May 2015
Contents / home
Learners to link up with astronaut
Shared Sky, shared wisdom
"Talking science" competition
A meeting of minds
Young scientists take on Australia
Learners unveil project in Beijing
Introduction to crystals
Young Science Communicators' Competition
SAASTA inspires class of 2015
Meet Prof. Nox Makunga
Top young achiever's journey
Wonders of water at Scifest Africa
Learners work with particle physicists
Meet SAEON's new education officer
Light comes out of the darkness
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

In the news

CAPE TOWN – African scientists aim high with our own lunar spacecraft

  Professor Peter Martinez stands in front of the space suit worn by Mark Shuttleworth when he travelled to space on board a Russian Soyuz capsule in 2002. The suit is kept at the Cape Town Science Centre in Observatory. Picture: Jan Cronje
African scientists have three months to add their input to the mission objectives of the Africa2Moon mission, which plans to send a spacecraft designed and built in Africa to the Moon within a decade. The mission's long-term objective is to inspire a new generation of African scientists.

The innovative lunar project, announced late last year, is the brainchild of the Foundation for Space Development South Africa, a non-profit Cape Town organisation established in 2009 to advance the country's awareness of space. The mission made global headlines after it started an online crowdfunding drive, raising more than R300 000.

In March this year, mission organisers launched a call for scientific proposals to help identify future scientific objectives of the mission.

"The call is open to participation by individuals and entities worldwide. Proposal teams may include team members from any country, with the condition that at least half of the team members must be domiciled in Africa," said Professor Peter Martinez, programme convener for the space studies programme at UCT.

Martinez, the mission administrator for the Africa2Moon mission, said the proposals could investigate any question of space or lunar science.

"We are soliciting innovative mission concepts that could be achievable with the skills, capacities and resources currently in place in Africa," he noted.

Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Africa2Moon website by June 30, and must include elements of educational and public outreach. All proposals will be reviewed by a committee of African and international experts between July and October. This committee will then announce a shortlist for further study in November.

To submit a proposal, visit

Source: Weekend Argus


WASHINGTON – How to age gracefully? Ask a bowhead whale

To learn the secret behind aging gracefully, you may want to check out the bowhead whale, the majestic denizen of the Arctic waters that boasts a lifespan topping 200 years.

Scientists have unveiled the genetic blueprint for the bowhead whale, a genome chock full of clues behind this creature's exceptional longevity and remarkable disease resistance. Comparing its genome to other mammals, the scientists discovered differences in the whale's genes related to DNA repair, cell cycle, cancer and the aging process that may help explain its lifespan and vitality.

"This is the biggest animal whose genome has been sequenced thus far and the first big whale to be sequenced," said University of Liverpool geneticist João Pedro de Magalhães, who led the study published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

"By identifying novel maintenance and repair mechanisms, we hope to learn what the secret is for living longer, healthier lives and may be able to apply this knowledge to improve human health and preserve human life," Magalhães added.

Bowhead whales, which live longer than any other mammal, are among Earth's largest creatures. They reach up to 18 metres and are the second heaviest whale after the blue whale. They are mostly black, with the front part of their upturned lower jaw white. Bowhead whales are filter feeders that eat huge amounts of zooplankton.

"Bowhead whales have probably 1 000 times as many cells as humans, but they apparently have an anti-tumour response at the cell level that is far more efficient than what is found in humans," said biologist Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the University of Copenhagen.

Watch this National Geographic video of a bowhead whale

Source: Reuters

Creating 'a female MacGyver to inspire'

The creators of the classic 1980s TV series MacGyver are planning to produce "the first great TV show starring an iconic female engineer character", in a bid to inspire young women to take up science and engineering careers.

MacGyver, which starred Richard Dean Anderson as a mullet-sporting secret agent with the skills to build complex devices from whatever everyday items he had to hand, ran for seven series from 1985 to 1992. Rather than resort to violence, MacGyver saved the day with science.

"I could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, 'I became an engineer' or 'I went into the sciences' because of MacGyver," remarked the show's creator, Lee Zlotoff. He said he and his fellow organisers were looking for "a female hero that embodies the kind of engineering skill sets that MacGyver had, to inspire young people and particularly young women".

Official figures show that just 14 per cent of the US engineering workforce is female. In the UK it is just 6 per cent.

Source: The Independent

Heart of Earth's inner core revealed

Chinese and American researchers have cause to believe that the core of the planet has another, distinct region at its centre, different to the outer core believed to be solid all the way through.

Without the technology to be able to drill into the heart of the Earth, its make-up is something of a mystery. The best measurement tools for this kind of science rest in echoes generated during earthquakes, by analysing how they change as they travel through the different layers of our planet.

Prof. Xiaodong Song from the University of Illinois and his colleagues in China say this data suggests that the Earth's inner core – a solid region that is about the size of the Moon – is made up of two parts. The seismic wave data suggests that crystals in the "inner inner core" are aligned in an east-to-west direction - flipped on their side, if you are looking down at our planet from high above the North Pole. Those in the "outer inner core" are lined up north to south, so vertical if peering down from the same lofty vantage point.

Prof. Song said: "The fact that we are discovering different structures at different regions of the inner core can tell us something about the very long history of the Earth."

The core, which lies more than 5 000 km down, started to solidify about a billion years ago – and it continues to grow about 0.5 mm each year.

Commenting on the research, Prof. Simon Redfern from the University of Cambridge said: "Probing deeper into the solid inner core is like tracing it back in time, to the beginnings of its formation.

"People have noticed differences in the way seismic waves travel through the outer parts of the inner core and its innermost reaches before, but never before have they suggested that the alignment of crystalline iron that makes up this region is completely askew compared to the outermost parts.

"If this is true, it would imply that something very substantial happened to flip the orientation of the core to turn the alignment of crystals in the inner core north-south as is seen today in its outer parts."

He added that other studies suggest that the Earth's magnetic field may have undergone a change about half a billion years ago, switching between the equatorial axes and the polar axis.

"It could be that the strange alignment Prof. Song sees in the innermost core explains the strange palaeomagnetic signatures from ancient rocks that may have been present near the equator half a billion years ago," he added.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Source: BBC News