beijing to enjoy Chinese food. They also visited the Lama Temple and the Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, and got a glimpse of the Forbidden City from the Square. The congested public transport and people selling all sorts of products alongside the streets left an indelible impression.

Round table discussions and presentations

Anton gave a presentation on the digitalisation of science advancement and communication in the South African context, which is showing good progress, but still lags behind that of most Western countries. The round table discussion profiled SAASTA's different units and how they function in science advancement. During both sessions it was clear that SAASTA can compete with the best in the world when it comes to science communication and advancement.

'A breath of fresh air'

"Participation in the Beijing Science Festival was interesting, informative and refreshing; and despite the polluted atmosphere in the area it was a 'breath of fresh air'. We have gained valuable information that will be useful in our work, such as new ways to conduct science shows, new programmes that can be incorporated into science centres, innovative science advancement methods and new ways of handling logistics of a big event while hosting foreign visitors.

"We have also made friends with science advancement staff from institutions in different countries, and such contacts will be used for information sharing and to keep abreast with developments within the industry," says Hubert.