Three questions to tantalise . . .



Science might not have all the answers but it surely has some interesting brainteasers. Here are some of the most thought-provoking questions that will be posed and maybe answered in next week’s Scifest Africa lecture programme.

Can tiny thread worms be used instead of chemical pesticides to control insects that ruthlessly damage our crops? It sounds unlikely because after all, are we not replacing one bug with another?

Dr Tiisetso Lephoto believes that specific types of worms known as nematodes are capable of revolutionising the agriculture sector. The tiny worm carries a bacteria that just happens to be lethal to certain types of insect, so Lephoto is studying their DNA to better understand how they can be used to control insects without using harmful chemicals.

Lephoto, a young post-doctoral researcher from Wits University will explain, how the process works in her lecture at the opening ceremony of Scifest next Friday evening.

The next question is something completely different. What does a well-known type of biscuit have to do with the math behind every bit of digital technology that we so love?

Although this is a spoiler, it will really just tantalise you into finding out more about this fascinating story. Leibniz is the name of a delicious biscuit produced in Hanover, Germany. Coincidentally, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a polymath who refined the binary system of ones and zeros also lived in Hanover.

Theda Minthe representing the City of Hanover will talk about the renowned biscuit, but she will also talk about Leibniz the mathematician and Leibniz the philosopher. She will describe how this all matured into a city that today has nine universities and 48,000 students and where the Hanover Science Initiative is an amazing enterprise of international science brilliance.

The next question takes us to the other end of the world – to Antarctica, to be specific and into outer space if you want to take matters a little further. Why would anyone go to Antarctica, one of the most inhospitable places on earth, to do serious astronomy?

Antarctica engineer at the South African Space Agency, Danielle Taljaard, recently spent 15 months traipsing around a wide suite of specialised instruments at the South African base on one of the biggest chunks of ice on this planet.

It might be freezing cold there – sometimes temperatures drop to minus 50 centigrade – but the clear skies and dry air make it among the best places for a clear view of the planets and stars above.

Not only astronomy, but all types of science are booming in Antarctica. There are up to 45 research stations operating throughout the year scattered widely across the continent, with 30 additional field camps only active during the summer period.

Taljaard will share her experiences of living in an elite circle of those who call Antarctica their home. She will talk about the rich culture, raw beauty and critical research that is developing in one of South Africa’s remotest outposts.

These three questions represent only a tempting sample of questions designed to whet the curiosity of your synapses.

Make sure to be in Grahamstown from 7-13 March 2018 to join in on celebrations that will have visitors running through the streets of Grahamstown during the day and relaxing with good food and esteemed scientific company in the evening.

An electronic programme is available at

Do try this at home!

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