Activities of the NSTF Awards winners

Sharing the joys of photonics research: Prof Andrew Forbes

Professor Andrew Forbes from the School of Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand won the NSTF 2014/15 special Annual Theme Award for an exceptional contribution in photonics research (photonics refers to the harnessing of single particles of light).

He is regarded as an international expert in laser-beam shaping and heads a research programme investigating digital holography, optical communication, optical trapping and tweezing, and high-dimensional quantum entanglement.

Prof Forbes is committed to driving photonics in South Africa, and plays an important part in outreach and public education. He has given numerous talks and demonstrations at primary and high schools, as well as at science shows, and includes the general public through lectures and the media.

On 4 December 2015, Prof Forbes presented a Science Café talk at Stellenbosch University on the topic “Communicating light”, in celebration of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies. This event concluded the “Science Fridays @Stellenbosch” initiative that is a platform for discussions of science communication.  As a result, the audience consisted mainly of people with science communication at heart, as well as physicists.

Prof Forbes elaborated on how people could benefit from light, emphasizing that most of Africa is light-poor. He said that we are in the century of photonics, which is the sciences of light, and the most cost-effective and clean form of light that holds promise to light up Africa.

Prof Forbes pointed out that photonics has revolutionised medicine with “cellnostics” that introduced a move from social media to social health. Through a downloadable app, individuals can receive a preliminary diagnosis of a skin condition based on interrogation of health databases. He also spoke about various experiments where his students use water and paper with photonics to decrease the size and weight of lenses. The aim is to develop a paper-thin mobile phone.

Another important area highlighted by Prof Forbes is the less-known term “li-fi” technology which is a ground-breaking light-based communication technology that makes use of light waves instead of radio technology to deliver data faster and in greater volume – the future Internet.

In terms of tertiary education, Forbes has delivered photonics course lectures at various universities to promote the subject matter. In 2009, he started a project to introduce photonics into previously disadvantaged institutions. Due to this intervention, the University of Fort Hare has its first photonics course at fourth year physics level, has graduated its first MSc students, and now has its first PhD students. The intention is to expand the programme to other institutions.

Within Africa, Forbes has organised and hosted several African photonics training workshops, delivered special courses and lectures, and has co-hosted the annual African Laser Centre Student Workshop for the past several years.

Click here to read more about Prof Forbes’ work, or listen to a podcast of an audio interview with him.

Learning more about teacher training: Talk by Ms Zorina Dharsey, Director of the Primary Science Programme

Ms Zorina Dharsey, Director of the Western Cape Primary Science Programme (PSP), presented a motivational talk to students at the University of the Western Cape on 14 October 2015.

The PSP, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) that provides primary school teacher development, won the 2014/15 NSTF Award for achievement by an NGO through technology transfer or training activities.

Its work is underpinned by international research that shows competent teachers are the key to greater educational progress. The PSP focuses on science and maths but includes languages, social sciences and environmental education.


Ms Dharsey’s talk was aimed at motivating and inspiring young teachers; she told them they would face challenges in an imperfect school system.

Holding her NSTF trophy high, she encouraged the students to persevere. She also showed them some of her organisation’s  educational materials aimed at guiding and supporting new teachers.

In a practical activity, student volunteers were handed a battery, tiny bulb and two short electrical wires. Using these, they had to produce light. The three students who managed this first, each received a copy of her guide for new teachers. In this way, she encouraged the young teachers to inspire children with interest and passion for maths and science by incorporating interactive, practical hands-on methods in their teaching to make lessons exciting for children. Her main message to students standing at the beginning of their careers was to creatively bring the light of knowledge to their learners.

Click here to read more about the PSP and its activities.

Prof Bob Scholes on climate change and South Africa

Prof Bob Scholes, winner of the 2014/15 NSTF Award for individual achievement over a lifetime, presented a talk at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg on 29 October 2015.

Prof Scholes is one of the top 1% of environmental scientists in the world. He is recognised globally as a leading researcher within environmental science, systems ecology, savannah ecology and global change. Scholes is currently a distinguished professor of systems ecology at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Prof Scholes pointed out that SA is an especially climate-vulnerable country; thanks to a climate anomaly, we get both drier and hotter as the global average temperature rises (for the rest of the world, the experience is hotter and moister).

An article entitled Climate change: SA working hard behind the scenes, published on the website on 30 October 2015, provides a good summary of Prof Scholes’ talk.

Current Activities

Winner Science
Science Centre
Dr Thulani  Makhalanyane


12 Feb. 2016 – Taung, North West, (+ 100 learners) 12 Feb. 2016 – NWU Mafikeng, North West, (+ 60 students) 11 Feb. 2016 – NWU Mafikeng Science Centre, North West, (+ 60 learners)
Prof Martin Hill  24 Feb. 2016 – UNIVEN, Limpopo, (students & staff)
Prof Zander Myburg 25 Feb. 2016 – Sci-Bono, Johannesburg, (+ 50 adults)  
Prof Nigel Bennett 16 Mar. 2016 – SAASTA Observatory, Johannesburg, (adults) 16 Mar. 2016 – SAASTA Observatory, Johannesburg, (+ 60 learners)  

Activities completed by 2014/15 Award Winners

Winner Science
Science Centre
Dr Thulani  Makhalanyane


1)5 Aug. 2015 – Tshitavha Village, Limpopo, (+ 1000 learners)

2)6 Aug. 2015 – Tshitavha Village, Limpopo, (+ 1000 learners)

3) 7 Aug 2015 – Moipone Science Centre, Tembisa (134 learners)

4) 15 Aug 2015 -Zipunzini Community Hall, Piet Retief, Mpumalanga (41 learners)

Prof Zander Myburg       6 Aug. 2015 -Arcelormittal Science Centre, Sebokeng (94 learners)
Prof Deon de Beer 7 Aug. 2015 – North West University, Potchefstroom Campus (59 adults)    
Prof Deon de Beer 28 September – Mangosuthu University of Technology (+ 300)     28 Sep  – Africa Engineering Week at Mangosuthu University of Technology (50 learners)
Prof Andrew Forbes 12 October 2015 – University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville campus (47 students and adults) 12 October 2015 – Grade 9-12 learners at Bonela Secondary School, KwaZulu-Natal (52 learners) 13 October 2015 – University of the Witwatersrand (101 first year students in various physics fields)
Ms Zorina Dharsey, Director, Western Cape Primary  Science Programme     14 October 2015 – University of the Western Cape (200 B.Ed and PGCE students)  
Prof Robert Scholes 29 October 2015 – Speak to a Scientist Science Cafe at Sci-Bono Discovery Centre      
Total 4 1 2 6