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Science Science for for South South Africa Africa

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Volume 4 • Number 1 • 2007 Volume 3 • Number 2 • 2007 R25 R20

A c Aacdaedmeym yo fo fS c i ei ennccee ooff SS o u tt hh AAffrri c i ca a Sc ou

Science, technology and innovation play a crucial role in the improvement of the quality of life in South Africa. Collectively the fields increase industry’s competitiveness thereby enhancing the prosperity of the country and the rest of the African Continent. We at the National Research Foundation (founded on 1 April 1999) are dedicated to respond to national and continental developmental needs. Our vision enshrines a prosperous South Africa and an African continent steeped in a knowledge culture, free of widespread diseases and poverty. We aim to achieve these objectives through: • The support and promotion of research through funding. • Human resource development, and the • Provision of the necessary research facilities in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, and indigenous knowledge. The NRF consists of following business units: • South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAATSA) - Pretoria • Research and Innovation Support Agency (RISA) - Pretoria • Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartROA) - Krugersdorp • Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO) - Hermanus • iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences (iThemba LABS) - Somerset West • South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) - Grahamstown • National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) - Pretoria • South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) - Pretoria • South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) - Cape Town Major current and future activities: Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere. The NRF is also managing the research component of the South African Environmental Observation Network in Pretoria (SAEON) - Pretoria. The NRF’s facilities are clustered as follows. Astro/Space/Geosciences • South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO), also responsible for SALT. • Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartROA); and • Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO). Biodiversity/Conservation • South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB). • South African Environmental Observation Network. • The National Zoological Gardens. Nuclear Sciences • iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator Based Sciences.

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Cover stories


International Polar Year The South African National Antarctic Programme Candice Levieux – Addressing the global issues The 730-day International Polar Year A.D.M Walker – The history behind IPY 6

Southern Ocean hotspots Isabelle J. Ansorge Underwater disturbances and ocean currents


Predicting South African rainfall Chris Reason and Mathieu Rouault

Contents VOLUME 4 • NUMBER 1 • 2007


It’s not easy!


Youth into science & technology Veronica Mohapeloa Getting young people involved


Polar convergence of art and science Nomtha Myoli A common mission in Antarctica


Diamond anniversary of Mrs Ples Francis Thackeray A ‘virtual brain’ with a story


STIAS – a centre for African solutions How to build a creative space for the mind

Regulars 26

Science news Meditation go-ahead; Fine-tune those precision instruments (p. 23) • Communication for Africa – Telephone access; EASSy does it; A wireless option (p. 38) • Carbon emissions worse than expected; Computer users be warned; Red List alert; The good news (p. 39)

Historical memory and healing? Bernard Lategan Looking to the future




Careers interview Work in electrical engineering and in space physics – Nomtha Myoli talks with Pierre Cilliers

Grappling with complexity


Books Biotechnology and Health

Paul Cilliers – Facing diversity


The S&T tourist Travelling companions

Seeking a common language of life

Getting around with books 40

Jannie Hofmeyr Biology examines its interactions 31

The Mostertsdrift experimental vineyard Albert Strever Pinotage gets better all the time


Viewpoint: Bridging the digital divide Phil Charles In search of cheap, reliable bandwidth

Your QUESTions answered Understanding planets & beating addictions – Phil Charles, Mark Gillman, and Victor Kotze


Crossword puzzle


Letter to QUEST Improving career guidance


Diary of events


ASSAf news Consensus report on HIV/AIDS, TB, and Nutrition – Wieland Gevers


Subscription form


Back page science • Mathematical puzzle

Special feature: science for the classroom The quest for high-temperature superconductivity Max Planck Society After page 22

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Science Science for for South South AfricA AfricA

ISSN 1729-830X ISSN 1729-830X

Volume 4 • Number 1 • 2007 Volume 3 • Number 2 • 2007 r25 r20

Global teamwork


A c AAcdAedmeym yo fo fS c I eI eNNccee ooff S u tt hh AAffrrI c I cA A Sc So ou

Archway iceberg.

Photograph: HedgehogHouse/Colin Monteath


ISSN 1729-830X

Editor Elisabeth Lickindorf Editorial Board Wieland Gevers (University of Cape Town) (Chair) Graham Baker (South African Journal of Science) Phil Charles (SAAO) Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan (University of Cape Town) George Ellis (University of Cape Town) Jonathan Jansen (Stanford University) Correspondence and The Editor enquiries PO Box 1011, Melville 2109 Tel./fax: (011) 673 3683 e-mail: (For more information visit Advertising enquiries Barbara Spence Avenue Advertising PO Box 71308 Bryanston 2021 Tel.: (011) 463 7940 Fax: (011) 463 7939 Cell: 082 881 3454 e-mail: Subscription enquiries Elisabeth Lickindorf and back issues Tel./Fax: (011) 673 3683 e-mail: or Copyright © 2007 Academy of Science of South Africa

nce upon a time, it was possible for individual scientists such as Newton and Einstein to pursue a subject on their own and emerge with findings that would transform the way the world thinks. Then, as knowledge grew, issues seemed to become more complex. Teams had to be put together to tackle them. The increased mobility of scholars, and the revolution in information technology over the past decade, have brought unprecedented potential for people from around the world to combine forces. As the problems get bigger, the global community of researchers, in all fields and disciplines, has increasingly to find ways to make its teamwork stronger and better. This issue of reverberates with global teamwork – and pleads for the state-of-the-art communication technology infrastructure that will bring out its full potential (p. 34). We celebrate the International Polar Year, in which, over 24 months, collaborators working in fields related to the Arctic and Antarctic are conducting research with huge environmental implications for individual countries and for the planet as a whole. South Africa has its own national research support programme (p. 4) and, as part of the global effort, our scientists are exploring the currents in the Southern Ocean (p. 6), the way in which different factors combine to affect the country’s rainfall and its predictability (p. 10), and the way in which people in the arts and the sciences can work together in the polar regions (p. 12). On land, in the Western Cape, the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study has in the past half-dozen years been building a national focal point for international scholarship that breaks the mould. November this year sees the opening of its new research centre, designed architecturally to create a space in which innovative and creative thinking can take place and in which teams of scholars from all disciplines can help with solutions to problems affecting Africa (p. 24). STIAS projects have explored ways in which communities learn to overcome the pain of the past (p. 26), and in which teams of scholars grapple with diversity (p. 28) and with the ‘language’ of the biological sciences (p. 29). All the while, an experimental vineyard in the grounds will work to improve even further the quality of South African wines (p. 31). Finally, at the end of another academic year, our pages urge people young and old to marvel at the wonders of modern science, to be aware of the challenges it faces, and to encourage a new generation of schoolleavers to come on board and play its part (p. 16).

Published by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) PO Box 72135, Lynnwood Ridge 0040, South Africa (011) 673 3683 Permissions Fax: e-mail: Subscription rates (4 issues and postage) (For subscription form, other countries, see p.44.)

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Join QUEST’s knowledge-sharing activities Write letters for our regular Letters column – e-mail or fax your letter to The Editor. (Write QUEST LETTER in the subject line.) ■ Ask science and technology (S&T) questions for specialist members of the Academy of Science to answer in our regular Questions and Answers column – e-mail or fax your questions to The Editor. (Write QUEST QUESTION in the subject line.) ■ Inform readers in our regular Diary of Events column about science and technology events that you may be organizing. (Write QUEST DIARY clearly on your e-mail or fax and provide full and accurate details.) ■ Contribute if you are a specialist with research to report. Ask the Editor for a copy of QUEST’s Call for Contributions (or find it at, and make arrangements to tell us your story. To contact the Editor, send an e-mail to: or fax your communication to (011) 673 3683. Please give your full name and contact details. ■

International Polar Year The two-year-long IPY (2007–2009) is one of the most ambitious coordinated science programmes ever attempted. Over the past half-century, South Africa has maintained a research presence in Antarctica and on the Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean. Supported by the South African National Antarctic Programme, researchers in the fields of physics, earth sciences, biology, oceanography, climatology, engineering, and even social sciences and humanities are collaborating with colleagues around the world, to understand what is happening in the polar regions, and the implications for the future of the planet. Top: The SA Agulhas in Quay 500 in Cape Town. Built to the highest standards of Lloyds of London, the vessel is 109.45 m long and 18 m wide, and for 29 years has served South Africa’s researchers in the Southern Ocean islands and Antarctica. Photograph: Johan van Niekerk, MMS Technology Left: The remainder of a large Macaroni penguin breeding colony. Breeding takes place from the end of October to the end of February each year. Photograph: Johan van Niekerk, MMS Technology

Below: Proposed Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation (I-TASC) IPY base station, which is to be built for Antarctica for 2008. This station will help scientists and artists to conduct field research in remote areas. The power supply will be tested this year. Photograph: I-TASC

