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Let’s “sea” chemistry at Scifest Africa 2019

By Tarryn Swartbooi, Thulwaneng Mashifane, Thomas Mtontsi, Nozipiwo Hambaze and Jennifer Mohale
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In 1996, the Grahamstown Foundation established the annual Scifest Africa festival with the purpose of promoting public awareness, understanding and appreciation of science, technology and innovation.

Scifest Africa 2019 took place in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape from 6 to 12 March. This year’s theme, “Discover your element”, celebrated the International Year of the Periodic Table of Elements created by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869.

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Learners identify fish species in Kariega Estuary

Learners test for pH in the lower, upper and middle sections of Kariega Estuary                        

SAEON @ Water World

SAEON’s Elwandle and Egagasini Nodes mounted an exhibition and held a workshop titled Let’s “Sea” Chemistry at Scifest Africa’s Water World. SAEON also ran an estuary workshop facilitated by Pakama Nodo, a PhD student at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB). Sibuya Game Reserve sponsored a boat to enable access to the upper reaches of the estuary.

The SAEON exhibition was designed to align with the theme and to raise public awareness about the ocean, its chemical properties and the many organisms that live within it. The Scifest Africa 2019 theme presented an opportunity for the team to demonstrate simplified hands-on experiments that mirror routine work performed on our ocean and estuary water samples.

Chemistry is often viewed as being difficult, boring, or a combination of the two. The SAEON exhibition at Scifest debunked this myth by showing learners and educators alike that chemistry can be fascinating and enjoyable.

Chemistry workshop

A total of 59 learners attended the SAEON Let’s “Sea” Chemistry workshop. All experiments were performed using recycled and easily accessible materials that can be used in previously disadvantaged schools.

The workshop simplified the complex science involved in ocean chemistry and presented alternative ways of explaining and illustrating routine work performed on water samples by scientists and technicians. Four interactive experiments were presented to demonstrate pH in water, conductivity and salinity, chlorophyll extraction and eutrophication.

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Learners conduct an ocean acidification experiment using their breath                                                                                                                                                                              

Testing which of the leaves have more chlorophyll                                                                                                                                                                                                         


The pH experiment demonstrated the dissolution of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in water and the process of ocean acidification. Measurements of salinity and conductivity from different solutions of known and unknown salt concentrations allowed the learners to plot and extrapolate information from graphs, therefore applying mathematical methods in chemistry.

Chlorophyll extraction is commonly used in studies of phytoplankton. This experiment demonstrated basic methods of chlorophyll extraction used for phytoplankton and qualitative analysis of concentrations using colour intensity from different leaves.

The eutrophication experiment gave the learners a glimpse of the role played by nutrient loading in primary production and formation of hypoxia.

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