Fish Hoek High school hall was filled with an exciting and colourful display of Grade 8 and Grade 10 ESKOM Science Expo projects in mid May 2012. The ESKOM Science Expo is a curriculum based research project. At its elementary level it introduces learners to basic research techniques. For enthusiastic young scientists, with a keen interest in natural or physical science it is an opportunity to develop and showcase their ideas and inventions. Learners whose projects are awarded Gold Medals get an opportunity to present them at the National EXPO in Johannesberg. In 2011, Zoe Saffer Gray from Fish Hoek High received a Gold Medal for her project on the Public Perception of the Shark Warning Flags. Read more at: http://scenicsouth.co.za//2011/05/project-shows-that-shark-spotting-flags-are-confusing/
Research Topics a Window into the World of Teenagers’ Interests
A walk around the Fish Hoek High School hall where teachers were still marking the EXPO projects late into the evening revealed a wide range of informative projects. The selection of topics was a window into the world of teenagers’ interests. Judging by a few hastily stuck together projects science was not every ones interest, but most projects reflected effort and imagination. Some topics had clearly been chosen so that the researcher could justify spending time on their favourite activity. Suddenly fishing, skate –boarding and soccer were legitimate homeworkas learners researched: Which bait is most likely to catch Galjoen? Does the size of the wheels and the rider’s stance affect a skate – boarders speed? The mechanics of kicking a soccer ball, or What size barrel will fire a potato further? I guess that quite a few Dads enjoyed these projects as much as their sons?
The schools computer wiz-kids demonstrated their ease with computer technology. Do you know what WEP, WPA or WPA2 is and which is most secure? Read on. One learner searched the internet for tools that can break into wireless modems to determine which wireless security has the weakest encryption. (Encryption! In my day the Rosetta Stone was still considered a marvel) If you use a wireless modem, you will need to know that the student found that WPA was weakest. One of the best projects was an assessment of the risks to fellow classmates who are FaceBook fanatics to phishing and loss of privacy. The huge amount of time that fellow students spent on FaceBook was as scary (to the teachers) as the outcome of the research. Generally Facebook users were found to be unaware of the risks to their privacy and the implications of this.
The research that recorded that adults can pass a Standard Grade 9 Natural Science Test restored my sense of worth somewhat. But it seems as if this ability does not improve our driving. Picking up on a highly topical and relevant local issue, one student researched the traffic violations on Kommetjie Road. She looked at whether the new overhead robots at the intersection on Kommetjie Road increased the number of cars jumping the red light as opposed to last year. She noted that 53 cars jumped the red light in a four hour stake-out at the lights in 2011 as opposed to 60 cars jumping the lights in a four hour stint this year. Her concluding comment was that the traffic lights were not the issue but the blatant disregard for the rules of the road. What kind of role model are some adults for the younger generation?
I found it reassuring to see that the Environment was also a prominent research topic. The photo on the LHS is of a simple solar powered desalination plant and poster to explain the process. It is no surprise that sharks, chumming and the issues around sharks were the subject of a number of investigations. Other environmental issues researched included assessing the affectivity of environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical household cleaners. One learner got his / her family to co-operate in an electricity efficiency drive by implementing common electricity saving tips. The conclusion was that the efficiency measures resulted in a very impressive saving of 6.98 units per day and `was not difficult to implement.’
Another student researched the question: “ What alternative is there to beef, with the same protein level, and is better than beef”. Answer: “Lion whole lentils are cheaper, better for the environment and healthier than beef.” No excuse not to commit to Meat free Monday!
But not all environmentally friendly products are fashion friendly as the pair of girls who experimented to see whether potato starch straightened hair better than a commercial product found out! They did not explain how they chose which of them would try the potato starch, but the result was a definite No! No!. “Potato starch does not work as it leaves the hair stiff and sticky.”
ESKOM Science Expo can open doors to scholarships and encourage entrepreneurship!
The ESKOM Science Expo is can be a gateway to great achievements. Do you know the story of the young South African who had a small planet named after him? Siyabulela Xuza who hails from Umtata in the Eastern Cape and was awarded an Academic Scholarship to St John’s College after receiving a gold medal at an ESKOM Science Expo. Siyabulela had a dream to invent a fuel that was more energy dense than the rocket fuel used by NASA. He build a rocket which broke the South African Amateur Altitude Record which he entered into the Eskom National Science Expo. Apart from winning Gold there he won the Dr Derek Gray Memorial Award for the most prestigious project in South Africa.
He claims that the best prize was being invited to the International Youth Science Fair in Sweden where he met the King and Queen of Sweden and attended the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm.
“The consequence of that was to be entered into the world’s biggest student science event at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the US. I won two top awards but what really made my day was that the Nasa-affiliated Lincoln Laboratory was so impressed by my achievement that they named a minor planet after me!” If you have a powerful-enough telescope, you will find his planet, “Siyaxuza”, near Jupiter in the night sky. After matriculating Siyabulela Xuza received a full scholarship to study at Harvard University in the USA. And it all started with a love for chemistry and an ESKOM Science EXPO Project.