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1 Imperial cormorants on the east side of Marion Island. 2 Calm sunset over the Southern Ocean from the deck of the SA Agulhas. 3 The coastline of rugged cliffs and sheer rock faces means that the SA Agulhas remains in the bay, never docking on Marion Island. 4 The island’s king penguin population is estimated at some 215 000 breeding adults. 5 There are about 1 200 adult southern elephant seals on the island. They spend 8–10 months a year at sea, coming onto land only to breed and moult. 6 Southern elephant seals are the largest of the seals, and an adult male (pictured here) weighs up to 4.5 tonnes. 7 The Subantarctic skua is one of the 29 species of bird that use the island for breeding and mountling. 8 Aerial view of the newly constructed base on Marion Island, with the old base to the left. 9 Part of the old base, which will be demolished and removed once the new one has been commissioned. Photographs: Tracy Bossenger, National Research Foundation (pictures 1–5 and 8); Johan van Niekerk, MMS Technology (pictures 6–7 and 9) Images courtesy of the Department of Science and Technology. 1

The South African National Antarctic Programme The SANAP funding programme supports scientific research on South Africa’s subAntarctic islands (Marion and Prince Edward islands), in the Southern Ocean, and on the Antarctic continent1. Building on 50 years of past South African research, work is conducted in earth sciences; biological sciences; physical sciences; engineering; and the social sciences, law, and humanities. SANAP’s five themes collectively make up the Antarctic Research Strategy for South Africa (ARESSA), tying in with the themes of International Polar Year (IPY). The “Window into Geospace” theme covers the physics of geospace, including the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and upper reaches of the atmosphere, with SANAE IV as the base for observations and measurements. The Southern Hemisphere Auroral Radar Experiment (SHARE), for example, is part of an international

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collaboration involved with ground-based magnetospheric and ionospheric research. “Climate Variability: Past, Present and Future” uses Antarctica and the Southern Ocean as natural laboratories for studying long-term and short-term climate change and likely impacts on the Earth. It brings together the earth sciences, physical sciences, and biological oceanography. One project, for instance, addresses changes in frontal systems and their effects on biodiversity. “Biodiversity Responses to Earth System Variability” examines life’s responses to change, now and in an increasingly uncertain climatic future. It supports work on the causes of variation in terrestrial and marine biodiversity, ecosystems’ reactions to environmental variability, and natural and human influences on biodiversity (such as invasions of alien plants and animals, for example). Such research helps

1. SANAP is jointly funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) (science) and the Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism (logistics and infrastructure). The National Research Foundation is responsible for SANAP’s scientific administration, on behalf of the DST.

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The 730-day International Polar Year


in planning protected areas in Antarctica, and, more broadly, conservation and sustainable development. “Engineering a Sustainable Presence in Antarctica” builds on South Africa’s commitments to stringent environmental protocols. The research focuses on developing, testing, and implementing engineering solutions for minimal impact, maximum efficiency, and cuttingedge technological support for human (especially science-based) activities in Antarctica and associated ecosystems. One project, for instance, deals with an integrated waste management solution for the SANAE and Marion Island bases. “The History, Sociology and Politics of Antarctic Exploration and Research” explores human dimensions of research and exploration of Antarctica and its associated and dependent ecosystems. South Africa is the only African country with a presence in Antarctica. ■



South Africa’s bases The Prince Edward Islands: the weather station on Marion Island conducts observations, but research here is mainly biological. There is restricted access to the smaller Prince Edward Island. (South Africa also leases a section of Gough Island from the UK, mainly for weather observations.) SANAE IV is South Africa’s fourth base in Antarctica (the first three, on the ice shelf, sank into the ice and were evacuated), with a research focus on upper-air physics, magnetic studies, and geoscience. It is also the medical and search-and-rescue hub for the countries operating in the Dronning Maud Land area of Antarctica. The SA Agulhas is the research and supply vessel – acquired in 1978, and strengthened for navigation in ice – that supplies the South African bases.


Two of the most important international cooperative scientific efforts of all time were launched in March 2007 – the International Polar Year (IPY) and the International Heliophysical Year (IHY). International scientists might seem a numerate lot, and know that one and one equals two. So it may seem surprising for the IPY to last from 1 March 2007 to 1 March 2009, in a year that’s 730 days long. The reasons are historical. This IPY is the fourth of a series. The first (1882–83) – the inspiration of Austrian explorer and naval officer Karl Weyprecht – came from the understanding that geophysical phenomena could not be surveyed by one nation alone, but needed a coordinated international effort. Twelve countries participated in one of the first large-scale international scientific cooperations. Sadly, Weyprecht died before his idea come to fruition. The second IPY, 50 years later (1932–33), led to major advances in meteorology, geomagnetism, atmospheric science, ionospheric physics, and radio science and technology. A consequence for South Africa was the establishment of a permanent magnetic observatory, now the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory – a leading facility internationally, and particularly important because of the sparse coverage in Africa, and in the southern hemisphere generally, compared with the northern hemisphere. The International Geophysical Year (IGY) (1 July 1957–31 December 1958), celebrated the 75th and 25th anniversaries of the First and Second IPYs, and the third polar year was part of it. The IGY dramatically advanced the understanding of geophysics – one recalls the excitement of the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belts, the FuchsHillary trans-Antarctic expedition, and the launch of Sputnik that heralded the start of the space age. Founded on the IGY was the ratification, in 1961, of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, to which South Africa is one of the 12 foundation signatories. It puts aside all territorial claims, reserving Antarctica for purposes of science and conservation. The first South African Antarctic Expedition in 1959 was a direct consequence of the IGY, since when we have maintained a continuous presence in Antarctica. The official IGY lasted 18 months. It was not enough. The enormous effort required more time, so a further research year was added. Noting this, the planners of the current IPY have created the 730-day ‘year’. This IPY is one of the most ambitious coordinated international science programmes ever attempted. Meanwhile, the IHY will continue the international study of solar system space physics so successfully initiated by the IGY. – A. D. M. Walker, School of Physics, University of KwaZulu-Natal For more on the International Polar Year, visit

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Southern Ocean hotspots Isabelle J. Ansorge explores the influence of a mountain ridge under the ocean at the Prince Edward Islands and their ecosystems.


Figure 1

Top: This iceberg was spotted in 2004 south of Africa at 54°S. Icebergs drift at a rate of about 0.7 km/h. Their speed is affected by many things, including their size and shape, ocean currents, waves, and wind. Figure 1: Schematic map of the major currents in the southern hemisphere south of 20°S. Depths shallower than 3500 m are shaded. The two main cores of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current are shown – the Subantarctic Front (SAF) and the Antarctic Polar Front (APF) – as is the interbasin exchange between the Southern, Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Source: S.R. Rintoul et al., “The Antarctic Circumpolar Current System”, in G. Siedler et al. (eds), Ocean Circulation and Climate – Observing and Modelling the Global Ocean (International Geophysics Series, vol. 77, Academic Press, 2001), pp.271–302.

he Prince Edward Islands are located in the Southern Ocean at approximately 38°E, 47°S. They form a very special habitat for seals, albatrosses and whales and have, for this reason, been designated a declared nature reserve. The ecology of the islands depends directly on their ocean environment. The advent of satellite data has revealed that these islands are in fact located on the northern edge of a region of remarkably high oceanic turbulence, which, in turn, influences the kind of food available to the islands’ top predators and could help to explain their feeding behaviour. The latest discoveries and explorations – which form a key part in South Africa’s involvement in the work of the International Polar Year – could also help us to understand better than ever before the high physical and biological variability found at the islands. Southern Ocean currents and the world’s climate The Southern Ocean is the name given to the oceanic region that surrounds the entire Antarctic continent1. It is made up of the southern extents of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans (see Figure 1). The Antarctic continent forms its southern boundary, while the northern border normally coincides with the location of the Subtropical Convergence, which marks the boundary between warm, salty subtropical surface water to the north and cooler, fresher Antarctic waters to the south. The particular geography of the Southern Ocean makes it the only place where ocean currents can

Definitions Eddy: A current of water moving contrary to the main current, especially in a circular motion. Bathymetry: The measurement of the depth of the ocean floor from the water surface. Ecosystem: A community of organisms, interacting with each other, as well as the environment in which they live. GOOS and SOOS: Did you know that observing systems are in place all over the world’s oceans under the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) programme ( They are there to ensure that data collection continues and that gaps in our knowledge and understanding of ocean processes are slowly filled. A new system is now in place for the Southern Ocean (SOOS).

