Nelson Mandela University PhD student, Sendibitiyosi Gandidzanwa won the Eastern Cape heat of FameLab held in Makhanda on Monday. Originally from Zimbabwe, Gandidzanwa’s presentation was about using folate receptors to ensure that medication targets cancer cells and not normal cells. The fast-talking chemistry student used an analogy of cops targeting the ‘bad guys’ with special bullets that would get the cancer cells but not harm the ‘good guys’ – or the normal cells.
Gandidzanwa said that while he was of course happy with his win, he felt pressured.
“I am now no longer representing our research group or my university, but the Eastern Cape,” Gandidzanwa said. “At the same time I feel excited because it is a challenge and I have an inner passion for science communication in general.”
He spoke about his passion for science communication, recalling the time when he first had to explain his research to his mother – and it wasn’t easy. It was even more difficult when he had finished his three-year degree and wanted to continue with his research. His 93-old grandmother asked him, “What’s keeping you? Don’t you want to work?”
Second place went to Rhodes University student Yenziwe Mbuyisa, who spoke about the importance of using local languages in science communication. An honours student in environmental science, Mbuyisa explained that it was difficult to learn scientific terminology in English, as most students in her group are learning English as a second language.
She said she felt overwhelmed with her achievement and would now concentrate on writing a better speech because just minutes before doing her presentation she had been still working on how to improve it.
The two winners of the Eastern Cape heat are going on to the semi-finals in Johannesburg. The winner of the national competition will receive R5 000 and an all-expenses paid trip to London to participate in the international edition of FameLab.
Awonke Nqayiya from Nelson Mandela University won third prize and will go to the semi-finals in Johannesburg if either of the first two drops out for any reason.
Concern over the Coronavirus, Covid-19 inevitably spilled over into the FameLab competition that saw the withdrawal of the South African Institute Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB), one of the main sponsors of the event. SAIAB’s withdrawal was particularly significant because it had used its offices to register the students of the University of Fort Hare.
As there were fewer participants, head of the organising committee, Dr Nosiphiwe Ngqwala, announced the two-day event would be completed in one day only.
Students from Nelson Mandela University, Walter Sisulu University and Rhodes University participated in the event held at the Amazwi Museum of Literature in Makhanda. The South African Agency for Science and Technology remained as the main sponsor for the event.
The four judges for the Eastern Cape heat were:
- Dr Puleng Moleko-Boyce, Department of Chemistry, Nelson Mandela University
- Dr Ethan Newman, Department of Botany, Rhodes University
- Lwazikazi Madikiza – Science communication and engagement research intern at the Rhodes University Biotechnology Innovation Centre (RUBIC)
- Aviwe Matiwane – PhD Candidate in Botany (Palaeobotany). Albany Museum, Rhodes University