FameLab South Africa, the national leg of the world’s largest science communication competition, is about to reach its climactic final. Get inspired by the 15 charismatic young scientists who are transforming South Africa with their innovative research and their infectious passion for sharing it.
BOIPELO POHO – TSHWANE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
Boipelo Poho is an aspiring analytical chemist from Virginia, a small town in Free State province. She is currently studying at the Tshwane University of Technology. Her current research investigates using a graphene battery as the source of energy in desalination. The project hopes to provide solutions for improved water quality in rural arears in South Africa, whether there is a scarcity of water or poor water quality. Boipelo believes that science is of great benefit to humanity and hopes to improve awareness of how science can impact our everyday lives.
CHARMAINE TSHANGANA – UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
Charmaine Tshangana is a 2nd year PhD candidate in chemistry at UNISA’s Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability Research Unit. Pursuing her childhood dreams, she completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry and then continued with her honours and master’s degrees at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape. During this time, her love and passion for research solidified and she knew then she wanted to spend the rest of her life solving complex issues with research. She says communicating science helps non-scientists understand the nuances and complexities of science within society and how our innovations contribute and shape everyday life.
GILLIAN MAHUMANE – UNIVERSITY OF WITWATERSRAND
Gillian is studying towards a PhD at the University of Witwatersrand’s Advanced Drug Delivery Platform Research Unit. Gillian’s research focuses on treatment for traumatic brain injury. Her research aims to develop a novel scaffold that mimics brain tissue to potentially aid in the repair or regeneration of neural tissue after injury. Gillian believes is takes a village to generate new knowledge through science, and we all have a role to play from the birth of an idea to its fruition.
NJABULO MDLULI – UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU NATAL
Njabulo is a Master’s student in marine biology from the small town of Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal at the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains. He is currently studying at the Westville Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and his work focuses on marine conservation. His research focuses on zooplankton, the small animals that float in the oceans including larvae of fish and invertebrates. His research helps to inform the planning of marine protected areas and management of fisheries. Njabulo believes that science is for everyone, and that the only way science can be effective in changing the world is through effective communication.
GOITSEMANG DIKANE – CENTRAL UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
Goitsemang is a Master’s student in plant breeding at Central University of Technology and the Agricultural Research Council Grain Crop Institute. His current research focuses on the legume, cowpea. Weevil infestations can cause 90 to 100% loss of crops. This affects both developing and developed countries, hindering food supply throughout the year. He is using weevil resistant cowpea genes to improve more susceptible varieties. He urges scientists to interact with society to respond to any ethical concerns in their work. These interactions will create informed and engaged communities in future generations.
KELEBOGILE MOJANAGA – UNIVERSITY OF WITWATERSRAND
Kelebogile is a Master’s students in clinical psychology at the University of Witwatersrand. Her work focuses on local cultural-specific models of parenting, and on an Afrocentric version of what makes a parent “good enough”. Her interest in infant mental health in early childhood development in developing countries has highlighted that the ways in which stress on mothers can impact their child’s rate of development, and mental and physical health. She hopes her work will be useful for the development of effective parenting intervention programs for local mothers.
MATIA MUKAMA – STELLENBOSCH UNIVERSITY
Matia is a food scientist, studying toward a PhD at Stellenbosch University. He says his ultimate goal is to contribute to science and technological innovations that ensure food and nutrition security. His research focusses on packaging of fruit, especially pomegranates, for which there is increasing demand. Poorly designed cartons with inadequate ventilation can profoundly affect airflow, cooling rate and uniformity of stacked produce, which leads to postharvest losses. Matia says there is always a way around a problem, but effective communication is critical, as the solution may not be visible to the person affected by the problem.
MERRISA NAIDOO – UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU-NATAL
Merrisa is pursuing a master’s degree in marine biology at the Westville campus of the University of Kwazulu-Natal, in collaboration with the Knysna Basin Project. Over the past decade, marine microplastic pollution has become the forefront of many issues that affect marine systems. Merrisa’s research is assessing the levels of microplastic pollution (plastic particles less than 5 mm in size) within the Knysna Estuary and its occurrence in juvenile fish and syngnathids (the family of fish that includes pipefish, which are relatives of the endangered Knysna seahorse). Merrisa believes that nothing in science has any value if not communicated to others.