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run completely around the globe, unobstructed by land masses. Dominating the circulation of the region’s currents is the strong, deep, eastward-flowing Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) – the only current that flows completely around the globe. The ACC is a complex system, comprising narrow regions of sharp temperature gradients known as frontal bands, which are separated by broad zones with less intense gradients. Variability in the pathway of this current occurs in the form of meanders or eddy-like features that result from the current’s interaction with shallow bathymetry such as underwater mountain chains and plateaux – making it behave a bit like a ‘speed wobble’. The ACC is often referred to as the West Wind Drift, named after the strong westerly winds that prevail between 40°S and 60°S2. The Southern Ocean plays a critical role in global ocean circulation and, thereby, on present-day climate. Extending unbroken around Antarctica, the ACC is by far the largest conduit by which water, heat, and salt are transferred between the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans (see Figure 1). These exchanges help to regulate global climate, so it is vital to monitor changes in the ACC’s flow, strength, and physical-chemical characteristics if we want to understand the importance of this ocean in the context of climate change. It is especially important to increase oceanographic surveys to the Southern Ocean, to improve our forecasting and modelling capabilities, and to continue to integrate interrelated sciences such as marine and terrestrial biology, physical oceanography, and marine meteorology. 1. The Southern Ocean is defined as the region between 40°S and the Antarctic continent. 2. South of the ACC, in a narrow zone around most of the Antarctic continent, there is a westward flowing coastal current termed the East Wind Drift, named after the prevailing easterly winds near the coast. Flowing westwards, this current is a counter-current to the ACC and can be found south of 66°S. Although the East Wind Drift is circumpolar, the shape of the Antarctic Peninsula partially impedes its flow.

Figure 2: Distribution of areas with high levels of turbulence in the Southern Ocean. The regions of high variability and, consequently, eddygenerating hotspots, are shown in red. One area of interest can be found at 50°S, 30°E and relates to the high variability associated with the South-West Indian Ridge. Source: S.T. Gille et al., “Global Correlation of Mesoscale Ocean Variability with Seafloor Roughness from Satellite Altimetry”, Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 27, pp.1251–1254.

Far left: The Prince Edward Islands are home to thousands of king penguins. Figure 2

Life for oceanographers at sea. Left (from top): One of the wonders of the Southern Ocean is its sheer wildness. Constantly battered by gale force winds, which whip up the sea into 10-metre-high waves, oceanographers work in an extremely hostile but exciting environment. Some days come as a surprise – this picture of calm was taken at 52°S and shows how the state of the sea can change from one day to the next. Another stormy day viewed from the deck of the SA Agulhas. Heading south on board the Russian research vessel, the RV Akademik Sergey Vavilov.

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What makes the Southern Ocean interesting A concerted effort in high-density observations in the Southern Ocean began in 1990 as part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE). A total of 30 nations participated, using ships to make physical and chemical observations, and employing moored and drifting instrumentation throughout the world’s oceans. One objective of WOCE was to understand better the flow pattern of the ACC and to map its variability. North/south extensions to the mean flow of the ACC have been observed in the form of turbulent eddies or large meanders, creating a kind of ‘wake’ effect, similar to (but far more powerful than) the trails of waves that a moving ship leaves behind. They have been found downstream of shallow underwater mountain chains, which suggests a strong relationship between the variability in the path of the ACC and the shape of the seafloor. Regions that stand out correlate clearly with where the ACC crosses the South-West Indian Ridge, the Kerguelen Plateau, and the Macquarie Ridge, or at choke points (where the ACC is squeezed between land masses) such as the Drake Passage, south of South America, or at the Macquarie Ridge, south of New Zealand (see Figure 2). Now, many of the International Polar Year projects are examining the importance of these regional ‘turbulent hotspots’ in increasing the exchange of cold, fresh waters from the Southern Ocean with warmer and more saline waters from the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. One region that interests South African physical and biological oceanographers is the South-West Indian Ridge, located upstream of the Prince Edward Islands (see Figure 3). This ridge rises from submarine depths greater than 5 000 m. Stretching northeastwards from 55°S–25°S, it lies directly in the path of the ACC. Satellite data (see Figure 2) have shown that the southern sector of the ridge, centred at 30°E,

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Above: At sea, oceanographic data are collected using a CTD (or conductivity, temperature, and depth), made up of sensors protected by a steel rosette. The instrument can record temperature, pressure, salinity (salt content), oxygen, and density continuously from the surface to the seafloor. Here (left) a CTD is being lowered by a cable over the side of a ship. Once in the water, it transmits real-time data to a computer on board the research vessel. In addition, up to 24 bottles on the rosette around the CTD (see close-up on the right) can be closed at select depths during the upcast, bringing back water samples that provide additional data about nutrients, oxygen, and CFCs, for example. A typical 6 000-m cast can take up to four hours to complete.

50°S, forms an intense eddy spawning-ground. Understanding the influence of this undersea mountain ridge in generating these turbulent features within the current, and finding out more about their ability to transport water masses as well as vagrant plankton species from the Antarctic northwards, form a major South African oceanographic initiative for the work of the International Polar Year. This kind of research is so important because of the information it provides about Subantarctic-island predators – such as elephant seals and grey headed albatrosses – and the impact of changes in ocean circulation on their foraging and breeding behaviour. Effects on the Prince Edward Islands The Prince Edward Islands are situated in the middle of the ACC. Subantarctic islands such as these are classified as isolated, hostile regions, in which the terrestrial and marine ecosystems are relatively simple and extremely sensitive to changes in climate. They form ideal ecological laboratories for studying how organisms and ecosystems respond to changes in the Southern Ocean. The Prince Edward Islands, furthermore,

Students on the high seas The Oceanography Department at the University of Cape Town is actively involved in the Southern Ocean. Students studying oceanography at honours level get the opportunity to spend five weeks on board the SA Agulhas (during its relief voyage to the Prince Edward Islands), for hands-on experience in handling oceanographic equipment such as the CTD, running the winch system, collecting and analysing oceanographic water samples, as well as writing up the data for scientific publication. Often ‘hooked’ by their first research trip experience, many students go on to study for a master’s degree, and sometimes spend many months at sea. Right: A surface drifter carrying measuring instruments is thrown into the centre of an eddy to examine its surface circulation. A long ‘holey sock’ below the sea surface acts as an anchor to mitigate the effect of gale force winds.

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are seasonally characterized by enormous populations of important predators, so any alterations in the ocean environment (in the vicinity of these islands or further afield), could seriously affect their diet. Consequently, the Prince Edward Islands are considered a biodiversity hotspot in the Southern Ocean. This environment’s ability to sustain such large numbers of key predators comes from the close interaction between the oceanic environment and the islands themselves. Researchers have observed that changes in the intensity and geographic position of the ACC, as well as increased eddy generation, coincide with dramatic changes in the distribution of species and abundance of food within the Southern Ocean. In fact, recent studies at the Prince Edward Islands have shown that changes in zooplankton communities are closely aligned to variations in sea-surface temperature – in a nutshell, if the position of the ACC moves north or southwards, the diet of many top predators changes as new zooplankton species are introduced into the island ecosystem. What we’ve found is that the South-West Indian Ridge is criss-crossed by deep fracture zones (see Figure 3). The Prince Edward Islands lie directly east of the South-West Indian Ridge on a distinct and independent pinnacle that rises from a depth of 5 000 m. South of the islands, the seafloor forms a deep (>5 000 m) ocean plain; in the northern region the seafloor is complex with underwater seamounts scattered around the shallow Del Cano Rise and Crozet Plateau further to the east. When we look at the bathymetry in the vicinity of the Prince Edward Islands, it becomes abundantly clear that the surrounding complex pattern of ridges and rises forms important restrictions to the flow of the ACC, resulting in an increase in ocean turbulence in this region.

Southern Ocean hotspots

Figure 3: Schematic of the northern and southern subsurface (200-m) boundaries of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current represented by the 6°C and 2°C isotherms in the vicinity of the South-West Indian Ridge. Depths of less than 4 000 m are shaded. Figure 4: The north-eastward translation of a cold eddy, generated at the South-West Indian Ridge towards the Prince Edward Islands. Temporal intervals between locations are from 10 to 30 days. Depths less than 4 000 m are shaded with the 5 000-m isobath, indicating the extent of the deep (>5 000 m) Agulhas and Enderby basins, highlighted.

