Science whizz-kids on the world stage
Durban - Two of KZN's science whizz-kids will represent South Africa against other top young scientists on the world stage.
Faran Steenkamp from Kloof will compete in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) in Singapore in June. This week, it was also announced that Suhaan Singh,16, would represent South Africa in the 2021 Virtual Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in the US next month.
Steenkamp, a matric pupil at Thomas More College in Kloof, will join a team of three other South Africans ‒ two from Gauteng and one from the Western Cape ‒ to compete in the IOI which is regarded as one of the most prestigious science competitions for high-school pupils in the world.
Steenkamp said this week that he was “super excited” to have been selected and hoped Covid regulations would allow for the team to travel to Singapore.
"I'm really excited and also a little nervous to travel to Singapore, meet the other contestants and test myself against the problems set.
"If we cannot travel, the Olympiad will go ahead online. We (the team) have attended training camps and still have a few to do. There can be really tough problems set sometimes and they may also throw a curveball at you," said Steenkamp, who has also had to learn coding system C++ because the IOI only uses this language for the competition.
The global competition includes problem analysis, design of algorithms and data structures, programming and testing. Each country can send a team of four to compete and each contestant competes individually to maximise their score by solving three algorithmic problems within five hours.
To be chosen to compete, Steenkamp had to be a medallist in the Computer Programming Olympiad of 2020 where he won a silver medal, as well as attending training camps, undertaking multiple international Informatics Olympiads and completing the pilot Pan African Olympiad. On top of being skilled in informatics, Steenkamp has four years of solving complex robotic challenges, with his team winning two golds and one silver provincially and being placed in the top eight nationally.
When he's not tapping away on his computer keyboard, he loves to play the piano. He also enjoys rock climbing and can be spotted on the climbing wall at the Southern Rock Climbing Centre in New Germany.
Meanwhile 16-year-old Suhaan Singh, from St Dominic's Academy in Newcastle, used his intellectual prowess and a Lego kit to construct and modify a robot to automate the Covid-19 screening and sanitising process.
Speaking to The Independent on Saturday this week, Singh said he undertook the project because some of his close family members had comorbidities and he wanted to protect them from Covid-19.
"I felt that if I passed it on to a family member, I would never forgive myself, which made me think about the inefficiency of the screening process and come up with a solution," he said.
And so he created a robot and app capable of executing the screening process.
"I've always been fascinated by robotics and have been studying it since Grade 6. I have an affinity for it and want to be able to learn how to solve the problems of today," said Singh, who added that he started building small robots when he was young.
With his project described as "addressing a contemporary issue and demonstrating an advanced and in-depth understanding of engineering concepts", Singh was awarded a bronze medal at the 2020 Eskom Expo International Science Fair.
Eskom general manager of risk and sustainability Andre Etzinger said: "Suhaan has demonstrated the innovation that is much needed in SA to help make us internationally competitive as he takes this step onto the international stage."
The Regeneron ISEF takes place from May 16-21 with more than 1 800 young scientists competing for nearly R73 million in awards, prizes and scholarships.
The Independent on Saturday