Young scientists shine at international fair




African News Agency


SOME OF South Africa’s best young scientists flew the flag high in Atlanta, USA, when they represented the country at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and the Broadcom Masters International Programme this week. Pupils from Protea Heights Academy, Curro Hermanus, and Durbanville and Somerset College showcased their scientific skills after their achievements at last year’s Virtual Eskom Expo International Science Fair. The projects selected to be entered in the competition ranged from research into the aerodynamics of Formula One cars to comparing two rocky shore ecosystems on different southern African coastlines. Audrey Hunn, 16, and Sarah Hackland, 15, of Protea Heights Academy, who led the coastal investigation, said their project set an important benchmark for future research on the long-term effects of global warming on species diversity. Sarah said they drew inspiration from the places where they had stayed during the December holidays. “I go to the south-east side of the country, and Audrey goes camping on the West Coast. We wanted to incorporate that into our project as it was a great method for monitoring climate change effects on the rocky shore ecosystems and how it affects the organisms and conditions that the organisms live in,” she said. Audrey said one of the best parts of the challenge was getting to know many different people – especially her teammates. “It made me feel so lucky that I had an opportunity many young scientists dream about. There were so many feelings going through my mind, like, ‘Will I be good enough, will I do my country, province and school proud?’ But the main feeling was a sense of ‘I did it!’ All the long hours of work and dedication paid off. “I hope to see myself as a psychiatrist in the years to come. Although my project for the 2022 ISEF Regeneron has nothing to do with what I want to become, this project has taught me so much in ways I could never fully express,” said Audrey. The young scientists competed alongside 1 748 pupils from more than 75 countries for nearly R126 million in prizes, including bursaries and gadgets. Eskom Expo’s Free State co-ordinator and the pupils’ chaperone, Nicho Swartz, said what made their projects stand out from the rest was they were executed and presented on a level far beyond the school curriculum. “It is unbelievable how much detail these pupils incorporated in their research. This was all done while having to balance a hybrid schooling system during Covid-19 and meeting the demands and discipline required to do an Eskom Expo project. This takes a dedication and work ethic often seen in our Eskom Expo participants. “There is this myth that science is only for certain individuals who have a certain IQ. Science is everything around us. It requires an individual who questions everything or is curious about the inner workings of things. “To start any research, no skills are required. Skills are learnt during the journey of doing a project. The beauty of this process is that it is self-driven and the learners just want to know more and more, without someone spoon-feeding them information. “When starting an Eskom Expo project, make sure you link it to a problem that you wish to address. Ask yourself, ‘What am I going to measure and how am I going to measure it? What are other factors that may impact my research?’ “And, finally, identify a mentor who will be able to guide you through the process,” said Swartz.