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Extensive oceanographic surveys between South Africa and the Prince Edward Islands have been conducted. They showed that the islands are located within the core of the ACC, sandwiched between warm waters to the north and cold Antarctic waters to the south (see Figure 3). Surveys between 2003 and 2005 upstream of the Prince Edward Islands showed that eddies formed by the interaction of the ACC as it crosses the shallow South-West Indian Ridge move northeastwards in a narrow corridor over a period of 11 months (see Figure 4). On average, at least three such eddies pass into the Prince Edward Island region each year, bringing with them characteristics from far south. The lifetime of such an eddy is less than a year and its speed of travel away from its

Figure 5: Horizontal distribution of subsurface (200 m) temperature across a cold eddy. The impact of this eddy in introducing cold Antarctic water masses into the Subantarctic region is clearly shown by the difference in temperatures between the core of the eddy (<1 °C) and the outside (>3 °C). A surface drifter (shown by the black arrows) highlights the feature’s cyclonic rotation.

source area is approximately 2 km/day. It is hypothesised that the regular movement of such ocean features into the island vicinity could play a potentially important part in varying the island ecosystem by introducing cold Antarctic waters and associated marine species. It seems possible that the ecosystem of the Prince Edward Islands benefits greatly from its location in the vicinity of the eddy street originating at the South-West Indian Ridge, given that these eddies carry with them zooplankton and phytoplankton from their region of origin. The results of this research suggest that the waters surrounding the Prince Edward Islands have a far more diverse spectrum of organisms than one would normally expect from an island in the Subantarctic. Moreover, the eddies create unusual habitats of their own, particularly at their borders, as we see from the feeding behaviour of albatrosses. We now know, for example, that top island predators, such as the grey-headed albatrosses, forage mainly on small fish and squid found in high numbers at the edge of these eddy features. The mechanisms responsible for sustaining such high concentrations of marine life, and their implications for the marine ecosystem of the Prince Edward Islands are poorly understood – thanks to South Africa’s involvement in the IPY, we are addressing this gap in our knowledge. ■ Acknowledgements: Thanks are due to the officers and crew of the SA Agulhas for their invaluable assistance at sea over the years; to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and the Department for Science and Technology for funding through SANAP, administered by the National Research Foundation; and to Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town for additional funds and facilities for this survey.

Dr Ansorge is in the Oceanography Department at the University of Cape Town. She is researching the circulation and effects of currents in the Southern Ocean, and the part they play in the environment and productivity of Subantarctic islands such as the Prince Edward Islands.

Albatrosses are often considered the most majestic of Antarctic birds. They spend most of their lives on the wing, circling and gliding along the wind systems of the Southern Ocean. For more, read I.J. Ansorge and J.R.E. Lutjeharms, “A review of 25 years of oceanographic research at the Prince Edward Islands”, South African Journal of Science, vol. 96 (2000), pp.557–565; and I.J. Ansorge and J.R.E. Lutjeharms, “Direct observations of eddy turbulence at a ridge in the Southern Ocean”, Geophys. Res. Lett., vol. 32 (2005), doi:10.1029/2005GL022588. The following websites are also recommended:; www.; oceans/; and

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Predicting South African rainfall Chris Reason and Mathieu Rouault demonstrate how new data correlations can improve rainfall predictability.


nderstanding South African rainfall variability and working towards improved long-range forecasting is not easy, because the region appears to be influenced by several factors: the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) (also known as the Antarctic Oscillation), and patterns of seasurface temperature (SST) in the neighbouring South Atlantic and South Indian oceans, as well as by Antarctic sea-ice variability. Most of the country is dominated by summer rainfall and, historically, scientific attention has focused mainly on the influence of the Indian Ocean and of ENSO, because the main source of moisture in summer is the Western Indian Ocean. Once sophisticated computer models of the atmosphere and better observations were available to researchers, it became clear that we needed to understand better the role of the South Atlantic and the Antarctic region on South African climate.

Some definitions ENSO (the El Niño–Southern Oscillation) involves a re-organization of the tropical atmosphere–ocean circulation over about 12–18 months, which leads to seasonal rainfall and temperature changes over many areas (some are wetter and cooler, others are drier and warmer in particular seasons during ENSO events). During an El Niño, when warm SST anomalies typically evolve in the tropical eastern Pacific some time during the autumn or winter, southeastern Africa tends to be drier than average in the following summer rainy season, whereas equatorial East Africa tends to be wetter than average in the previous spring season. A La Niña leads to roughly the reverse rainfall anomalies. SAM (the Southern Annular Mode) represents a large-scale fluctuation in the atmospheric circulation over the southern hemisphere, with opposite changes in the Antarctic region to that in the 30–50°S latitude band. Mid-latitude storm tracks are shifted north during the negative phase of the SAM, leading to wetter winters in western South Africa, and the reverse during years with a positive-phase SAM. A negative phase SAM has higher-than-average pressure over Antarctica and lower-than-average pressure over the 30–50°S latitude band; the reverse is true for the positive phase. SST (sea-surface temperature) anomalies over the South Indian and South Atlantic oceans can affect atmospheric circulation and rainfall over southern Africa, because they create changes in the amount of moisture evaporated from the sea surface and the direction in which this moisture is transported.

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The relationships between the SAM, the South Atlantic SST, and the South African rainfall variability have now been explored, and we have found evidence that when the SAM is in its negative phase, winters over western South Africa tend to be wetter. It has also been found that reduced sea-ice extent in the Antarctic due south of South Africa but increased sea-ice extent further west near the Antarctic Peninsula is associated with more winter rainfall. Analysis of observations and computer model experiments have indicated that wetter or drier winters are also influenced by certain SST patterns in the subtropical to mid-latitude South Atlantic. Thus, as in the summer rainfall region, several factors seem to be important for winter rainfall. This complexity makes long-range forecasting very difficult. Winter and summer rainfall variability The west coast of South Africa is mainly a winter rainfall region. A growing population in the Cape Town area is placing increasing demand on available water resources, so we need to understand better how and why winter rainfall varies from one year to the next. Statistical analysis of South African Weather Service rainfall data for 1948–2004 for the west coast region indicates that, of the 7 wettest winters in this period, 6 showed a negative phase of the SAM. Of the 8 driest winters during this period, 6 showed a positive phase, indicating that there seems to be an inverse relationship between winter rainfall and the SAM. The predictive indications offered by the SAM index could be useful to water managers in the winter rainfall regions who need to make decisions about releasing water from dams for irrigation and industrial purposes, and who need to plan new urban developments to accommodate a rapidly growing and relatively poor population.

Features important for winter rainfall

Figure 1

Figure 2

The SAM influences South African winter rainfall by shifting the subtropical jet (that is, the strong west–east flow of air at about 10–12 km above the surface, which influences the tracks of the cold fronts and anticyclones that control the weather at the surface), as well as by changing the amount of low-level moisture that is transported from the South Atlantic towards the Western Cape, where it may produce rainfall. In addition, the SAM influences the frequency and generation of cold fronts in the South Atlantic and hence winter rainfall downstream over South Africa. We have also conducted experiments with an atmospheric model, using observed SST, and then introducing individual anomalies to see how they influence South African rainfall patterns. The results indicate that the subtropical and mid-latitude South Atlantic Ocean region has some influence on South African winter rainfall, mainly by affecting the amount of moisture evaporated over the ocean and the proportion that is actually transported towards western South Africa to produce rain. A link is also apparent between the SAM and summer (January–February–March) rainfall over the Eastern Cape such that late-summer/autumn rainfall here could to some extent possibly be predicted, using the state of the SAM earlier in the summer. This part of the country is prone to drought and has a large and poor rural population. Previous work has found connections between summer rainfall here and SST in the South West Indian Ocean, but it is now apparent that the SAM is also important. New connections and predictability Evidence has now been found of relationships between a SAM index and winter rainfall over the west coast region of South Africa as well as summer rainfall over the southeast coastal region. The SAM index has had the long-term trend

removed from it before correlating with the rainfall. The reason for doing this is that most South African rainfall data show very strong variations from one year to the next, or from one decade to the next, due to natural climate variations such as ENSO or SAM, but currently they do not show a clear trend towards either wetter or drier conditions over a statistically significant period of time. Both regions are characterized by substantial interannual (between years) and interdecadal (between decades) variability in rainfall. Although both may to some extent be affected by ENSO, its influence is believed to be substantially less here than further north over the country, and the anomalously wet and dry years include both ENSO and years during which neither a La Niña nor an El Niño event occurred. There tends to be more winter rainfall over western South Africa when the SAM is in its negative phase, and the reverse when it is in its positive phase. In summer, southeastern South Africa may receive more rain when the SAM is in positive phase and less when it is in negative phase.Long-range forecasting of rainfall variations over South Africa is difficult, but better knowledge of the connections between the South Atlantic, the Antarctic, the SAM, and climate variations over the country should in time ease the task. ■ Professor Reason and Dr Rouault are in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town. For more, consult the sources cited in the figure captions, as well as R. Blamey and C.J.C. Reason, “Relationships between Antarctic sea-ice and South African winter rainfall”, Climate Research, vol. 33 (2007), pp.183–193; and C.J.C. Reason and D. Jagadheesha, “Relationships between South Atlantic SST variability and atmospheric circulation over the South African region during austral winter), J. Climate, vol. 18 (2005), pp.3059–3075. Visit www., uk/~clivar/ClimateAtlas, and products/precip/CWlink/MJO/enso.shtml.

Figure 1: A time series of SAM index (de-trended) and winter rainfall (May–September) over western South Africa. The area includes the Cape Town region and the Swartland, that is, the coastal zone between the mountains and the sea. Both series have been smoothed and the SAM index has been inverted for ease of comparison. The correlation between the rainfall and the SAM index is high (99% statistical significance), with even a slight increase where the smoothed SAM index precedes the rainfall data by two years. These results suggest that the state of the SAM index for the previous few years can offer predictive indications of how the rainfall might change between different years and even between decades. Source: C.J.C. Reason and M. Rouault (2005), “Links between the Antarctic Oscillation and winter rainfall over western South Africa”, Geophys. Res. Lett. 32(7), L07705, doi 10.1029/2005GL022419.

Figure 2: Summer (January– March) SAM index plotted against summer rainfall over the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. The two series are correlated at 0.59, suggesting the possibility that the state of the SAM earlier in the summer may help to predict rainfall over the Eastern Cape in late summer and autumn. Source: C.J.C. Reason and M. Rouault (2005), “Links between the Antarctic Oscillation and winter rainfall over western South Africa”, Geophys. Res. Lett. 32(7), L07705, doi 10.1029/2005GL022419.

Quest 4(1) 2007 11

I-TASC is an innovative project to bring culture, science, and the media together to work towards common goals, and Nomtha Myoli describes the real-life experiences of a radio host who came on board.

Polar convergence of art & science T he first I-TASC (see box) reconnaissance and communication expedition to Antarctica took place from December 2006 to February 2007. Codenamed GROUNDHOG (a translation of the Norwegian word Grunehogna, where the mobile I-TASC LADOMIR Arctic base station will be located), its object was to construct and deploy I-TASC’s first automatic weather station (AWS), remote sensor, and packet radio unit, to support I-TASC’s operations in Antarctica from 2007 onwards. The team, led by Thomas Mulcaire, left Cape Town harbour on 7 December on board the SA Agulhas, and spent 42 days at the SANAE base and on field reconnaissance trips in Dronnig Maud Land. They included Amanda Rodrigues Alves from Brazil, Adam Hyde from New Zealand, and Swazi-born music producer, artist, composer, and sound engineer Ntsikelelo Ntshingila.

A unique experience Ntshingila had been introduced to I-TASC by Mulcaire, and was excited about getting involved because of what he would learn about the technology involved in the project, and because of the prospect of going public about what was being done. Once on board, he felt that the journey seemed to be taking him to another planet rather than just to the ends of the Earth. In Antarctica, they were supplied with protective gear by SANAP. The conditions were cold (from about 7 °C to a low of –20 °C), but the base was comfortable and cozy. He found the place beautiful and clean, but dangerous. You have to be careful of crevasses and cliffs,

and to avoid getting stuck far from rescue. And the dry wind and air can drain you of energy. But it was reassuring to know that, for reasons of safety, everyone was issued with a radio when travelling outside.

Getting GROUNDHOG set up The GROUNDHOG unit contains an AWS, transmission equipment, and a server (a p4 laptop) powered by solar and wind energy. The project has a focus on renewable energy, with a policy to avoid polluting the environment in any way. The set-up was basic. It required a 5watt transmitter, a 2-channel small mixer, a microphone, a sound compressor, a computer with all the music mp3s, and the antenna. The station is powered by the normal electricity supply at the base. The crew installed the solar- and wind-powered unit at 71°40.433’ S, 02°48.7’ W, so as to be able independently to transmit daily data on the environment to the SANAE IV base, and from there to the I-TASC partner websites and the IPY public via the Internet. The site has been identified for the location of I-TASC’s prototype LICHEN mobile base station module during the 2007–2008 Antarctic summer season. LICHEN will test systems and train crew ahead of the installation of the LADOMIR station at Grunehogna between December 2008 and March 2009. It will house artists, scientists, and engineers working in Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica during the IPY. There were initially some technical glitches in setting up the radio station. The

Left (from top): The Canadian Helicopter Company helicopter Bell 212 flying over the GROUNDHOG unit in Antarctica. Ntsikelelo Ntshingila doing a test broadcast after the I-TASC crew had finished building and installing the radio station, Radio SANAE, situated inside the SANAE IV base. Ntshingila and ionosphere research physicist Pierre Cilliers observing the GROUNDHOG unit, which is powered by wind and solar energy. Ntsikelelo Ntshingila and Thomas Mulcaire conduct transmission tests, using a laptop connected to a modem powered by a small 12-volt battery, and a Yagi antenna, on a mountain called Lorenzo Pegan situated 10 km south of SANAE IV. Remmy Musumpuka ‘chilling’ on a sledge, and a giant albatross wondering if this means food.

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Photographs: I-TASC/GROUNDHOG cres

signal often needed adjusting for clarity, and the transmitter had limited coverage. But being able to reach a 30–40-km radius meant they could issue a couple of small radios to the dozer and caterpillar drivers, so they could enjoy the broadcasts as they worked. The first prototype station began FM broadcasts on 29 December 2006. Next step The expedition’s task had been to locate a site, set up and test the initial equipment – the AWS, transmission equipment, wind turbine, and solar panels. Zama Magogotya, from the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory, is ensuring the smooth running of the project. From the data transmitted daily, Ntshingila, project members, and interested parties can understand better what needs to be included for the mobile LADOMIR base station. LADOMIR will collaborate with other Antarctic base stations, and share skills and information about the environment. In future, the radio station could eventually transmit to geographically dispersed Antarctic bases. Meanwhile, Ntshingila has filmed a video for his song, ‘Liyakhafula’, whose theme is the power of the Sun as the ‘lion’ of the Antarctic. – Nomtha Myoli ■

The Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation (I-TASC) I-TASC is an international network of cultural, scientific, and media technology organizations that share an interest in the convergence of art and science across disciplines. An official project of the International Polar Year (IPY), I-TASC has proposed to establish in the Arctic and Antarctica the framework for collaborative projects between artists, scientists, media workers, and engineers, within the broad fields of migration, weather, and communications. The plan involves installing and maintaining two mobile research stations in the Arctic and Antarctica between 2007 and 2009, and constructing and launching a nano-satellite in a high Sun-synchronous elliptical polar orbit, to enable research and contact between the two stations, and the sharing of sensor data with other IPY projects. The facility planned for the Arctic Circle is MAKROLAB VII. It is an autonomous communications, research, and living unit, that can sustain up to eight crew members for long periods of work (60–180 days) in isolated and insulated conditions. The station is designed for minimal environmental impact, with renewableenergy systems, bioreactor/biological sewage processing, and provision for water recycling. Satellite and HF communication systems, as well as radar infrastructure, will give crews the tools and resources to work in the extreme and harsh polar field-research conditions. Operational systems researched and developed during the MAKROLAB Arctic phases will then be applied to design and build a new rapid-deployment zero-environmental-impact polar research station, to be tested in Antarctica in the southern summers of 2008 and 2009. Its working name is LADOMIR, after the utopian poem written in 1920 by the Russian futurist, Velimir Khlebnikov, who described the universal landscape of the future through the destruction of the old world and its synthesis in the new. The word combines LAD, meaning both ‘harmony’ and ‘living creature’, and MIR, meaning ‘peace’ as well as ‘world, universe.’ Telecommunications, weather and climate systems, and migration are seen as three global areas that can be explored to understand better how our planet functions on natural, social, and technological levels, and to inspire new thinking and new strategies for the future. The LADOMIR-MAKROLAB interpolar complex is intended to bring together the creativity of scientists and people in the arts, and to make our planet understandable to all. Source: I-TASC proposal Right: The GROUNDHOG crew posing in front of the unit.

Quest 4(1) 2007 13

Wor k in elec trical engineering What does it take to pursue these careers? Nomtha Myoli gets answers from Pierre Cilliers, whose own professional life has spanned both.

Left: Space physicists repairing the antennas of the high-frequency (HF) radar at the South African research station SANAE IV in Antarctica. This radar forms part of a network of such radars on or near Antarctica, and it is used to study space weather by observing the movement of ions over the poles in the upper atmosphere. Photograph: Lindsay Magnus, HMO


ierre Cilliers is a research physicist at the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory (HMO) in the Western Cape. He started as a lecturer in electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Pretoria, then moved into the field of space physics when he began work at the observatory. Now he applies his earlier training – in electromagnetic fields and radio communication – to the study of electric and magnetic fields in space and their effects on power systems and radio communication.

Electrical and electronic engineering What is electrical engineering?

