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Young scientists want to help those living with disabilities

Every year over 600 leaners participate in the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists International Science Fair, the largest science fair in Africa, with the aim of taking home a share of the prizes valued at more than R4 million.

Since being established in 1980 the competition has sought to foster a passion for the sciences among young people but the competition now takes it one step further, encouraging young people to identify problems in their communities and develop innovative solutions.

This year many participants developed solutions to assist people living with disabilities. The overall high school winner at the Eskom Expo was Edrich Theodor Engelbrecht, a grade 10 learner from Hoërskool Waterkloof for his robotic walking aid for visually impaired people.

“A significant number of the projects that are entered every year tackle societal problems from renewable energy through to animal conservation and recycling, but this year we have seen an outstanding selection of projects that aim to assist people living with disabilities. It’s so encouraging to see young people not just pursing a science project but looking for practical solutions to help people live with dignity,” says Parthy Chetty, Eskom Expo Executive Director.

Many of the learners were inspired to address some form of disability after having first-hand experience of the challenges that people living with disabilities face. From autism through to prosthetics this year judges were blown away by the standard of projects that aim to make the lives of people living with disabilities a little bit easier.

Samantha Woods, a grade 12 learner from Collegiate High School in Port Elizabeth developed a prosthetic hand from recycled materials. After encountering people who had lost a hand or had a congenital defect which meant that they were unable to use their hand, Samantha began exploring the alternative options for more affordable prosthetics.

Her prosthetic hand is made from the recycled materials and offers five hand positions using basic bionic functionality. Samantha is interested in studying engineering after school and would like to specialise in robotics, bionics and biometrics.

Mumtaz Malek, a grade 7 learner from Dundee Junior School, developed a hearing aid that works on vibrations. She was inspired to develop the alternative hearing aid after discovering her grandfather couldn’t use a traditional hearing aid. Her design works on vibrations and allows people with a cochlear but no ear drum the opportunity to hear again.

The deaf person bites down onto the device and the vibrations would travel through the jaw bone to the cochlear allowing them to hear.

While Marlizaan Saunderson and Marilet Knoesen a pair of grade 10 learners from Hoërskool Duineveld in Upington, developed a heated prosthetic leg after learning that people with prosthetic legs often suffer from pain during the winter months due to the cold weather.

The pair have found the experience an enriching one that has given then exposure to a range of subjects. They said: “Coming to the Eskom Expo gives you an opportunity to see how other people are thinking about problems in our land.”

Other participants looked at community level solutions to the challenges that people with disabilities face. Siphosethu Zenande Solontsi and Misokuhle Malawu, grade 9 leaners from Enduku Full Service School in Mthatha developed a bridge that is accessible by all people. The pair live in a village where many people are in wheelchairs and are unable to cross the river safely. Their bridge is designed to be accessible to cars, able-bodied and disabled people and includes street lights for safety, and a water level detector to warn people should the water level rise dangerously high.

“Through the Eskom Expo I’ve learnt that I can create things to help the world. We want to be exposed to all the projects here today so we can help those people that need help,”  Siphosethu said.

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, Pieter Pretorius, says the Eskom Expo not only supports and contributes to the country’s developmental goals but is also developing a pipeline of talented scientists and engineers.

“Through the Eskom Expo we are playing an important and constructive role in advancing the continent through education. The shortage of engineers, scientists and other technical skilled people is one of the country’s biggest challenges. By nurturing young talent in these areas we are contributing to the country’s development.”

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