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Igniting Conversations About Science

UWC Igniting Conversations about Science in Society

The countdown to Science Forum South Africa 2016 (SFSA) has begun - and to kick it off, the Department of Science and Technology and the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) held a media launch held at the Cape Town Science Centre on 1 November 2016.

Science Forum South Africa is an initiative proposed by Minister Naledi Pandor to organise an ‘Open Science’ type event in Africa, with a strong emphasis on creating a platform for vibrant debate on the role of science, technology and innovation and society in South Africa - and for senior government leaders, academics, scientists, industry, civil society, and students to interact. This year’s event will take place from 8-9 December at the CSIR in Pretoria, under the theme ‘Igniting Conversations about Science’.

The launch featured a panel discussion hosted by UWC’s Prof Premesh Lalu,, Director of the DST-National Research Foundation Flagship in Critical Thought in African Humanities Centre for Humanities Research at UWC. The topic of discussion, New Technologies and the Human Condition, provided for robust debate, with UWC Director of Research Prof Thandi Mgwebi, DST Deputy Director General Tommy Makhode, Stellenbosch University’s Dr Josephine Musango, UWC’s Profs Alan Christoffels and Roy Maartens, and Leeds University’s Prof Jane Taylor giving the audience some interesting contributions about why science is important for the future.

The emergence of new digital technologies has significantly altered the lives of millions of people across the globe, increasing access to communication and information. Yet it has also deepened the divides in our world by changing the very conditions of human existence. The question now faced is how these new technologies may be altering the landscapes of knowledge and human existence.

Professor Roy Maartens explored how one of the world’s biggest science experiments – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the Northern Cape, which UWC has a hand in - will affect all our lives.

“Technology is where science is applied in the world,” he noted. “How we apply that science makes all the difference.”

What will we do when the SKA project is completed in 2025? The technology will allow us to search for alien life, detect gravitational waves – ripples in spacetime (Which Einstein predicted in 1950). It will also allow us to understand galaxies and their massive black holes and more.

So what does this mean for Africa?

“SKA will allow us to promote world class science here in Africa. It is also a massive boost for Science in general and especially in Big Data. This will help with the increase of a new generation of scientists and it will create many opportunities for many local industries for the next 50 years,” he said.

“And above all, it will allow us to dream bigger and think deeper.”

And perhaps a little more imaginatively as well: The launch also featured a theatrical production by the Handspring Company that interpreted this year’s theme. I Love You When You’re Breathing gave the audience the unique experience of seeing a puppet deliver a meta-theatrical address to critics and the general public, exploring the world from a new perspective.

Using comedy and generous amounts of self-reflective humour the presentation gave insight into the behind-the-scenes life of a puppet, as an object in the world of international theatre - and how that reflects our own human situation.

Science Forum South Africa 2016: Here’s what’s in store

This year’s SFSA will include a huge exhibition, plenaries, a series of parallel sessions, science talks and outreach initiatives.

This year’s sub-themes are as follows:

  1. Shaping Humanity: How social sciences shape our human experiences and behaviours to improve the world we live in and quality for all human beings - and develop a better understanding of what is required to uplift people in a sustainable manner.

  2. Preparing people for the knowledge economy: Examining the attitudes, education, experience, and abilities required individually and collectively to succeed in the knowledge economy, with a focus on achieving gender and racial balance in an optimal functioning system of innovation.

  3. Open science and open innovation for Africa’s development: Exploring Africa’s development if there was a concerted drive to intensity collaboration among all stakeholders in the scientific and innovation enterprise, including through the enhanced dissemination and sharing of research results to maximise impact.

  4. Science transforming society: The focus will be on how science, technology and innovation is changing society, how is it contributing to the improvement of the quality of living of all citizens - and how we ensure ethical considerations are addressed and science-driven development is equitable and sustainable.

  5. A Better World: How science, technology and innovation can provide sustainable solutions to global challenges like poverty, inequality, inclusive development and a secure society, with an emphasis on the value of enhanced international collaboration in addressing these shared global challenges.

  6. Innovation shaping the industry of tomorrow: The focus will be on how the exponential pace of progress in science, technology and innovation is disrupting every industry in every country and how the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.