Electricity + Control June 2018



Today’s science… tomorrow’s technology

R ecently, as I have done so often at this time of the year, I was privileged to accompany a group of South African learners to participate in the Intel ISEF in Pittsburgh, in the USA. The ISEF, or International Science and Engineering Fair is the largest pre-college science fair in the world, and ranked as the most successful pipeline into STEM in the world. I would not argue with those asser- tions. More than 1800 learners participated in this competitive fair, and I was one of approximately 1000 judges who evaluated their work. To say the experience is mind-blow- ing is an absolute understatement. Here we are looking at some of the brightest minds in the world, unshackled, in many respects, by those years of chemistry and physics training that rapidly make one ful- ly aware of what is not possible. Of course there is rigour, and most of the participants are well mentored in preparation for the competition. South Africa is engaged because the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists is an af- filiated fair, and as a result we can send a number of students across each year. This year we sent eight participants, and one more as an observer and also as a participant in the allied Broadcom MAS- TERS I can report that team South Africa achieved three awards overall ― two fourth in category and one special award. No matter how you analyse this, it is an outstanding achievement, and one that we can be genuinely proud of as a Nation. The challenge I pose once again, of course, is how we massify this level of ex- cellence to incorporate every young South

I can report, however, that the depart- ment of basic Education has for a number of years now been remarkably supportive of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, to the extent that they not only provide financial support to the organisation, but also have released many of their staff and facilities to engage in projects of the Es- kom Expo for Young Scientists. In itself this is a significant develop- ment, and one that we are deeply appre- ciative of. It is also important to note the involvement, at various levels, of many South African Universities in supporting these learners, and the huge number of South African volunteers, across the country, who make all of this possible. Finally, and although there are a num- ber of sponsors, including the Department of Science and Technology and SAASTA, Eskom must be acknowledged as the pri- mary sponsor ― and be commended for this real commitment to building STEM in South Africa. This year was my eighth opportunity to participate as a Grand Award judge ― and it is evident that the standards of science education right across the planet are im- proving all the while, and the opportunity being granted to bright young minds is as- tounding. I am mindful of our challenges in this area, and encourage everyone who can to get involved at the level of these learners as mentors, judges, advisors ― or simply role models.

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