Young researchers display their skills in Stellenbosch

Claudia Jepson from Rhenish Girls' High School in Stellenbosch.

The Stellenbosch Town Hall was a hive of activity last week, when 276 pupils from 24 different schools displayed their research projects, at the Stellenbosch regional competition of Eskom Expo for Young Scientists.

This competition is the largest of its kind at school level in South Africa, with pupils participating in 35 regions nationwide.

From each region a number of projects are selected to take part in the national competition in Johannesburg in October. Pupils may be selected at this event to further represent South Africa at international competitions.

Dr Trevor van Louw, director of the Centre for Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University (SUNCEP), says that the centre is excited about the entries, and especially about schools participating for the first time this year.

“Although a number of the new schools were from the Helderberg area, we sincerely hope that many more schools from this area will participate next year.

“It was truly inspiring to see so much enthusiasm among the youngsters,” said Dr Van Louw, and, “…since research projects have to be conducted as part of the school curriculum, schools may easily enter these projects in this competition.”

The 144 pupils from the Strand, Somerset West, Macassar, Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, displayed 108 projects. Of these, 19 projects won gold, 25 silver and 36 bronze medals, 22 projects were awarded for their research in specific categories and nine pupils were selected to be part of the team to represent this region at the International Science Fair (ISF) in Boksburg in October.

The best project in the Civil Engineering category by a senior pupil gave Bridgette O’Rein, from Klein Nederburg Secondary School in the Paarl, the chance of being selected as one member of this team. Bridgette was also part of the national team in 2015.

Also part of the 2016 team are two pupils from Rhenish Girls’ High School, Meg James and Claudia Jepson. Meg received a gold medal and the award for the best research project conducted by a senior learner in the Food Sciences category for her project “The polymer diet – A ‘growing’ trend.”

Claudia received a silver medal and the award for the best research project conducted by a senior pupil in the Innovation and Technology category for her project “Open water survival kit”.

According to Erika Hoffman, the chairperson of Eskom Expo for Young Scientists in the Stellenbosch region, the projects were assessed by about 80 teachers, lecturers and post graduate students from various faculties at Stellenbosch University as well as a few members from organisations such as iTembaLabs and the South African Weather Service.

“It is a valuable opportunity for teachers to gain experience in guiding and assessing research by acting as a judge at this competition since they work in groups and can learn from one another,” said Ms Hoffman.

During the event, Reddi Yashren from Spaceteq (Denel) intrigued the participants about robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones as they are also known).