Eskom Expo nurtures young scientists

Sinenhlanhla Dlamini won in 2016 for his energy project at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair. (Photo courtesy Eskom)

Sinenhlanhla Dlamini won in 2016 for his energy project at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair. (Photo courtesy Eskom)

The Eskom Expo for Young Scientists presents a platform for youngsters to show off their talents and encourages them to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (Stemi) fields. It’s the largest science fair in the country and teaches learners internationally benchmarked scientific methods, their importance and the application thereof required at university level. By actively encouraging young people to pursue Stemi careers, Eskom aims to address the country’s shortage of skills in the fields of science and engineering.

The competition, founded in 1980 by Professor Derek Grey, sees learners from 35 regions across the country competing for a place in the prestigious International Science Fair (ISF) held in Boksburg, Johannesburg. From the 8 972 learners who participated at a regional level in 2016, only the top 580 were selected to represent their regions at the ISF.

At the ISF the learners present their projects to a panel of judges that includes professionals from the private sector, academics, scientists and educators in a bid to take home a medal, a special award or a prized ticket to an overseas ISF.

2016 was another momentous one for the Eskom Expo with 5 393 female participants versus 3 564 male participants, with learners from Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe taking part for the fifth year in a row. Notably, 2016 saw phenomenal growth — 43% of schools in South Africa participated.

The expo is endorsed by the departments of public enterprises, basic education and science and technology. It has also received recognition from the presidency.

Some of the top performing learners of 2016

  • Sinenhlanhla Dlamini (18) from Ongoye Secondary School in Empangeni took home the top prize at the 2016 Eskom Expo ISF. The Grade 12 learner won a full scholarship to study in Germany, sponsored by Siemens. Her project was entitled Smart Home Energy Saver, in the Energy Efficiency and Conservation category.
  • Dlamini’s energy saver device, which is connected to a distribution box, helps reduce home energy usage. It monitors home appliances such as stoves, geysers, heaters and even television sets, using motion sensors and smoke detectors to ensure appliances are switched off when the owner leaves the home. The sensors detect whether there is someone in the house and switches on the relevant appliances when a person enters the home again.
  • Sanele Hlongwane (18) from Dr Joseph Shabalala Secondary School in Colenso (northern KwaZulu-Natal) managed to scoop six awards and a scholarship. Hlongwane’s project “Cheaper Solid State Rocket Fuel” focused on finding a cheaper alternative to hydrazine, the fuel used in rockets. The premise for his project was that rocket fuel is expensive, dangerous and hazardous to the environment if mishandled. Several attempts have been made to combat this problem. His project built on the foundations set by these attempts in order to obtain a cheaper, safer and more environmentally friendly fuel that is formulated from improving on the traditional propellant family fuels. His hypothesis was that propellants from different families can be made more powerful and cost effective with the addition of additives, propellant charges and binders.
  • His project was in the Physics, Astronomy and Space Science category. The young scientist won the best aerospace project and colours of creation awards, best PDI project and best project in the category, a gold medal, a Siemens award and a scholarship to study at Stellenbosch University. He also represented South Africa at the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project in May this year with his project.
  • Johann Naduvileparambil’s project “Powerless Shack Cooler” using recycled bottles was highly commended at the 2016 ISF, won a silver medal, best energy efficiency project and earned him a ticket to represent South Africa at the Taiwan International Science Fair in February. His project was in the Environmental Engineering category; he is from Hoërskool Bergvlam in Nelspruit. His project aims to save energy and to help the underprivileged with a cooler that uses no electricity, to improve their lives.
  • Made from recycled two-litre bottles, Johann installed his shack cooler in the window in the room with the most air flow. The measured the size of the room and and the window chosen. He installed a sturdy polystyrene board cut to the size of the window and drilled holes to the rim size of the bottles, spacing them according to the size of the bottles. He then cut the bottles in half: the bottle necks were slid through the holes with the necks open to the inside of the room and the half bodies to the outside. The then placed a thermometer in the room and measured the temperature at different intervals, conducting the same procedure in another room to compare results. His results showed that the room temperature decreased over time inside the room where the Powerless Shack Cooler was installed, while the control room basically maintained its initial temperature.