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Change the world

22/11/2022

Nelson Mandela University is gearing up to host one of the most globally recognised scientific schools – the 7th Biennial African School of Fundamental Physics and Application (ASP2022) – in Gqeberha from 28 November until 09 December 2022.
Hosted by the Faculty of Science, ASP2022 will see leading physicists from across the USA, Europe, Asia, and Africa expose more than 1 200 postgraduate students, teachers and learners to physics theories, experiments, and technologies. 
 
Participants will learn from the experts and explore the role physics plays in a variety of careers and applications – from space exploration, to medicine, materials science, and elementary particle physics experiments. Attendees will also interact with educators and policymakers to promote interest in science throughout the African continent. 
 
“The event aims to improve the quality of higher education and encourage African students to pursue careers in physics by building an international collaborative network and mentorship opportunities. Students were selected competitively from hundreds of applications to spend two weeks with us, doing intensive hands-on training and participating in lectures,” said Professor Azwinndini Muronga, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science. 
 
Winning the bid
 
South Africa was awarded the bid two-and-a-half years ago with the Faculty of Science demonstrating strategic importance. Started in 2010, the ASP is held every two years and has rotated through South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Namibia, and Morocco before returning to South Africa this year. 
 
“Our strength is our faculty’s alignment with the ASP’s vision of enhancing quality education on the African continent for sustainable development through sustainable stewardship. This is also a very special year for the Faculty. The presence of the ASP endorses our celebratory activities in support of the United Nations having proclaimed 2022 the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD). 
 
“It also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the International Union of Pure and Applied Science (IUPAP), of which South Africa is a founding member. The community-engaged nature of the faculty counted in its favour. Apart from our teacher training programmes, our educational outreach activities are well-established in rural areas and townships. We are already making a meaningful contribution to science education on the continent,” said Prof Muronga.
      
Inspiring students with a comprehensive 2-week programme
 
The ASP’s comprehensive programme serves in many different ways. It is a collection of carefully designed, continuous activities, selected to support physics education and research in Africa. It covers a two-week intensive programme for about 200 students from Africa. About half of them will attend in-person and the other half online, due to resource constraints. A teacher programme will run parallel with the first week and a learner outreach programme parallel with the second week. 
 
The ASP maintains a network of alumni and mentors to link participants with extended opportunities to advance their careers. This domino effect expands the pool of scientists to address a wide range of scientific and technological challenges around the world. The mentorship programme runs continuously to allow students to stay connected to lecturers from abroad and benefit from active mentorship. 
 
Empowering teachers with a multiplier effect
 
About 80 high school teachers from the Eastern Cape, including student teachers from Education Faculty, will physically attend the programme.  The objective is to introduce new tools for enhancing their teaching skills, and to expose the teachers to advanced concepts and the current state of scientific research. The programme will consist of masterclasses, demonstrations and experiments. International experts will follow a universal approach, empowering the teachers to present practical, hands-on activities beyond the local curriculum, with confidence. 
 
“We want to give teachers a taste of what other science educators are doing around the world. The ASP’s education efforts have a multiplier effect – it’s not only teaching students, but also teachers, and each teacher is going to teach an increasing number of learners,” said Prof Muronga.
 
Exposing learners to international experts
 
To maximise the opportunity and streamline logistics, about 1 000 learners will gather at the University’s Missionvale Campus and at the Nelson Mandela Bay Science and Technology Centre in Kariega during the second week. The purpose of the outreach is to motivate and encourage learners to develop and maintain interest in physics and its applications. The ASP will reinforce the Faculty’s existing outreach initiatives by creating excitement among learners about maths and sciences. Learners will engage in hands-on scientific projects in collaboration with international experts.
 
“We will create a unique opportunity for learners to be exposed to international experts and role models who are willing to interact with learners. This is a welcome injection after the Faculty’s National Science Week in August, which offered a comprehensive programme of public lectures, outreaches, webinars, demonstrations, lab tours, talks and science presentations at various locations in Gqeberha and Graaff-Reinet.” 
 
About 50 international lecturers, policy makers and ASP Organising Committee members will attend the event.
 
Mental Health Summit
 
The Mental Health Summit, which will highlight mental health challenges, will be presented parallel to the ASP from 06 to 08 December. This important topic will cover, among others, topics related to local challenges such as the South African history of trauma, gender-based violence, post-COVID stress, mindful self-compassion, and more.
 
“The topic of mental health cuts across disciplines. We are delighted that participants to ASP will also be exposed to the discussions”.
 
Future planning
 
A full day is set aside on Saturday, 03 December for the ASP Forum. The essence and future of the ASP hinges on important discussions on this day, when African policy makers and international delegates will discuss strategic planning, capacity development and retention strategies in Africa.  
 
The next ASP, to be held in Morocco in 2024, will also be discussed. The forum is thus a platform for bilateral discussions and agreements between the host country and other African countries. 
 
More about the ASP
 
The ASP is a non-profit organisation, which provides financial support to 50 selected students, prioritising students from Sub-Saharan Africa. There is a strong alignment between the vision of African governments and the goals of the ASP.
 
By working with African governments and policy makers on education, the ASP seeks to promote a culture of science, thus encouraging retention in Africa. The ASP further promotes sustainable scientific development in Africa by building a network between African and international researchers for increased collaborative research and shared expertise.
 
It is not a one-way effort to bring knowledge and experience to Africa, but an integrated scientific network between Africa and the rest of the world. 
 

Contact information
Prof Azwinndini Muronga
Executive Dean: Faculty of Science
Azwinndini.Muronga@mandela.ac.za