South Africans at the frontier on Play Your Part TV

linzi-lewis-600Linzi Lewis wears many hats; she describes herself as an urban geographer and ethno-botanist

The sixth episode of Brand South Africa’s Play Your Part television series, which airs on SABC 2 on Sunday 20 July at 9pm, features pioneering South Africans who are Playing their Part by pushing the boundaries of science and technology, the environment and beyond – into space.

The episode features Sandile Ngcobo, Mandla Maseko, Linzi Lewis and Adam Levy, as well as a closer look at a groundbreaking multi-billion dollar project taking place in the remote Northern Cape province – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

Breakthrough experimental work by University of KwaZulu-Natal scientist Sandile Ngcobo as part of his PhD research has led to the development of a world-first digital laser set to open up revolutionary new technologies for medicine, communications, manufacturing, product development and more.

Ngcobo was a key part of the team at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Laser Centre that demonstrated that, instead of resorting to expensive optics or other special mediating devices to control the shape of the light coming out of a laser, laser beams can be digitally controlled from inside the laser device itself.

Ngcobo said he believed the digital laser would prove to be a “disruptive” technology. “This is technology which may change the status quo and which could create new markets and value networks within the next few years or decade.”

It is an extraordinary dream come true. Like music to Mandla Maseko’s ears, this part-time DJ will blast off into space, literally. No-one in Maseko’s family has ever stepped outside South Africa, but now the 25-year-old is preparing to rocket into space in 2015.

Maseko won the global Axe Apollo Space Academy competition for an hour long sub-orbital trip of 62 miles, or about 100 kilometres. Handpicked for the trip on the Lynx Mark II Spaceship, Maseko is one of only 23 civilians from around the world to win a seat on the space mission. He saw off a million other entrants to emerge victorious.

Linzi Lewis wears many hats; she describes herself as an urban geographer and ethno-botanist. Fiercely protective of her Mother Earth, she says she is constantly mindful of her relationship between herself and the planet.

It feels natural for her to ride her bicycle 15 km to work every day. This ceremonial cycle is something she believes allows her to be more mindful of the world and is a healthier, more environmentally friendly option.

“I ride my bike for a few reasons. It is where I feel really free. I love riding bicycles and know it’s also possible to do this in Joburg. I believe we need to challenge ourselves, particularly in this society, and challenge the fear we are engrained with growing up here. And not only is it freeing and liberating to do this, it has effects on people who see. It’s all about transforming people’s perceptions, and when they see you riding your bike through the inner city, through Yeoville, etc., they see more possibilities, and hopefully more people will challenge themselves and transform their own behaviours.”

The answers to some of astronomy’s biggest questions may come straight out of the Karoo when construction on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) begins in 2018.

The SKA is a radio telescope which will scour the universe for information to give scientists more data on dark matter, black holes, energy particles and the formation of stars and galaxies. The final construction will look like a field of giant satellite dishes.

The SKA Organisation, a private non-profit company based in the UK, is running the project. Both South Africa and Australia will host SKA with 70% of the project being based in the Karoo. The first phase of construction is expected to start in 2018 with phase two commencing in 2023 and ending in 2030.

The core site in South Africa will be located 100km west of Carnarvon, Northern Cape.