Category Archives: Science and Technology

South Africa and Australia to share SKA telescope


Both South Africa and Australia are going to share the hosting of the most sophisticated scientific project in the world – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.

The announcement was made late last week by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor.

The final choice as to who would host the SKA was reached by members of the SKA Organisation at its meeting in the Netherlands. South Africa and Australia – whose bid included New Zealand – were the final countries in the running to host the telescope.

“Following nine years of work by the South African and Australian SKA site bid teams, the impartial SKA Site Advisory Committee, made up of world-renowned experts, performed an objective technical and scientific evaluation of the sites in South Africa and Australia, and identified by consensus Africa as the preferred site. Having said that, in order to be inclusive, the SKA Organisation has decided to take into consideration the construction of one of the three SKA receiver components in Australia. Two are going to be constructed in Africa,” stated the minister.

She revealed that the meeting of the members had made a decision to divide the project which happens to be an unusual decision considering the search for a single site.

“We had were hoping the unambiguous unbiased and professional recommendation of the SSAC would be accepted as the most sound scientific outcome.”

She pointed out that South Africa accepted the compromise in the interest of science and thanked the South African SKA team and scientists which in fact have done sterling work over the past years.

The SKA will comprise of approximately 3 000 dish-shaped antennae spread over a wide area.

South Africa is most likely to build the telescope in the Karoo in the Northern Cape, while the joint site spreads from the Murchison Shire in Western Australia’s Mid-West region to the top of New Zealand’s South Island.

Building is likely to get started around 2016 and the telescope should be completed by 2024. It should be in a position to do early science in 2020.

The SKA Organisation postponed announcing its preferred site in April following an agreement that a small scientific working group should examine possible implementation alternatives that would make certain that there was an inclusive strategy to SKA, in addition to maximizing the value from the investments made by both candidate host regions.

The working group was supposed to report back to the members this month. The report was expected to make available further information to facilitate the site decision for SKA.

Scientists hope to utilize the SKA to search the universe for answers about how precisely stars and galaxies are formed and just how galaxies and the universe have evolved over the past 14 billion years.

Hosting the project is predicted to generate substantial investments and opportunities, not to mention give science and engineering a significant boost.

In South Africa, the MeerKAT array happens to be taking shape in South Africa’s Karoo region. This is a world-class radio telescope which is designed to carry out ground-breaking science. It will be the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere up until the SKA is completed.

At the same time, in Australia, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) is a new radio telescope which will provide a crucial testbed for SKA technology in addition to being a world-leading telescope in its own right.

Source: BuaNews


15 Telling Facts About the App Gap

Kids these days tend to love technology, especially handheld mobile devices that play movies, games, and apps for learning and entertainment. It seems that so many children these days are learning from apps, sometimes even more often than they learn from books. And while some may laud this as a positive trend, there are downsides. Specifically, experts worry about kids that don’t have access to mobile devices with apps, and are concerned that their learning experiences may not be as rich as those who do regularly use mobile devices. This learning lag is what’s know as the “app gap,” the difference between the education of kids who can afford iPhones, and kids who can’t. But at the same time, apps and screen time may not be doing affluent children any favors. Sure, they teach motor skills, words, math, and even foreign languages, but the official word thus far is that they’re not actually helpful, and spending too much time engaged with a screen, whether it’s a TV, computer, or iPad, can actually be harmful to child development and learning. Read on, and we’ll take a look at facts about the app gap, screen time for children, and technology in education at large.




1. Affluent families are far more likely to download specialty apps for kids

Although apps on mobile devices can be educational for children, not all kids have access to them, and typically, low income children are left out. In families with incomes over $75,000, almost half of them download apps for their young children, but in lower-earning families with incomes of $30,000 or less, only one in eight downloaded apps. That means low income children may be missing out on educational resources that might help them in the future. Some schools are adopting iPads and other mobile devices for learning, but they are not yet prevalent, leaving students without the means for mobile learning in the dark.

2. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend apps for young children

Experts and parents worry about the possibility of low income students being left behind while rich kids learn from their iPads, but this disparity may actually be doing them a favor. Although parents are often quick to hand over their iDevices on demand, the AAP recommends that children under the age of two do not experience any “screen time.” This includes iPhones, iPads, and other devices, even if they do offer educational apps. According to the AAP, children over the age of two should not have more than one to two hours of screen time each day, and it should be broken up into half hour intervals.

3. Many low-income parents don’t even know what an app is

For many moderate to high income parents and kids, apps are a fact of daily life, whether they are for email, entertainment, or learning. But in lower income brackets, apps are a mystery that both parents and kids are clueless about. In a recent study, more than a third of low-income parents did not know what an “app” was. For kids, this means that they can’t benefit from something their parents aren’t even aware of.

4. There’s a gap between screen time and reading in young children

Screen time, whether it’s from mobile devices, computers, or TV all adds up throughout the day. And although some of this time may be touted and accepted by many as educational, in practice it’s often taking the place of a more valuable learning tool: reading. Screen media use in children often dwarfs that of reading time. Even in infants and toddlers, kids typically spend over twice as much time watching DVDs and TV as they do being read to or reading independently.

5. The iPad has been called “Children’s Toy of the Year”

The iPad is so popular for kids in entertainment, learning, and let’s face it: distraction, PC World once referred to it as the “Children’s Toy of the Year.” The magazine highlighted how naturally kids seem to gravitate to the iPhone and iPad user interface, and somehow immediately know what to do with it. That means it has the potential to be a great tool for educational learning, giving kids an attractive toy to play with and learn from. And as PC World has pointed out, it’s a substitute for DVD entertainment in cars, as kids can change apps and watch movies independently, a use that’s perhaps more developmentally beneficial than watching TV.

6.  App use is not as prevalent as you might think

News articles and YouTube videos might have you believe that practically every kid in the developed world is walking around with their own mobile device in their pockets. And although parents (and kids) are increasingly adopting iPhones and iPads, statistics indicate that their use may not be as widespread as it seems. Or at least, kids aren’t using them day in and day out. Each day, just 11% of 0-eight-year-olds use a smartphone, iPod or similar device for apps, games, videos, and entertainment. And even when they’re doing so, they don’t actually spend that much time doing it, with the average amount of usage time coming in at 43 minutes a day.

7. Some parents may not be paying attention to what their kids are doing on their iPhones

Aside from the obvious cost to own an iPhone and maintain a data plan, there may be another reason low income parents don’t typically download apps for their kids: the hidden cost. Parents may not be paying a lot of attention to the apps they’re downloading for kids, and without careful supervision (or disconnection from a data plan or WiFi), kids can rack up hundreds, even thousands of charges from the app store and even in-app purchases. One article from MSNBC highlights the stories of boys who “$52 buying virtual coins to play with dolphins in an iPhone game,” and a young girl who ran up a whopping $1,400 bill on iTunes for “Smurfberries.” The parents of these children had no idea the purchases were made until they noticed them on their credit card statements.

8. More kids have mobile devices than ever before

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend regular screen time for children, young kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens. And although TV makes up a lot of that time, mobile devices do to. In fact, according to studies, half of children under eight have access to a mobile device, including iPods, iPads, and iPhones.

9. Doctors aren’t talking about screen time with parents

Mobile device use and apps are prevalent, and although they’re certainly coming up as a topic of discussion in mom groups, it doesn’t seem like it’s coming up in doctor’s offices. In fact, reports indicate that just 14% of doctors have ever discussed media use with parents of children two and younger.

10. Children now are more likely to own a mobile phone than a book

Although some apps include books gone interactive, it seems like mobile devices and their apps may be replacing books as handheld entertainment for children. In a study by the National Literacy Trust, it was shown that nearly nine in ten students have a mobile phone, but less than 75% of kids have their won books at home. While apps may be educational, they can’t take the place of books, and parents would do well to either provide books or visit the library to get books for kids to read in place of using apps.

