Chance to go full-steam ahead

An exciting new science and technology train could, in the near future, be pulling into a station near you. You can expect to find laboratories, exhibitions, demonstrations and classes on board.

Who said science has to be taught in a classroom? 
Thirteen passenger-train coaches and 10 freight wagons are ready and waiting at Koedoespoort, Pretoria, to be refurbished as the new South African Science and Technology Train initiative.

The train will be kitted out primarily to do research of a geoscientific nature, but it will also be used to engage South Africans from all walks of life with science, engineering, mathematics and innovation.

The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement will co-ordinate the science-awareness programme and an education team will develop the outreach component of the train. This will include, among other things: developing educational programmes and demonstrations; conceptualising and manufacturing exhibitions; science concepts and displays in the train; and facilitating its connection to the department of science and technology.

The train will support the department’s network of science centres with on-board science exhibitions that will travel with the train from town to town, reaching large numbers of children and adults who would not otherwise have had the means or the opportunity to view and attend science exhibitions and lectures.

Because the train is made up of “modules” (the coaches and wagons will be individually equipped for a specific function), the planned outcomes of each mission at any particular time will determine the specific composition of the train. This could include specially equipped coaches for other scientific disciplines, such as chemistry, botany or zoology.

Fully sustainable
The train will have living quarters, laboratories, working areas and all of the required equipment, laboratories and vehicles. It will be fully sustainable in terms of water and electricity and will be 100% environmentally friendly — it will have, for example, a closed sewerage system, a power-generation unit and solar panels.

The initiative came out of partnerships between universities, science councils, and the private and public sectors, with Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the Africa Earth Observation Network as the senior partners. The Tshwane Institute of Advanced Studies at TUT will manage the train.

“Day-to-day problems in rural communities and municipalities, such as the availability of clean drinking water and sources of suitable building material, will be addressed wherever it travels,” said Dr Stoffel Fourie from TUT.

The train will also provide access to a postbox for the department of home affairs, which will enable people from the rural areas where the train visits to submit documents. The train will deliver these to the department on their behalf.

Ina Roos is the editor, corporate communication, for the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement

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