‘Catching the light’ team inspire Rainbow Nation youngsters

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A team of scientists from Swansea and Bangor University have returned from a trip of a lifetime helping children in South Africa to explore the exciting world of chemistry, light and colour.

The scientists from Wales worked with the University of ZwaZulu-Natal delivering scientific outreach workshops to more than 1300 children. The aim of the “Catching the Light with the Rainbow Nation” project was to increase the popularity and understanding of chemistry in Mafikeng and Durban, South Africa.

Project leader Dr Matthew Lloyd Davies, a SPECIFIC Technology Transfer Fellow; was accompanied by a team of 15 scientists from Wales and South Africa . The project was funded by SPECIFIC which is an academic and industrial consortium led by Swansea University, with Tata Steel as the main industrial partner, funded by EPSRC, Technology Strategy Board and the Welsh Government. The event is also supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The team worked with the charity SOS Africa to deliver the workshops. SOS Africa funds the education and care of the poorest children from the townships of Mafikeng, South Africa. The ethos of the charity is “empowerment through education”.

Dr Davies, originally from Neath, who works at Bangor University said: “ The project was extremely ambitious delivering workshops to more than 1300 children over the course of two weeks.

"On top of this the team ran public lectures, school discussion groups and had an afternoon of teaching chemistry and light to wonderful children who are helped through their education by the charity SOS Africa."

Rainbow nation kids 2

In Durban, the labs of the School of Chemistry and Physics (UKZN University) were used to host local high schools who undertook workshops on making dye-sensitised solar cells from fruit and everyday materials.

The team then made the long journey through the Drakensberg Mountains to Mafikeng where they faced a hectic week with workshops for around 1,000 children across two different high schools in the area, Golfview High School and Mafikeng High School, as well as the Early Learning Centre (ELC) for children aged one to six years.

Rainbow nation kids

Dr Davies said: "Workshops here were organised by Henry and Jenny Matthews, who run the South Africa side of the charity SOS Africa.

"This gave the team the opportunity, on rare breaks from running workshops, to witness the excellent work being done by the charity and how it provides empowerment through education, love and a safe environment to learn for underprivileged children in Mafikeng."

The team also donated sports and schools equipment.

Dr Davies, added: "It was a wonderful thing to do, all the children that attended the workshops were so attentive, enthusiastic and appreciative of what we were doing.

"The number one aim was to inspire the children to take a greater interest in science and from the feedback and I really feel we have achieved it.

"It is my hope (and that of all of the team) that some of these children will further discover the wonderful and exciting world of chemistry and science and go on to have very successful and happy lives and careers."

Comments which have been made about the trip include:

Albert Landman, Headteacher of Mafikeng High School:

“…I would say that it was a good experience. Your programme can, maybe, just be the spark for a few outstanding scientists! Thank you once again for your trouble. The students really enjoyed it and we enjoyed having you here. Everything of the best with the work and your programme to make things better in Africa.”

Wilma Store, Headteacher of Golfview High School.:

“Enjoyment, motivation, inspiration. They (the people of Mafikeng) all look at science different even the teachers. It was a pleasure hosting you.”

Henry Matthew, president of SOS Africa:

“The 'Catching the Light' Scientist group were simply amazing - such a lovely group of people and a credit to their chosen profession!! Science has come alive for over 1000 schoolchildren over the past 2 weeks”

The Scientists from Wales have put together a video recording the successful trip which can be viewed here

  • For more information about the visit and project please contact Dr Matthew Lloyd Davies (m.davies@bangor.ac.uk)
  • The project brings together, and builds upon, three aspects of the team’s experience and expertise: charity work, science outreach activities, and research and international research collaborations. Dr Matthew Lloyd Davies MRSC (Technology Transfer Fellow) is project leader with supporting team members as follows:
  •  UK:  Dr Peter Douglas FRSC (Senior Lecturer, Swansea University; Honorary Professor University KwaZulu-Natal, Durban), Dr Cecile Charbonneau (Technology Transfer Fellow, SPECIFIC, Swansea University), Dr Bruce Philip (Technology Transfer Fellow, SPECIFIC, Swansea University), Dr Khalil Khan (Technology Transfer Fellow, SPECIFIC, Swansea University), Carol Glover (Technology Transfer Fellow, SPECIFIC, Swansea University), Joel Troughton (Research Engineer), Peter Greenwood (Research Engineer), Rhys Charles (Research Engineer), Ingrid Hallin (Zienkowicz Postgraduate Scholar, School of Engineering, Swansea), Dr Mike Garley MInstP (Formerly, Chemistry Department, Swansea University). 
  • RSA: Prof Bice Martincigh (Associate Professor, SACI KZN Section Chair, Chair of the FFS Expo for Young Scientists) and Dr Vincent Nyamori (Senior Lecturer, holder of UKZN Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award for young researchers) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. Matt Crowcombe (Founder of the SOS Africa charity UK) and Henry Matthews (Founder of the SOS Africa charity RSA).
  • For more information about SPECIFIC go to http://www.specific.eu.com
  • For more information about the Swansea University College of Engineering go to http://www.swansea.ac.uk/engineering
  • For more information about SOS Africa go to www.sosafrica.com