11. Older kids typically prefer digital distractions over books

The iPhone has only been around since 2007, not long enough to have an incredible impact on the development of older kids from birth. But still, even in older childhood, digital distractions are increasingly popular for kids. And although phones with apps and even computers can be educational, they’re not always used that way, much to the detriment of students’ education. In a New York Times article, one student was only able to finish 43 pages of a summer reading assignment, one that he should have finished in less than two months, but instead preferring to “get a whole story in six minutes” from YouTube.

12. Low income kids do often have access to computers, however

Although some worry about the app gap leaving low income students behind as higher income students are able to learn and play on the go, the fact is that digital learning resources are typically available to most students who want them. Schools may not be full of iPads for every student, but most children do have access to a computer at home, often at home: 72% of children eight and under have a computer they can use at home, including 48% of low income families. Educational computer games, apps, and learning websites can be utilized on computers as well as mobile devices, so the app gap may not be as worrisome as it seems.

13. Kids frequently use computers

Even as mobile device use grows, computers remain a popular device for children. For the average child, computer use begins around age three, earlier than even public school. And although kids that age may not be using a computer every day, that number grows with age. At ages two to four, about 12% of kids used a computer each day, and 24% used a computer at least once a week. By age five to eight, 22% of kids typically use a computer each day.

14. Most iPhone moms will let their kids use them

It’s not surprising that lots of parents with iPhones allow their children to play with them. Most kids recognize the phone as a fun toy and will often demand or simply take it to play with, even if parents are a little wary about handing over an expensive piece of hardware to a tiny master of destruction. In fact, more than 59% of US moms with iPhones will let their children use the device, and of these, 61% with download apps, games, and other entertainment just for their kids to use.

15. There are far more important gaps to worry about

The app gap, and its possible result of disparity of education between kids who have apps, and those who don’t, is a seemingly small inequality that may or may not have any merit at all. Educational DVDs, computer programs, and apps may be helpful, or they may not, and they all add up to screen time, which the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend for children under the age of two, and recommends limited use for older kids. Still, poor children have much more to worry about, including gaps in nutrition, health care, and even availability the simplest of electronic learning devices, all of which can affect achievement much more than the latest iPhone game for kids.





SA drums up support for SKA bid

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor unveiled a countrywide advertising and marketing campaign to build up support for the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in South Africa.

With just a couple of months remaining ahead of the bid winner announcement, the campaign, created around astronomy and the moon as themes, is ready to promote interest in the initiative and demonstrate how Africa is rapidly proving itself to be an international hub of astronomy.

All South Africans are encouraged to join the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in its SKA bid by placing messages of support at



The DST, together with the South African State Theatre, will make use of the remaining months to rally support from communities countrywide to play their part by hosting Full Moon Fever campaign on Fridays, Saturdays or Mondays closest to the full moon.

The launch brings together exhibitions, a laser show, performing arts presentation of African Stars and a night sky view.

On top of that, there will be career exhibitions in collaboration with the Tshwane University of Technology and University of South Africa to spotlight the a variety of fields of science and technology accessible to students and possible career paths with specific focus on astronomy and radio astronomy.


Three of the seven KAT-7 dishes

Pandor pointed to South Africa’s perfect environment for radio and optical astronomy and the fact that the country enacted the Astronomy Geographic Act of 2008 to safeguard its astronomy reserves from damaging effects.

Among the many advantages as a result of this was the Southern African Largest Telescope (SALT), the giant facility which has transformed the country into a prime place to go for the world’s scientists and researchers.

“The establishment of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) is a welcome development that has grown to become a crucial vehicle for promoting our expanding satellite industry in addition to a wide range of innovations in space sciences, earth observation, communications, navigation and engineering,” Pandor said.



As part of the African commitment to the SKA project, South Africa is constructing the Karoo Array Telescope, the MeerKAT, in the Northern Cape.

This telescope will be a world-class radio telescope in its own right when finished in 2016.

This precursor is a demonstration telescope of technologies being taken into consideration for the SKA. Phase 1 of MeerKAT, which is KAT-7 (a seven-dish array telescope), is now complete with operations starting in early 2012.

