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SAEON Intern pays benchmarking visit to iThemba LABS


The iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences provides facilities for basic and applied research using particle beams; particle radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer; and the supply of accelerator-produced radioactive isotopes for nuclear medicine and research.


SAEON Intern Busiswa Matyholo acquired new skills during her benchmarking visit to iThemba LABS.

- Busiswa Matyholo, Intern, SAEON Egagasini Node

The SAEON Egagasini Node arranged a one-week visit for SAEON Intern Busiswa Matyholo to iThemba LABS in September 2011. The purpose of the visit was for Busiswa to observe and learn more about the iThemba LABS education outreach programme, as well as to serve as a benchmarking exercise aimed at fine-tuning the Egagasini Node’s education outreach programme.

iThemba LABS (Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences) is a research facility of the National Research Foundation (NRF) based in the Western Cape Province. Their research is based on nuclear physics, focusing more on structure of atomic nucleus, reaction mechanisms that influence nuclear reactions and production of radionuclide and particle therapy produced by accelerated protons.

Sharing a passion for science

Their Community Interaction and Training Division runs education outreach programmes for university and technikon students and learners from high schools all over South Africa. Dr Gillian Arendse, who heads up the Division, is passionate about enlightening South African youth about science.

The objective of the programme is to expose students and learners to the real-life application of the information taught in the classroom and to develop their interest in science. When higher education institutions and schools arrange to visit the facility, the physicists on site are always enthusiastic about giving presentations and explaining their research projects.

The students and learners start the tour by watching a video explaining the iThemba LABS research processes before embarking on a tour to view the huge instruments used for the research. The tour is very informative -- there is a scientist in each laboratory who explains the processes and responds to questions.

The outreach programme also hosts awareness programmes such as science weeks and science festivals, demonstrating fascinating science-based experiments. The programme strives to get to every young individual in South Africa, despite the fact that this is not an easy goal to achieve! The Division receives invitations from institutions and schools for motivational talks and science demonstrations.

Investigating opportunities for future collaboration

During my visit I was asked to prepare a brief presentation on the SAEON Egagasini Node’s education outreach programme. The constructive criticism I received assisted me in fine-tuning my presentation. Dr Arendse was interested to know more about our programme, with a view to bringing their learners to the Egagasini Node or inviting us when they host an event.

We are currently investigating the possibility of taking our learners to iThemba LABS. However, as only grade 11 and 12 learners are allowed inside the labs in view of safety regulations, we are considering alternative arrangements such as a video about the facility.

I also attended the presentations given to two universities from the Eastern Cape (University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University) during their visit to the facility, and I was impressed by the lively way the researchers interacted with the students. I also really liked the idea of showing them a video before the tour. The programme does not have many people available to assist Dr Arendse, but the visits are well planned to compensate for that.

I would like to thank the Community Interaction and Training Division staff, in particular Dr Arendse, for the ideas and information they shared with me; Thabo Ramosie, Human Resource Practitioner for making the arrangement possible; Vinoliah Martins, Events Manager and Luchricia Sidukwana, Office Coordinator for their warm welcome and for allowing me to share their office. I really appreciate your kindness.

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