Career Moves

Young SA scientist impresses at Eskom International Science Fair

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Thabo Maliea dreams of being an astrophysicist one day.
Thabo Maliea dreams of being an astrophysicist one day.

A teenage scientist from Botshabelo in the Free State has made SA proud, winning one of the awards at the 2021 Taiwan International Science Fair (TISF).

Eighteen-year-old Thabo Maliea, who dreams of being an astrophysicist one day, competed virtually as part of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists fair, impressing judges with his ingenuity, depth of knowledge and mastery of inquiry methodology displayed in his scientific research project “Sunprints in the sky”.

The project investigates the track the sun makes in comparison with three specific stars over a period of five months, using a homemade observational apparatus instead of expensive equipment.

Maliea, who was accepted to study astrophysics at Wits University and is on the University of Cape Town’s waiting list, received the third award in the astrophysics category, winning a cash prize of R1 055, a medal and a certificate.

“I have mixed emotions about winning an award, to be honest. I actually didn't expect to win a prize at the TISF because of how tough it is to compete in and the high international standards. Overall, I'm very happy and excited,” says Maliea.

The annual science fair is aimed at developing primary and high school scientists and innovators.

The expo is endorsed by the departments of public enterprises, science and technology, and basic education. Learners can enter their scientific investigation into one of the 24 categories, ranging from animal sciences, mathematics and statistics, to renewable energy, says Eskom.

“I have always wanted to do an astronomy project and participate with it in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, but I had only one setback: I couldn't afford to buy myself a useful observational apparatus. So then I decided to use a homemade one, because it is more affordable, and it was my best alternative,” explains Maliea.

Eskom GM of risk and sustainability Andrew Etzinger comments: “Eskom is extremely proud of our learners for their fantastic achievements, especially Thabo, whose fascination with the sun has gained him global recognition.

“Eskom’s investment in this national initiative, Expo for Young Scientists, is part of our broader strategy of skills development for the country. It is logical to invest in STEM at school-level, in order to support the learners at a key inflection point.”

Eskom Expo executive director Parthy Chetty said: “Eskom Expo carries an additional challenge of being the only official science fair representing SA, and during lockdown, we had to work twice as hard to provide our young scientists with a platform to pursue their passion.

“We are very proud that Thabo, who has competed with some of the best in the world, has brought home an award for SA, thereby reaffirming our confidence in our future innovators.”

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