NIKITA GORLACH – NELSON MANDELA UNIVERSITY
Nikita is pursuing a master’s degree in mathematical statistics, with a focus on data science application to finance, at Nelson Mandela University. Her research aims to identify the most effective machine learning algorithms that can be used to predict whether the stock market is in a high or low volatility state at any given time – valuable information for asset managers among others. Nikita believes scientists have the potential to change the status quo and should be skilled in effective communication otherwise, an idea and its potential to bring about change may never materialise.
STEPHANIE LATHE – STELLENBOSCH UNIVERSITY
Stephanie is a master’s student in clinical anatomy at Stellenbosch University. Stephanie’s work aims to quantify the pelvic dimensions within South African population groups to assess pelvic confinement. Her research aims to help identify potentially difficult colorectal procedures in men with a small pelvis and will help clinicians to determine the most appropriate approach to treating pelvic diseases, such as colorectal cancer. Stephanie believes that science communication is crucial and that communicating her research to those who could be affected by the outcome is her duty as a researcher and aspiring educator.
THASHEN NAIDOO – UNIVERSITY OF WITWATERSRAND
Thashen is a geophysics student at the University of Witwatersrand. His research focuses on earthquakes, looking for stress trends in seismic datasets. He hopes the work will contribute to more effective disaster management systems and improve the safety of miners. Thashen believes science communication is important as most people would never be exposed to a career like geophysics, yet we need young and innovative leaders in the field to help develop new or existing methods for the safety of humankind.
RITA SIANGA – UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN AND THE SOUTH AFRICAN CENTRE FOR EPIDEMIOLOGICAL MODELLING AND ANALYSIS (SACEMA)
With a master’s degree in mathematical sciences, Rita is working in the field of biostatistics, using mathematical models in the field of HIV research. After someone close to her died from HIV infection, she was determined to contribute to and use knowledge of how to treat and cure fast-evolving viruses like HIV. Rita uses mathematical modelling to describe patterns of evolution in HIV, helping to understand how the virus evolves (changes) over time and how to counter drug resistance. Rita believes that sharing knowledge allows everyone to work towards a common goal.
NOMVULA SHAKWANE – UNIVERSITY OF LIMPOPO
Nomvula is a master’s student in zoology at the University of Limpopo. Her research hopes to address issues of aquatic pollution, as our freshwater resources have been affected by human activity such as agriculture and mining, decreasing water quality. Nomvula is looking at how to use fish as indicators of the health of aquatic ecosystems. She feels that most scientific research affects the well-being of people, so it is important to empower them with the discoveries of research and the evidence necessary to empower them to make decisions about their lives.
STACI WARRINGTON – STELLENBOSCH UNIVERSITY
Staci is pursuing a master’s degree in botany, with a focus on invasion ecology. Her research focuses on Australian acacias, an invasive species in the Western Cape. One reason that acacias grow successfully in the Cape is their relationship with a particular soil bacteria which arrived with the plants from Australia. Staci’s research explores whether Australian acacias would have been quite as successful without the support of their Australian bacterial friends. Staci believes science communication is crucial for research to be noticed, implemented and effective and that scientists need to break free from the confines of scientific jargon to have straightforward and clear discussions about their research.
KENEILWE MOROPA – COUNCIL FOR SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH, AND TSHWANE UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
Keneilwe is a research intern at the National Centre for Nanostructured Materials at the CSIR and is applying nanotechnology to help address water pollution. Polymer (plastic) nano-composites are used to fuse to waste materials and remove heavy metals; pollutants from mining and industrial activities. She is passionate about science communication because it makes science, engineering and technology accessible to the public and helps cultivate the next generation of researchers and innovators. She says if she hadn't seen someone who looked like her and came from the same circumstances as her doing this work, she would have never thought it possible.