August 2, 2023

2023 National Science Week Launch: AIMS Highlights Mathematics’ Contributions to the Modern World & Communication

On 22 July,  AIMS, through the House of Science, joined over 70 science, technology and innovation (STI) exhibitors from universities, science councils, national research facilities, industry, science centres, government departments and relevant non-governmental organisations across the country at the official Launch of the 2023 South Africa National Science Week (NSW). NSW is an annual week-long celebration of STI and one of the many Department of Science & Innovation-led activities to build a South African society that is knowledgeable about science, critically engaged and scientifically literate.  2023 NSW  focus week is being celebrated from 31 July to 5 August throughout the country. The theme for NSW 2023 is Transforming lives through evidence-based science. The Launch took place at the University of Venda (UNIVEN) in Limpopo Province.  

The AIMS exhibition stand at the launch featured hands-on activities, posters and presentations to showcase its (AIMS) research, science communication projects, and the importance of mathematical sciences and their application in our daily lives. AIMS exhibitors, which included Dr Joel Lontsi (Postdoctoral Researcher) and Mr Rockefeller (PhD Student in Applied  Maths), engaged with learners, teachers and members of the general public on mind-teasing games, conversations, questions and answers sessions all centred around the use of mathematical sciences. 

Rockefeller recalled a little sentiment of “math-phobia” shown at first by a group of learners probably because of how complex and brain-demanding mathematics may look from the distance. He shared that, a little later on, a sudden enthusiasm and willingness to hear more seemed to engulf their phobia. High school learners and UNIVEN students were pleasantly surprised to see how mathematics plays a crucial role in various domains that have a direct impact on our lives, spanning load-shedding allocation hours (through operational research methods), monitoring of critically endangered species (through machine learning for bioacoustics), improvement of renewable energy prediction methods (through historical consistent state space models) and the preservation of indigenous African languages through neural translation methods just to cite a few. 

One of the complex tasks of mathematicians is not necessarily our daily battles with differential equations and proofs of theorems, but the conveying of our modest knowledge to a non-expert audience and even more, to kids. It requires hours of repetition, crafting of imaginative examples, and perhaps little brain-teasing games. I believe, when done properly, it triggers engagement, kick-starts conversations, and instills the passion for maths and could be a start of a journey into discovering the language of the universe, to the listeners.” said Rockefeller

The exhibition served as an information desk about AIMS programmes, such as postgraduate training, scientific research and public science engagement. It showcased opportunities available for graduates, learners, teachers, academics and researchers, and promoted the upcoming Siyakhula – a week-long festival aimed at strengthening the mathematical sciences across Africa that will take place from 17-22 March 2024 at AIMS in Muizenberg.

Rockefeller and I also had the opportunity to speak to students in the Mathematical Department about the Structured Master’s programme at AIMS. We met some very enthusiastic students who are interested in applying to AIMS for the January intake of the Structured Master’s programme. This experience allowed us to rethink how we communicate science and the opportunity to discover another part of South Africa” said Joel.

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