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Eskom Expo for Young Scientists: Announcing the winners of the SAEON Special Awards

By Joe Sibiya, Science Engagement Officer, SAEON Ndlovu Node
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In October, the 38th International Science Fair (ISF) was held at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre in Gauteng as part of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists.

SAEON participated in the ISF to present the SAEON Special Awards for the three top environmental science projects that are aligned to SAEON’s environmental monitoring and research mandate.

The Eskom Expo for Young Scientists serves as a platform for and stimulus to aspiring scientists, mathematicians, engineers and innovators to showcase their acumen in science at all levels of the Science Fair. These bright young learners dream of receiving that gold medal, a special award or being selected to participate in the International Science Fair abroad.

Joe Sibiya (SAEON) and Dr Lita Pauw (South African National Biodiversity Institute - SANBI) were tasked to identify the best research projects in the category for environmental monitoring that are aligned to SAEON’s mandate and to present the SAEON Special Awards. A rubric-score sheet was used as a guide to adjudicate the 15 learner projects in the environmental science category.

The adjudicators took part in two judging sessions consisting of pre-judging and interviews with the learners. The pre-judging session gave them a glimpse of the thinking behind each project and the amount of effort that was put into each project.

The interviews with the learners provided an in-depth understanding of each project. “It was interesting to interact with the learners and listen to them presenting their projects with enthusiasm and confidence,” says Joe.

Afterwards the adjudicators met to discuss their perspectives and to arrive at a final score.

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From left: Pertunia Ntswaki (DST-NRF intern at SAEON), Dr Lita Pauw (SANBI), Tosca Stoloff, Martina Fouché, Dani Jansen Van Rensburg, Kogie Govender (SAEON’s Science Engagement Coordinator) and Joe Sibiya (SAEON Science Engagement Officer)

This year’s winners were…

Martina Fouché, a grade 7 learner from Lochnerhof Primary School in Stellenbosch, won the award in the junior category for her project titled ‘The starry sea stars of the intertidal rocky shore’, which was entered in the category Animal and veterinary, including maritime animals.

This baseline study/project focused on the distribution and colour morphology of dwarf cushion-stars in the rocky shore near Gansbaai. A total of 518 dwarf cushion-stars were collected from the intertidal rocky shore along two transects, which included five rock pools each. Dwarf cushion-stars were found in all the intertidal zones. Martina’s study concluded that there were no significant differences in the size of the individuals, but there were differences in their colour patterns.

Tosca Stoloff, a grade 8 learner from Victoria Girls’ High School in Grahamstown, scooped a SAEON award for her project titled ‘Mytilus vs Perna: which will be the ultimate survivor?’ entered in the category Environmental Science: changes to the environment (e.g. pollution, climate change, carbon emissions and ecology). Tosca’s study was influenced by the assumption that carbonic acid creates ocean acidification from CO2 pollution.

To prove the claim, she conducted two experiments to compare the effect of ocean acidification on Mytilus galloprovincialis (invasive) and Perna (indigenous) shells. Shells were put into solutions – basic, control and acidic solution for experiment 1; and control, acidic and more acidic for experiment 2. Perna lost less weight compared with Mytilus in experiment 1; and Mytilus lost less weight than Perna in experiment 2.

Dani Jansen Van Rensburg, a learner from Hillcrest High School in Kwa-Zulu-Natal Central, won the third SAEON award for her project titled ‘Urth: Optimising weather data accessibility through citizen science’, entered in the category Earth Science (Geography, Geology and Oceanography) and housing and settlement, which had an emphasis on IT and engineering.

Dani designed, developed and tested a computer application which allows weather stations and members of the general public to upload weather data which can provide a platform for meteorologists, researchers, the general public, environmentalists and students to easily access historical weather data. This project can be used as an educational tool in classrooms and accommodates people with impaired vision.

Despite it being an engineering or IT focused category at the Eskom Expo, this intriguing project caught the attention of the SAEON Special Award judges due to the fact that this tool is applicable to SAEON’s Schools Weather Station Programme. It will be of interest for SAEON to explore and establish how Dani uses her computer app at her school to determine if it can be used in SAEON schools that have weather stations.

The winners each received a pair of binoculars, a framed certificate and a book titled Observations on Environmental Change in South Africa.

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