Pieter Pretorius, chairman of the board of directors, eskom expo for young scientists
Pieter Pretorius, chairman of the board of directors, eskom expo for young scientists

JOHANNESBURG - For 37 years the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, the country’s largest school-level science fair, has been cultivating a passion for the sciences in young people. 

The learners who participate at the regional level with the hope of making it through to the Eskom Expo International Science Fair held in Johannesburg every year are often inspired by challenges they see in their communities and set out to find effective and innovative solutions to these problems. 

The topics that catch the imagination of these young people vary widely from identifying renewable energy sources, computer programming, developing clever water saving devices right through to how to prevent shack fires or innovative low-cost housing materials.  

These are young people with insight into the myriad of challenges that face South Africa and a keen awareness that they can play a role in finding the solutions. 

Many people think that school science fairs are a fun way for kids to explore science, and that is certainly true, but make no mistake the Eskom Expo isn’t a mickey mouse affair! It’s a rigorous and intellectually demanding endeavour that challenges the participants to develop a hypothesis and then test it, teaching these budding young scientists the fundamentals of scientific research. 

I have seen time and again learners start out participating as a fun extramural activity but quickly their interest is piqued and many go on to pursue careers in the sciences. As they progress through the competition they grow and their scientific knowledge and skills deepen laying a solid foundation for them to pursue their passion at a tertiary level. 

As Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Eskom Expo I have the privilege of seeing the immense talent that the Eskom Expo has unearthed over the years. Some of the country’s top scientists participated in the Eskom Expo while at school including the likes of Mark Shuttleworth, developer of the Ubuntu Operating system as well as Siyabulela Xuza South Africa’s very own rocket scientist.  

These success stories show that with the right kind of support young people with an interest in science can be become young innovators doing cutting-edge work in a range of industries.  

And the Eskom Expo isn’t just focusing on South African talent. For several years the Eskom Expo has hosted learners from several other African countries. This year we have learners from seven other countries participating and we are very excited that we’re able to take a leading role in developing young scientists on the continent. 

But the Eskom Expo takes it one step further, rather than just fire up a passion for science, the Eskom Expo actively aims to enable those learners with the talent, passion and drive to pursue their dreams by providing a wide range of prizes including scholarships to study at university. Creating a pipeline of talented chemists, engineers, doctors and programmers who are snapped up by key industries who are desperate for talent.    

But none of this would be possible without the support of our sponsors. Eskom has been the headline sponsor for many years, as we see the benefit of developing a passion for science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI). We recognise the desperate need for these scarce skills and that the Eskom Expo offers a unique opportunity to address some of South Africa’s most pressing needs by nurturing and growing talent. 

But we need help from corporate South Africa. With greater investment we could not only grow the Eskom Expo exposing thousands more bright young minds to the wonders of STEMI but we could also improve the support we offer to these young people. By offering bursaries, scholarships and other education support we can help to transition them from keen amateurs into fully-fledged scientists who are crafting solutions to our more pressing problems.   

Working with young people means we aren’t just making their dreams come true – we are investing in communities and creating an enabling environment that allows these future scientists to thrive and I, for one, am proud to be part of such an inspiring initiative. 

Pieter Pretorius is the chairman of the board of Directors for the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists.