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19 September 2019
Soapbox Science 2019: Speaking Out For Science And Society

(Published - 19 September 2019)

“Everyone needs a vision of what they want to be like when they grow up. For young women to dream of becoming the next big innovator, CEO or award-winning scientist, they need to be exposed to women who represent those things.”

University of the Western Cape (UWC) chemistry researcher Dr Natasha Ross is one of those women, and she’ll be sharing her work as a passionate advocate of alternative energy at Soapbox Science Cape Town 2019 - a chance for the public to hear about cutting-edge research directly from a dozen of South Africa’s finest women in science.

“It’s essential for young women to see all the limitless possibilities that STEM has to offer,” explains Dr Lucia Marchetti, SARChI Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UWC and the University of Cape Town, and coordinator of the South African Soapbox Science local organising team. “Soapbox Science takes female scientists out of the lab and onto the streets, to talk to the passing public about science - while placing the spotlight on successful female scientists.” 

The format of the event promotes direct engagement. No PowerPoint slide, no amphitheatre – just remarkable women in science who are there to amaze the public with their work, and to answer those science-related questions people have been burning to ask.

Dr Ross will be speaking about why she chose science as a career path, her scientific field, and how conducting research and creating new knowledge can improve quality of life.

Her research niche is photovoltaic solar cells, transforming solar energy into electrical energy, and on storing the renewable energy produced - something that’s sorely needed for fighting both global climate change and South Africa’s ongoing energy issues. Her work is aimed at enhancing the power output of an electricity-generating device in order to obtain an overall high efficiency with less energy loss. 

“Much of the public is still unaware of how they can make a positive contribution towards improving the energy issues we all face,” she says, ”but ultimately, success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out. Now is the time to inspire young people to tackle these grand challenges of the 21st century.”

Children's health, marine ecosystems, the brain, and the study of the universe - these are just a few of the fascinating subjects that the Soapbox Science speakers will cover. The selected speakers have received training in public speaking and science communication by Jive media experts, and are ready to share - what matters most is the story they have to tell, and their passion for telling it.

"I am thrilled to see so many passionate scientists eager to share their stories with the people" says Dr Marchetti. "Science and its findings should be available to everyone and I am glad that we can contribute to make it even more accessible with our Soapbox Science event!"

Soapbox Science 2019: Enhancing Our Understanding

In South Africa - and worldwide - the reality is that women are in the minority in science: men still outnumber women in most science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related (STEM) careers, and women benefit less from opportunities afforded by a scientific education.

“Contrary to what you may have heard, girls don't dislike science - but they don't easily see themselves in a scientific career when they don't see scientists they can identify with,” says UWC Associate Professor, Carolina Odman, from the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) “Giving more visibility to women scientists is a way to send the message to girls that if they like science, they can do it - and do it well.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity to engage with people who might not otherwise encounter science,” Dr Ross enthuses. “I hope that this incredible platform will show the heartfelt commitment of women scientists in their respective fields to improving society - and demonstrate the importance of research and the opportunities for women in science.”

But it’s not just about science. Increasing female participation in STEM fields will allow women to shape society in a range of spheres, and build a more diverse talent pool to affect all areas of society. 

“Obviously, not all of the girls and young women reached in this way will end up pursuing science in their studies or careers,” says Dr Ross. “But awakening their curiosity and nurturing their ambitions is still worthwhile. Women advocating for women is essential, and in pushing forward we’re creating positive change for the women who will come after us.”

Want to know more about what Soapbox Science Cape Town 2019 has in store? Visit the SSCT website here, or follow @SoapboxSciCT on Twitter or on Facebook. And why not come on down to the V&A Waterfront on 28 September and see it for yourself?