Engineering is the creative application of scientific principles, many of them from physics, to the design and development of technology and processes. Electrical engineers apply the basics of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism to design systems that deal with the generation, distribution, and use of electrical power in efficient and safe ways. They design electronic systems to extend people’s ability to sense, transmit, store, display, and interpret information in applications such as equipment and process control systems, electronic measurement systems, and telecommunications. In both electrical and electronic engineering, you’ll apply

14 Quest 4(1) 2007

the skills of mathematical modelling by means of computers in order to represent the behaviour of complex dynamic systems (such as, for example, the operation of nuclear reactors or space vehicles). What personal interests and hobbies are useful?

Interests in electrical machines and electronics, as developed through hobbies in circuit construction and electronic kit building, as well as amateur radio, are all helpful. So is involvement with computer clubs, and playing with technical toys such as Meccano or Lego Technic. You can take apart broken radios, computers, and telephones to see what they’re made of and understand how they work, or build electronic kits or circuits such as those provided in magazines. What skills and aptitudes should you have?

You need to be good at creatively designing technological systems, and at solving practical problems in a logical approach using mathematical modelling, electronics, and computers. Important school subjects?

Mathematics, physical science, and computer science. What qualifications do you need?

I’d recommend a four-year B.Tech. degree in electrical engineering (heavy current) or electrical

engineering (light current) at a university of technology, or a fouryear B.Eng. degree in electrical or electronic engineering at a university, with a programme in electrical and electronic engineering, or a four-year degree in physics and electronics. Name some universities offering these qualifications?

The Tshwane University of Technology, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Central University of Technology, Vaal University of Technology, University of Pretoria, North-West University, Stellenbosch University, University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg, University of the Witswaterstrand, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Where can you find work?

With a degree in electrical engineering, you could work at Eskom, or in the electrical engineering department of municipalities, or as a consulting engineer specializing in electrical systems for buildings and factories in a wide variety of industries. A degree in electronic engineering or in physics and electronics will guide you to industries that develop or maintain components and systems for electronic control, telecommunications, measurement, or robotics.

Q Careers in S&T

and space physics Space Physics What is space physics and what does it involve?

Space physics, also known as ‘space plasma’ physics, is the study of plasmas as they occur naturally in the Universe – for instance, in interstellar space and in the atmospheres of stars, including our Sun. It covers many topics, including the Sun, its solar wind, planetary magnetospheres (regions around the planet effectively controlled by magnetic fields), and ionospheres (the uppermost part of the atmosphere ionised by solar radiation), aurorae, and cosmic rays. Space physics is fundamental to the study of space weather and has important implications not only for understanding the Universe, but also for everyday life. The operation of satellites, communications, and power systems, for instance, are all affected by space weather. What personal interests are helpful?

Interests in astronomy in general, but particularly the Sun, the Solar System, satellites, and the way in which events in space affect daily life through technologies sensitive to space weather. What skills and aptitude should you have?

Skills in mathematical modelling, computer programming, visualization of abstract physical phenomena, data processing, communication, and patience! You must like working with numbers and analysing data that result from events you can’t control, such as solar storms. Important school subjects?

Physics, mathematics, and computer science. What qualifications do you need?

A B.Sc. degree in physics, computer science, or electrical engineering, and postgraduate studies in space physics. Name some universities that offer these degrees?

You can study space physics at postgraduate level at the University

of Cape Town (through NASSP, the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme), University of KwaZulu-Natal (Space Physics), North-West University (Heliospheric Physics), and Rhodes University (Physics and Electronics). Where can you find work?

In a research institution – such as at the national facilities of the National Research Foundation, including the Hermanus Magnetic Observatory, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – or in a university. The recent creation of the South African Space Agency will open additional opportunities. How and why did your career change? During a sabbatical, I got involved in a space physics project at the HMO. I found it stimulating to work in a research environment and at the forefront of a new field of research in space physics, namely, the application of GPS data using ionospheric tomography to characterize the Earth’s ionosphere. Ionospheric tomography uses techniques analogous to that of medical X-ray tomography to measure the density of electrons in the Earth’s ionosphere. I’d previously been interested in medical X-ray tomography, and some of the techniques that were familiar to me were applicable to this new field. ■ Nomtha Myoli is the External Communications Officer of the National Research Foundation.

Above left: Maintenance crew at work. Above: High-frequency radar technician, Zama Magogotya, repairing HF radar receivers at SANAE in Antarctica, and responsible for this radar on the SANAE overwintering team of 2007. Scientists and technicians visit the base each year to collect data and repair the instruments used for collecting them. Photograph: Pierre Cilliers, HMO

For more on postgraduate courses relating to space physics, visit NASSP at; University of KwaZulu-Natal at extra.asp?id=2&dept=physicswund; NorthWest University at natuur/fisika/navorsing_e.html; and Rhodes University at Dr Cilliers is currently the principal investigator of a project endorsed by the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) International Polar Year (IPY) – “Polar Space Weather Studies during IPY/IHY”. It is coordinated by the HMO on behalf of a consortium of South African participants from nine institutions who cooperate with 24 other countries during IPY. The project runs until March 2009, and involves installing new instruments in Antarctica and on Marion and Gough Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, so as to improve significantly the spatial coverage and resolution of polar geomagnetic and ionospheric observations. The resulting observations and value-added data products will be used, together with state-of-the-art models and simulations, to improve our understanding of the near-Earth space environment and our ability to predict space weather.

Quest 3(4) 2007 15

Youth into science & technology Veronica Mohapeloa reports on the plan by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to attract young people into fields that promise them – and the country – a brighter future.


he number of young people participating in mathematics and science, engineering, and technology at school, and then, as adults, pursuing careers in these fields, is still neither adequate nor representative of the country’s demographics. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has launched a new programme – Youth into Science Strategy (YiSS) – to help to improve the situation.

Above: A space mosaic. Below: Learners viewing a form of solar heating at the 2006 International Science, Innovation and Technology Exhibition (INSITE) in Johannesburg. Images courtesy of the Department of Science and Technology.

Some facts that caused concern In November 2002, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tested some 9 000 Grade 8 learners in 254 schools across provinces in South Africa. The Human Sciences Research Council having conducted these studies in South Africa in 1999 and then in 2003, it revealed that South Africa had the lowest score in science and maths. Comparison with TIMSS 1999 indicated no significant change in mathematics and science scores after the intervening period. Six African countries (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Botswana, Ghana, and South Africa) participated in TIMSS 2003. In South Africa, there was a racial dimension to the picture: learners in African schools had the lowest scores; those in former white schools had the highest, with scores just below the international mean1. In 2004, the Centre for Development and Enterprise published its study, From Laggard to World Class: Reforming maths and science education in South Africa’s schools. It highlighted the fact that, in 2002, only 4 637 African learners passed higher-grade mathematics – in other words, just 13% of all who obtained their senior certificate, and 23% of all higher-grade mathematics passes. Only 7 129 African learners passed highergrade physical science – that is, only 14% of 1. In the analysis by the Human Sciences Research Council, schools in the sample were categorized according to South Africa’s former racially based Departments of Education. The average scores for TIMSS 2003 were generated for learners who attended these schools. For mathematics – the score in former African schools was 227; the score in former white schools was 456; the national average was 264; the international average was 467. For science – the score in former African schools was 200; the score in former white schools was 468; the national average was 244; the international average was 474.-

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Opposite page top (from left): Attentive learners in a science class. The DST stand at INSITE 2006. In front is a coelacanth, the fish thought for many years to be extinct. Learners admiring a Japanese robot at INSITE 2006.

all learners who passed matric, and 30% of all those who passed higher-grade science. A key recommendation of the report was that a concerted effort be made to double the number of Senior Certificate higher-grade mathematics and science passes (from about 25 000 to about 50 000) over the next five years. In relation to tertiary education, the Department of Education (DoE) report, Education Statistics in South Africa at a Glance in 2003, showed that 26% and 31% of those who enrolled in the former historically black universities and historically white universities, respectively, had registered for science, engineering, and technology degrees. White dominance was persisting.

▲ ▲

Efforts to solve the problem Serious efforts have been made to improve youth participation and performance in mathematics, science, and technology in the last five years. ■ National Science Week was implemented in 2000. Since then, overall participation has grown steadily, from 70 000 in 2004, to 172 900 in 2005, to 204 950 in 2006. Nearly threequarters of the participants are black, and about 55% are female; most are from rural and semi-urban areas. ■ In 2001, the DoE established the Dinaledi schools project as a means to increase the number of learners who participate and achieve good performance in mathematics and science. There are currently 488 Dinaledi schools, and the number will increase to 500 in 2008.

