University of Free State student is South Africa’s top idol of science

FameLab SA 2017 winner, Tshiamo Legoale (middle) flanked by her mother and sister will represent SA at the FameLab Global competition. The final leg of the South African competition took place at Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 19th April.
‘Growing gold from wheat’, sounds impossible but it’s a topic that earned Tshiamo Legoale, a Master’s of Science student from the University of Free State and researcher at Mintek, took first place in the finals of the FameLab South Africa competition. Tshiamo will represent South Africa at the International FameLab Finalshosted by Cheltenham Science Festivals in the United Kingdom (UK) in June.

Her unique ability to captivate an audience by creatively communicating complex science concepts earned her the coveted 2017 SA FameLab champion title, an all-expenses paid trip to the UK and a R5000 cash prize. Her subject, ‘Using wheat to accumulate gold from mine waste’, saw her walking away with top honors.

Tshiamo who holds a degree in Geology and Mineral Resource Management from Wits University beat nine other finalists, after a nationwide series of heats involving over 200 participants from 15 research and higher education institutions.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity that Famelab has given me and excited that I am going overseas. But most importantly I am very humbled that my science has been recognised as being entertaining, important and relevant to society today,” said the bubbly Tshiamo who moved the audience with her three-minute vivacious presentation on how to literally grow gold from wheat.

She joined Mintek in 2012 and is based in the Small Scale Mining and Beneficiation division, working with marginalised communities and assisting them in the legal mining of local geological orebodies. Some of the exciting projects she has headed include the extraction and use of chitosan from cigarette butts to purify water and the use of lemon peels in producing a fertilizer

She hopes her idea can assist impoverished communities with building a business case for geological ore bodies, which are found in areas rich in natural mineral resources.

“So this is one technological innovation that we plan to transfer to the communities that can use it. Hopefully in future this can help employ a few people – it will be fields of gold to harvest,” she said.

She adds that this could be one option to eradicate illegal mining, informally known as the zama-zamas in disused mining shafts. However, she believes a lot of education needs to happen where the people will be given safe, healthier and economically viable options to mine gold.

Currently Mintek is testing soil samples in Virginia in the Free State, where there are many gold tailing dumps.
FameLab is implemented by the British Council, in partnership with local partners, in 31 countries globally. In South Africa the programme is made possible through a partnership between the NRF_SAASTA, the British Council and JiveMedia Africa.

The competition aims to take science engagement to a global level, by extracting the essence of innovation and sharing it with the world it impacts. The international competition began in 2005 and in South Africa since 2013. The competition, includes dynamic science communication and UK master-class training FameLab accredited UK trainers.
In South Africa, Jive Media Africa, one of the FameLab implementing partners, offer pre-heat training as an add-value to participating institutions Jive Media draws on performance and public speaking techniques that helps to shape relevant, informative and easy-to-understand presentations. The competition is open to all institutions who wish to partner and is based on a resource sharing partnership.

Jive Media Director, Robert Inglis welcomed the continued support provided by the Department of Science and Technology through the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, in this initiative.

“We are grateful to the support by the DST, and we are hopeful that the department will help spread the message which will help us grow our support base,” said Mr Inglis.

SAASTA Executive Director, Jabu Nukeri emphasised the need for scientists to communicate science in a way that engages and empowers grassroots communities, particularly those residing in rural areas.
Tshiamo Legoale with runners-up and Judges of the 2017 SA FameLab competition which took place on Tuesday 18 April.


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