Source: BuaNews


SA transforming into a renewable energy hub

South Africa is quickly becoming a favored renewable energy investment place to go for both private and public sector investors – best news for the country’s escalating electricity requirements, emerging clean energy sector and the overall economy.

The World Bank not too long ago authorized a $250-million (R1.5- billion) loan to South African power utility Eskom in order to develop a wind and solar plant, that can assist the nation to lower its reliance on coal-based power generation.

The World Bank, which approved the financing via its Clean Technology Fund, will finance a 100-megawatt solar power plant in Upington in the Northern Cape province as well as a 100-megawatt wind power project north of Cape Town in the Western Cape.




Leading clean energy projects in Africa

The financial loan will make it possible for Eskom to construct two of the biggest renewable energy projects ever tried on the African continent.

Ebrahim Khan from Wesgro, the Western Cape Investment and Trade Promotion Agency, welcomed the World Bank’s investment into the renewable energy sector.

“These investment strategies are a breath of fresh air and it demonstrates that South Africa is no longer just talking about renewable energy,” Khan said.

“The best part about it for South Africa is the fact that there are serious goals and objectives to get our energy mix right and there are definitely more renewable energy power projects in the pipeline which are to be backed by private investors,” he added.




Key investment areas

He said that the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape Provinces have already been identified as the key regions to create renewable energy plants, in particular wind and solar.

“Many individuals don’t are aware that the Northern area of the Western Cape has higher irradiation compared to best locations in Spain and the State of California,” he explained.

In the Western Cape, financial investment is predominantly into wind and photovoltaic (PV) solar power. PV solar-power generation transforms solar radiation to electricity as a result of static panels.

He said that photovoltaics is the primary type of solar technology which is used widely on a commercial scale in other regions around the world.

The Northern Cape has been recognized as the most effective area for concentrated solar power (CSP) technology, which makes use of mirrors or lenses to concentrate a significant area of sunlight, or solar thermal energy onto a small area, typically with rotating panels.


Wesgro estimates that about 40% to 50% of the 1 850 wind technology projects and 30% to 40% of the 1 450 PV projects will come to the Western Cape.

As outlined by Wesgro, wind resources in the Western Cape are significant and possibly the best in the country.

“We are going for renewable energy in a big way,” he said.

Khan stated that South Africa possesses the potential to turn into a major player in the clean energy sector, with considerable interest being displayed by investors during the past couple of months.

Wesgro in addition has hosted many delegations who would like to be involved in the renewable energy sector. “The majority of of these companies are big players,” he said.

Scientific studies are still under way into ocean and wave technology, which could also be employed to generate energy.

“There are universities in the province which have been working on innovations with ocean and wave technologies, however the models have not been completely figured out yet,” Khan added.



Construction to start in 2012

Eskom is in the process of building and upgrading established coal-fired power plants in order to meet South Africa’s immediate energy needs, however it would like to broaden the energy mix toward cleaner sources of energy.

A year ago the World Bank received criticism for approving a $3.75-billion (R29.3 billion) loan for the creation of a coal-fired plant in South Africa, but Eskom explained the project was required to address the country’s chronic power shortages.

Eskom anticipates that the construction of the 100-megawatt wind power project north of Cape Town will commence at the start of 2012.


Possibilities for manufacturing

Khan stated that there are excellent possibilities to set up a manufacturing sector focused entirely on parts and components for the renewable energy sector.

In the wind energy sector, European companies have already been searching for suitable sites to set up plants to manufacture components including blades for wind turbines, because they are incredibly cumbersome to transport.

Wind power company Isivunguvungu Wind Energy Converter (I-WEC) has identified Cape Town as its base to produce Africa’s first multi-megawatt wind turbines.

Cape Business News reports that a large 42-ton mould, which a short while ago arrived at Table Bay Harbour from China, will be utilized to manufacture 50m-long rotor blades for the 2.5MW turbines. This surpasses the span of an Airbus wing.



The company intends to commence production on its first turbine right away, in time to set up the final product in Saldanha, northwest of Cape Town, early next year.