■ In 2001, the DoE launched the National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education (NSMSTE) to improve enrolments and performance in these subjects by learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds2. ■ In 2005, the DST/Thuthuka Maths and Science Development Camps project was launched, with the aim of assisting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain entry into accountancy, science, engineering, mathematics, and technology3. The DST pledged to invest R25 million towards this five-year project (2005–2009). ■ In 2005, an ambitious project was mooted to establish a network of science centres nationwide. Science centres provide platforms for promoting science literacy among communities, and for communicating scientific information to the public in a user-friendly format by bringing science out of laboratories and into the public arena. The largest are

2. As the National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education moved into its second phase, Cabinet approved eight priorities on 28 January 2004: setting performance targets for all schools; placing a qualified and competent teacher in every mathematics, science, and technology classroom; improving the language of teaching and learning; increasing capacity for the identification of talent and potential, the nurturing thereof, and the provision of appropriate support to improve throughput so to attract recruits of high quality to the teaching profession; strengthening the cooperation between the DoE and the DST in pursuit of the objectives of the strategy; entering into a social contract with various communities, partners, networks, and professional bodies to raise the required resources and mobilize the necessary technical support and expertise; evaluating and regulating programmes operating in and out of school to ensure broader equity and access as well as quality in respect of such programmes; making interactive digital material on mathematics, science, and technology available via satellite, television, internet multimedia, print supplements, and the educational portal. 3. The DST/Thuthuka Maths and Science Development Camps were launched in 2005 as a collaboration between the DST and the South Africa Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) to empower learners with the numeric skills needed to enter tertiary institutions for study in related professions. The DST has committed R25 million to this five-year project. In 2005, the DST/Thuthuka camps project empowered 1 100 learners with the required scientific and numeric skills. In 2006, the project reached more than 1 300 learners in six provinces. The project fast-tracks the skills of Grade 11 and 12 participating learners from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, while simultaneously equipping them with study skills and examination techniques as well as life skills and coping mechanisms.

This page top (from left): Two pictures from cellphone serviceprovider MTN’s exhibit, Pedal Power for Africa, at INSITE 2006. Pedalpower can sharpen a knife; turn a potter’s wheel; charge a cellphone; purify water; operate a sewing machine, and much more. Minister of Science and Technology, Mosibudi Mangena, congratulating budding scientists at the launch of National Science Week in Mpumalanga. Above: Girls conducting a scientific experiment. The DST hosted INSITE in Johannesburg in September 2006, and is now hosting this event biennially. The theme of the 2006 exhibition was: “The role of science, technology and innovation as key drivers of economic growth and development and for the enhancement of the quality of life”. It showcased innovative and cutting-edge technologies and aimed at informing and inspiring young people to follow careers in science, engineering, and technology.

Quest 4(1) 2007 17

The Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO), near Johannesburg, is a national facility managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF). The Gauteng Department of Transport exhibit of the Gautrain at INSITE 2006. Currently under construction, the Gautrain is a R25-billion rapid rail link between Johannesburg, Pretoria and O.R. Tambo International Airport. Learners in a motivational lecture on the benefits of science and technology. Below: High-school boys working on a science project.

the MTN Sciencentre in Cape Town and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Johannesburg. Government has contributed to the upgrading of three such centres (the Vuwani centre, the UniZul Science Centre attached to the University of Zululand, and the Potchefstroom Science Centre attached to North-West University), but there remains an inequitable distribution of science centres in the country. According to the approved implementation plan, government aims to establish at least one centre in each district municipality by 2032. ■ Between 2001 and 2005, government invested over R30 million in bursaries to 4 050 mathematics, science, and technology teachers for study for an Advanced Certificate in Education, which three-quarters of those teachers had obtained by 2005. ▲

Top (from left):

Some results Despite encouraging signs, the level of success is still low relative to the country’s demographics and needs. Most important, the people still needing much attention are those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A DoE analysis of the national mathematics and physical science matriculation examination results of 2006 showed a steady but slow increase in the number of higher-grade mathematics passes from 2000 to 2005, and standard-grade passes in mathematics increased by 30 821 from 2000 to 2006. In 2006, however, the number of mathematics higher-grade passes decreased by 1 166 from the 26 383 passes of the previous year. The number of both highergrade and standard-grade science passes rose from 2000 to 2006 during the same period4. Although performance in mathematics has improved in the past three years, the output at the higher-grade level nonetheless remains “disturbingly low”, according to the DoE, given the numbers required by higher education and the world of work.

Youth into Science Strategy On 28 September 2007, the DST launched its Youth into Science Strategy (YiSS) as part of a goal to recruit more young people from previously disadvantaged groups into the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. By 2010, YiSS hopes to have helped to close the science skills gap by improving science and technology literacy, nurturing talent, and raising the potential for young people to enter science, engineering, and technology-based careers. This will increase the development of highlevel researchers, scientists, and engineering and technology personnel in the country. The intention is to create a greater – and more demographically representative – pool of talented matriculants with good-quality passes in mathematics and science. Among the most critical steps that need to be taken is to increase the number and the ability of science and mathematics teachers in South Africa’s schools. Government hopes to equip at least 450 existing mathematics and science educators with knowledge and skills to support youth participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) competitions and Olympiads. This involves workshops and educator camps in all the provinces. The workshops, now in their second year, are run during school vacations. According to the DoE, 2 400 teachers in the Dinaledi schools alone will receive 100 hours of teacher training each during the current financial year, linked to incentives for increased content knowledge and performance. The programme consists of training and assistance by mentors. (The training consists of four 25-hour modules, and focuses primarily on the acquisition of relevant knowledge in the subject.) In addition, a total of 120 mathematics and science educators will become part of the national core of subject specialists to support school-based educators in teaching the new curricula5. The YiSS strategy builds on developments in the NSMSTE, launched in 2001. In the first three years of the NSMSTE’s implementation, reported the DoE, comparison of higher-grade and standard-grade statistics presented “a 4. Higher-grade passes in physical science were 23 344 in 2000, and rose to 29 781 in 2006. Standard-grade passes in physical science were 54 884 in 2000, and rose to 81 151 in 2006. In the 400 Dinaledi schools from 2005 to 2006, there was a small increase in the number of learners passing mathematics and science at higher grade. 5. Subject specialists in this national core are selected in the provinces and trained at national level before returning to their provinces to train school-based teachers.

18 Quest 4(1) 2007

constant worry” for the system. The number of African learners who passed standard-grade mathematics (39%) was some ten times higher than those obtaining a higher-grade pass (3.5%). This, said the DoE, pointed to the challenges and priorities for the next phase of the strategy. Another concern was the tendency among girls to participate and perform at standard rather than higher grade – approximately 20 000 more girls were registering for the subjects at standard grade. “This is in support of the general misconception that only boys have mathematical and science abilities,” reported the DoE. It added that the role of district officials and curriculum specialists was of critical importance in assuring schools of constant support and care. The next phase of the strategy was to consolidate the gains and widen the impact of the previous three years of the NSMSTE by adopting targets for the whole system and, to this end, Cabinet approved eight key priorities2. Four of the YiSS plans – National Science Week, the mathematics and science camps, the educator support programme, and the science centres – are already being implemented. Set targets for YiSS include, amongst others, to double the number of young people participating annually in National Science Week activities. In addition, a total of 5 000 talented youth from disadvantaged backgrounds will have been identified and nurtured through the DST’s mathematics and science camps. The establishment of a network of science centres as an infrastructure for implementing the YiSS is important, says Minister of Science and Technology, Mosibudi Mangena. This network seeks to achieve two things: to contribute to an environment enabling science centres to operate optimally, and to improve learner access to science centre services by establishing at least one science centre in every district or metro municipality. Given that science centres are central to the YiSS, the DST increased its support in the past three years from 9 science centres to 17, and it increased its support spending for this programme from R1 million to R2.6 million per annum over this period. “With more support from Government and private sector,” adds Mr Mangena, “we are certain to realise the target of finally having a science centre in every district.” “Demonstrable participation of our science councils and higher education institutions, in particular, has been evident in the last year”,

he adds, but “we still need to move with speed in mobilizing our corporate sector to support science awareness campaigns.” ■ Veronica Mohapeloa is Deputy Director: Editing in the Communication Section of the Department of Science and Technology. Her interests lie in current affairs, especially social development and politics. For more about the Youth into Science Strategy, visit the Department of Science and Technology website at For information about the DST/Thuthuka Maths and Science Development Camps, contact Bersan Lesch at the DST at (012) 843 6850, or the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants by e-mail at or by phone at (011) 621 6639/6600 or by fax at (011) 622 3321. For more on the DST’s Educator Support Programme for the delivery of the new mathematics and physical sciences curriculum statements, contact Koki Selepe at the DST at (012) 843 6880. For information about the National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, call the Department of Education at (012) 312 5317/5363, and for the DoE report on the Dinaledi Initiative in 2006, visit For more about Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), visit www.; for the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) reports, visit

Top (from left): A facilitator helps learners with an experiment at the National Science Week launch in Mpumalanga. One of the many inventions exhibited during INSITE 2006, the Segway Human Transporter (HT) is the first of its kind – self-balancing personal transportation designed to go anywhere you go. With a Segway HT, you can commute, shop, and run errands more quickly, even while you enjoy the ride. The launch of National Science Week in 2006.

