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National Science Week celebrations showcase science in the arid lands

By Mthokozisi Moyo, Science Engagement Intern, SAEON Arid Lands Node
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The SAEON Arid Lands Node hosted various events from 30 July to 4 August to celebrate National Science Week* (NSW) in the Northern Cape Province.

This year's theme was Deepening our democracy through science. Celebrations at the Arid Lands Node took the form of three separate events held in different locations.

The first event took place at the McGregor Museum on 30 July. Members of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) and the public were invited to attend.

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EPWP members participate in the tree-ring activity at the McGregor Museum (Photo: Joh Henschel)

Learners of Greenpoint High School  learn more about careers in the environmental sciences (Photo: Joh Henschel)

Participating stakeholders included Sol Plaatje University, SANParks, the South African Weather Service (SAWS), the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Mokala National Park, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Northern Cape Department of Environment and Nature Conservation (DENC) and Brian Culver, a local citizen scientist.

Topics that were presented covered a wide spectrum. People were taught how to identify birds and how to determine water quality using miniSASS, where the micro-invertebrates in water are used to test the quality of the water.

Those interested in land rehabilitation learnt more about the effects of land degradation and how land can be restored. They were also given the opportunity to see what an ant looks like under a microscope. Visitors were moreover shown how weather measurements are taken and how tree rings are used to determine age and stress in trees.

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Learners conduct miniSASS water quality testing at the Riet River within the Mokala National Park (Photo: Brian Culver)

Most of the people who attended found the event interesting and educational. This was largely because the science was fairly simple and most of the exhibitors spoke in the home language of the visitors, which made it easier for them to understand.

Careers Fair

The next event was a Careers Fair held at Greenpoint High School on 1 August to showcase the various career options available in environmental science. Learners were introduced to careers in water (DWS), nature conservation (SANParks), meteorology (SAWS), agriculture (DAFF) and air quality and climate change (DENC).

Members of the public from that community also attended to learn more about science.

Grade 10 Science Camp

The NSW celebrations came to an end with the Grade 10 Science Camp that was held at the Mokala National Park from 2 to 4 August. Grade 10 learners that are part of the node's Science Engagement programme (SAEON Kids) attended this camp.

The learners were introduced to aspects of vegetation monitoring, bird watching and miniSASS. They learnt how to sample vegetation using the belt transect method and identified some of the plant species found in the area.

They also learnt more about the birds found in the park and how to identify them. Many were amazed by how important birds are within an ecosystem.

The miniSASS activity taught the learners how to check water quality in a river by using micro-invertebrates. Data was collected during these activities and the learners had to analyse the data and present on it. This experience taught them the scientific method of carrying out a study, collecting data, analysing data, drawing conclusions from the data and presenting their findings.

On the Saturday afternoon the learners were taken on a game drive. "It was an interesting experience because I usually see these animals on television, so it was great to see them with my own eyes," said one of the learners.

Other learners spoke about how amazing it was not only to learn about environmental science, but also to get first-hand experience of it. Their response to the activities was very positive and some of the learners are looking to pursue a career in science.

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SAEON Kids at the Grade 10 Science Camp held at Mokala National Park (Photo: Brian Culver)

The budding young scientists learn how to sample vegetation (Photo: Brian Culver)

* National Science Week (NSW) is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology that aims to promote science in the country. Various organisations host science-based events that showcase the science that is being done in the country. NSW is coordinated by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA).

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