As outlined by I-WEC, the new 2.5MW turbines are nearly twice the size and capacity of the 1.3MW turbines currently utilized in South Africa.

Each turbine has the ability to supply enough electrical power to run approximately 2 000 average South African households for a year.

I-WEC is in addition the very first South African and African company that can manufacture the multi-megawatt wind turbines locally, making use of local labour. Up to 70% of the turbines’ components are going to be produced in South Africa.



Stellenbosch University leads way in geosciences




Stellenbosch University is the first such institution in Africa to put money into state-of-the-art technology to ascertain the chronological age of rocks, symbolising a significant progression for geosciences in the country.

The ultra-modern Thermo Element 2 HR-SF-ICP-MS unit has only been working for approximately three months, however it is undoubtedly contributing fantastic value to the work of South African geologists.

“It is exciting technology and contains several strategic, commercial and scientific applications,” says Prof Dirk Frei, head of the ICP-MS Facility at Stellenbosch University (SU).

Frei claims it is the only unit of this type being used for highly precise geochronology in Africa. In other places around the world, you will discover only a handful of comparable units that are utilized to carry out geochronological research in the academic sphere.

Geochronology is a branch of geology utilized to ascertain the age of rocks, fossils and sediments.


Prof Dirk Frei handling zircon samples

It is actually utilized to determine the absolute ages of the crystallisation of magmatic rocks which includes granites, the formation of mountain belts including the Alps, as well as the formation of mineral deposits such as diamond-bearing kimberlites and gold-bearing alluvial placer deposits.


Added benefits for SA geologists

“One of the primary incentives of the facility is to provide the South African geosciences community with dependable age dating technology for the rocks they are studying, rather than making use of rock facilities abroad at a major cost,” Frei says.

The price of utilizing rock dating facilities in a country such as Australia is at least 3 times higher as compared with South Africa.

Obtaining the technology in South Africa is a significant benefit for local geologists employed in industry and the academic field, given that they will no longer have to travel abroad to do geochronological research.


CAF director Prof Gary Stevens and Prof Dirk Frei

“Given the spectacular geology of South Africa together with the mineral wealth of the country, the database of age information is extremely small,” he says. The explanation for this is that numerous scientists don’t get the means to access rock-dating facilities, however new technology will change this.

South African geologists have consistently utilized a variety of processes to ascertain the age of rocks, fossils and sediments, however, the processes open to them were frequently incredibly slow and expensive. Historically geologists had to depend upon chemical analysis, which is also a highly involved and expensive process.

Geologists are now able to carry out in-depth research and provide answers to questions regarding tectonic evolution as well as the age of the African continent, without the need of leaving the country.

Sample analysis making use of the new equipment is in addition faster and a lot more cost-effective, without compromising on accuracy.


Frei states that the technology handles samples with “incredible sensitivity” to produce highly accurate measurements. Up to 600 age determinations can be achieved per day, each taking less than a minute.

“We spent R4-million (US$526 000) in the new facility, as opposed to the cost for a similar quality analysis would be more, but with a lower sample throughput,” he says.


Commercial applications

The new equipment expands the capability to geochronologically date minerals such as zircon, apatite and monazite.

Zircon is of geological value because it is one of the oldest minerals found on earth, and is put to use extensively to produce all sorts of things from bathroom accessories to containers that can store radioactive materials.

Frei states that the technology will assist geologists figure out the age of gold reefs a great deal more accurately. “If we can have an understanding of how gold reefs have been formed, we can better predict where to locate them and focus on their exploration more accurately,” he says.

In the foreseeable future, the new facility will in addition make it simpler for scientists to study commodities such as platinum, lithium and uranium. “The commercial need for these commodities is set to become more significant in the future. For this reason the centre is also strategically important for the country,” he says.


The facility has additionally generated superb interest among the international scientific community. Frei says about 50% of their work at the centre is from overseas, particularly Europe.

“The new equipment will help us unravel geological processes, and will definitely ensure that a host of highly cited articles are published based on the data,” he says.

Source:, Engela Duvenhage