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A Ladysmith pupil has won first prize – worth R17 000 – in an international science competition for her toothbrush-sterilising device.
Chené Mostert, 17, a matric pupil at Ladysmith High School, won the prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has been invited to present her invention to the American Dental Association in December.
“Winning this competition feels unreal. I went there for the experience, and I wasn’t expecting to win anything,” Chené said.
The Fair is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, held in May. Each year, more than 1 500 high school pupils from about 70 countries display their independent research and compete for more than $3 million (R25.2 million) in prizes.
“Pittsburgh was amazing. Everyone was so friendly and I met so many awesome people,” Chené said.
For her project, Chené collected more than 100 toothbrushes from around the country.
“The device is made out of a box with four plastic tubes, into which the toothbrush is placed. When the user turns a handle, an internal scrubbing brush is activated, using hydrogen peroxide to clean the bristles,” she said. “It’s basic but effective.”
She said the project also aimed to make people aware of the dangers of using a dirty toothbrush. “When I looked at all the toothbrushes from a geographical perspective, I found the ones from rural areas had the most pathogens,” she said.
Chené said she had been interested in science since she was in Grade 3. “Science allows you to come up with solutions that could make the world a better place for everyone,” she said.
While Chené is saving to study medicine next year, she plans to use her prize money to take her parents on holiday. “My parents really encouraged me to pursue this project, so I’d like to give back to them,” she said.
She is also grateful to her science teacher, Rienie Conradie, who Chené says is like a mother to her at school.
“I think the youth should remember the future of the planet is in our hands, so I think kids should become more involved in science,” she said.
Last year, the matric physical science pass rate in KwaZulu-Natal was 51.87 percent.
Professor Hamsa Venkatrakrishnan, of the Wits School of Education, said three-quarters of KZN schools were below the required levels in maths, with pupils in Grade 6 unable to do simple multiplications.
In May, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said 2 888 South African schools had a shortage of maths teachers and 2 669 needed physical science teachers.
In KZN, 561 schools needed more maths teachers, and 508 needed more science teachers.