‘I am going there to learn from the Nobel Laureates what it takes to be a scientist of their calibre, and to bring it home to all young scientists,” was the bold remark made by Dr Luyanda Noto.
Noto, 29, is one of eight young scientists unveiled by South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology who will attend the prestigious 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany, to be held in June and July.
Born in the small southern Free State town of Bethulie, Noto credits his older brother, Nyameko, a mechanical engineer at Armscor, for piquing his interest in science.
Noto was in primary school when his brother was in Grade 12 (1998), and enjoyed listening in on his brother’s physics study group.
“They would talk about different matters in science. That year, there was a solar eclipse and they discussed how it occurred, which completely fascinated me.”
The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is an annual event where 30 to 40 laureates convene to meet the next generation of leading scientists, fostering an exchange among scientists of different generations, cultures and disciplines. This year’s meeting is dedicated to the field of physics.
Another young scientist selected to fly the African flag at the meeting is Rwandan-born Agnes Mbonyiryivuze, a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
Raised in Kigeyo village in the Burera district of Rwanda’s North province, Mbonyiryivuze, 32, initially dreamt of becoming a medical doctor.
It was when she was offered a physics and mathematics teaching post at Nyamuguli Secondary School (Rwanda) upon completing her national examinations for university entrance, that she forgot about becoming a medical doctor and focused on teaching. “I really enjoyed teaching at that time,” she said enthusiastically.
As a member of both the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World and the Rwandan Association for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Mbonyiryivuze is passionate about women taking part in science.
“Female participation in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ultimately benefits everyone. Encouraging our African girls and young women to excel in Stem-related activities will empower them to lead these traditionally male-dominated industries later in life,” she enthuses.
Mbonyiryivuze analyses spectroscopic data in the UCT laboratory; data that is represented by a spectrum (a band of colours, as in a rainbow, produced by separating components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to their wavelength).
She hopes to aid future students develop a better understanding of scientific measurement, as her PhD is in Physics Education.
“There is increasing of evidence that very few students develop an understanding of the nature of scientific measurement and uncertainty in their introductory laboratory courses,” she elaborates.
Noto, a post-doctoral fellow based at the University of South Africa, is working on a project in luminescence physics, which, inter alia, entails developing persistent lighting for the home without an electrical connection.
“The home lighting will involve a light bulb that will be loaded during the day by the sun, and will continue to glow at night without the connection to electricity. The beauty of this is that people in villages will have access to home lighting even if they do not have electricity in their homes,” said Noto, expanding on the benefits to be accrued from his project.
It has become evident that these scientists’ pursuit of science was not for self-aggrandisement. Rather, both of them are interested in using their scientific knowledge for the benefit of their respective communities first, and our continent at large.
“We, as Africans, are behind in terms of science development, and for this I urge young Africans to embrace science so we can collectively work on solutions that will directly address African challenges. Do it for yourself, do it for Africa,” Noto said, in a rallying call to young Africans.
There is no doubt our young scientists will become the calibre of scientist they meet in Germany.