The CSIR National Laser Centre – via its Public Understanding of Laser Science and Engineering (PULSE) – is gearing up its public awareness campaign to foster growth and interest in science and engineering. The CSIR's laser centre has announced the events at which it will showcase laser science in the year ahead. They are: Sasol TechnoX in Sasolburg; Scifest Africa in Grahamstown; Science-tube in Kimberley and Makhado; Science Unlimited in Bethlehem, Pietermaritzburg and Turffontein; and National Science Week in Pretoria.
PULSE endeavours to attract the best and brightest students to the field of science and engineering to continue developing capable, reliable technologies. PULSE puts a strong emphasis on hands-on, experimental, inquiry-based and learner/student-centred experiences and activities within learning environments. Such activities include basic laser theory, applications in everyday life, laser physics design processes and career guidance.
“Our mission is to convince and encourage as many learners as possible to take up physics and engineering as career paths to address skills shortage in South Africa,” says programme coordinator, Lerato Shikwambana. “We see PULSE as a vehicle to achieve that.”
He says that PULSE is targeting learners and students from previously disadvantaged communities and takes care to include both rural and urban audiences in their programme. To date, the programme has reached more than 100 000 students and learners countrywide. However, Shikwambana says, “To us, it is not about the number of learners and students that we reach, but about the contact time spent with them.”
PULSE, adds Shikwambane, manages to reach so many young people because the centre fervently believes that all its scientists have to participate in this vital community service programme. The researchers revel in this responsibility."
Shikwambane remarks, “Lasers have become part of the syllabus, so teachers must utilise our resources for the betterment of learners. We believe that if we can reach one teacher, then we are able to reach many learners through the teacher. Universities may also take advantage of the help that PULSE provides to encourage students to remain in science, engineering and technology degree programmes during their annual Open Day events.”
In the current year, Shikwambana says he is focusing on developing learning materials that will also appeal to Grade 9 learners. “This is an important grade purely because it is when learners start to choose their career paths.”
For university students, Shikwambana is working with the CSIR Optical Society of America’s Student Chapter. “These young researchers go around to universities teaching students laser physics and tell them about career opportunities that have their roots in laser science,” he says.
These researchers are on a studentship programme at the CSIR. They are studying towards Master’s and doctoral degrees at various universities in the country.