A personal success story Saffaa Saban’s success in the science and technology field shows how exposing learners early to potential careers in such areas can help to stimulate interest in pursuing them further. Now a geoinformatics practitioner*, she matriculated with distinction in 2001 at Alexander Sinton High School in Athlone, Western Cape; studied geomatics at the University of Cape Town, majoring in surveying; graduated with honours in 2005; and started working at Eskom in 2006. She attributes her success to her teachers at high school, saying they were very dedicated and went the extra mile to impart knowledge. But there were challenges along the way. As is the case in many government schools, the environment was in many respects not conducive to learning: classrooms held more than 40 students at a time, and there were insufficient facilities, textbooks, labs, and equipment. “If we could have proper science labs in every school and were able to make a difference in the formative years, we would really take giant strides towards addressing the current crisis,” Saban observes, in the context of the dearth of young, dynamic individuals willing to continue with their studies. In addition, high student–teacher ratios** meant lack of student discipline, constant fights, gangs, and the proliferation of drugs in schools. It was no surprise that, out of 160 matriculants in her final year, she recalls only six higher grade physics students and four higher-grade maths students. “I have a lot of respect for my maths and physical science teachers,” says Saban, “because they went out of their way to provide an extra class to make up for time lost.” Parents’ involvement in their children’s learning makes a significant difference to a young person’s education, she adds, because they take notice when there are shortcomings and help to find solutions as quickly as possible. Her own parents supported her attendance at extra lessons and gave her the freedom to choose what science career she wanted to follow. She welcomes the DST’s new YiSS strategy, saying, however, that the plan must be broadened to where it is desperately needed – to schools in townships and rural areas. * Geoinformation science includes the disciplines of surveying, spatial analysis, geostatistics, geographic information systems, cartography, and visualization. ** The national learner–teacher ratio in ordinary public schools was 33:1 in 2005 (35:1 if teachers contracted by school governing bodies are excluded), according to the Department of Education’s 2006 National Policy Framework for Teacher Education and Development.

Quest 4(1) 2007 19

Books Q

Biot ec hnology & Healt h Biotechnology and Health: South Africa’s aspirations in health-related biotechnology. Edited by Joanna Chataway and Wilmot James. (Van Schaik, 2007). ISBN 978 0 627 02700 0 Reviewed by Gavin Chait


he revolution in information technology transformed the world with unprecedented speed from the mid-1990s onwards. That of biotechnology has been less flashy and slower, as it is more than half a century ago that James Watson and Francis Crick, working in Cambridge in 1953, unlocked the structure of DNA and related it to genetic inheritance. Yet, in terms of potential to change everything we know and experience, genetic engineering is by far the most important area of scientific endeavour. It touches on every aspect of world affairs: from the need for alternative fuels, to disease research, to ending hunger by producing high-yield crops. South Africa has produced four Nobel prizewinners for science. Sydney Brenner is the most recent recipient. His efforts in elucidating controlled cell-death during organ development won him the 2002 award, after CAT scan co-inventor Allan Cormack, Max Theiler for his research on yellow fever, and Aaron Klug on macromolecules. These four also, between them, reveal South Africa's most serious obstacles to becoming a world leader in biotechnology. Of the four, three were born in South Africa, but all completed their most seminal work in laboratories outside the country. Biotechnology and Health is a study of the potential for biotechnology, the problems that confront the country, and ways to overcome them.

20 Quest 4(1) 2007

Contributions come from two Nobel prizewinners, ministers of finance, venture capitalists, journalists, and researchers. Sydney Brenner is joined by fellow laureate David Baltimore, from the California Institute of Technology. “India and China are forging ahead, but South Africa remains a very small player,” says Wieland Gievers, former president and now chief executive of the Academy of Science of South Africa. Within Africa, South Africa is almost alone in producing science research, but that says more about the lamentable state of science on the continent than South Africa’s prowess. “Woefully few high-school leavers meet the most basic requirements for pursuing science-based university studies – a matric pass in higher-grade mathematics,” says Tamar Kahn, a science writer at Business Day. While we may produce some scientists able to compete internationally and achieve greatness, there are too few here for them to form the critical mass necessary to attract investment. So they emigrate. Minister of finance, Trevor Manuel, asks, “How in the domain of research and technology do we reconcile the public good and private interests?” Developing nations have imposed compulsory licensing on health-care products that they felt were expensive and necessary. The result, though, has been to drive investors out of those countries. Roger Trythall, from Virtus Clinical Development in Cape Town, observes that Canada repealed their compulsory licensing laws in 1986. “Now, 20 years later, it has almost 500 companies engaged in biotechnology, and has created employment for science and medical graduates and advanced scientific and medical knowledge.” Heather Sherwin, who runs Bioventures, South Africa's only biotech venture-capital firm, says,

“The problem in South Africa is the lack of finance available for seed and start-up companies, the bulk of the capital going into replacement capital, such as management buy-outs and black economic empowerment transactions.” This shows in the revenues of firms operating in South Africa in the biotech industry, with their combined annual turnover of some R300 million. Compare this to China, a recent entrant, at R800 million, and India at over R5 billion. Biotechnology and Health offers high-level understanding of the cascade of concerns – starting with primary science education in schools – that leads to lack of capacity and understanding in both the private and public sectors. “South African 14-year-olds have been placed last of the 46 participating countries on the 2003 international Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) – coming below other underdeveloped countries such as Ghana, Botswana, Tunisia and Morocco,” says Brian Schreuder, deputy director general in the Western Cape Education Department. We need, first, to get our education system right, then to correct our laws so that they protect the innovations of South Africa’s scientists and researchers, then to support earlystage development with grants and public-private partnerships, and, finally, to attract financiers and venture capitalists to commercialize these products. If our diseases and development concerns are to be addressed, we must begin by creating conditions at home that foster and encourage innovation and business success. Biotechnology and Health is an honest account of the situation as it stands, and it reflects the thoughts of people most intimately involved in navigating the development of a successful biotech industry. ■

Q The S&T Tourist Travelling companions Summer means going places, finding interesting things to do, and having memorable experiences. The right books are indispensable company. Here are some new ones to enjoy at holiday-time.

Picture Perfect: Cape Town & Garden Route. By Marion Boddy-Evans and Cameron EwartSmith. (Struik, 2007). ISBN 9 781770 07 451 4 Coast to Coast: Life along South Africa’s Shores. By Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit. (Struik, 2007). ISBN 978 1 77007 482 8 Cameras are ‘must haves’ for taking on holiday, but taking the right pictures isn’t always so easy. Subtitled “A photographic guide: how to get the best shot in 50 top spots”, Picture Perfect is a top choice if you’re travelling South Africa’s coastline, for three reasons. First, it is compact and fits easily into a travelling bag. Second, it includes the best-known places along the route. Third, its advice about taking the most interesting shots is based on detailed local knowledge of light and angles as well as of views. Each place is defined under the headings “Where”, “How to get the shot”, “How to get there”, plus “Useful stuff” with contact details, website addresses, and opening times, for instance. There are also “Pro’s tips” if you’re taking the photography seriously. In Coast to Coast, the authors themselves have done the travelling, and recorded their experiences for sharing with readers as they moved from Alexander Bay to Kosi Bay, meeting people, enjoying slices of life in the coastal towns and cities, digging into history and legend, and picking up interesting snips of information along the way. Did you know that there are now more southern right whales off the South African Cape coast than at any time in the past 150 years? Or that South Africa has one of the world’s most treacherous coastlines for ships? The photographs are good, too.

Field Guide to Fynbos. By John Manning. (Struik, 2007). ISBN 978 1 77007 265 7 What’s that Snake? A starter’s guide to snakes of southern Africa. By Johan Marais. (Struik, 2007). ISBN 978 1 77007 373 9 The Field Guide to Fynbos is a superbly illustrated and detailed companion any time you venture forth into fynbos territory and want to know what you are seeing. The result of decades of intensive fieldwork and study, it gives non-botanists a chance to identify a significant portion of the bewildering diversity of fynbos species in the southwestern Cape. More than 1 150 species of wild flower are illustrated and described, with distribution maps and notes on traditional uses. The most common and conspicuous out of the 7 000 species of true Cape fynbos have been selected. This is a beautiful and meticulously prepared guide to a wide cross-section of fynbos. Another must-have. What’s that Snake? is a further recommended addition to the bookshelves of anyone wanting to find out about snakes. “How to” notes accompanied by superb photographs throughout help the beginner to identify different kinds of snake. The reader is taken through the basics, and shown how to note size, thickness, colour and markings, habitat, activity, and behaviour. We’re also introduced to the lifestyle preferences of different species, and shown how to find (and how to avoid) them. This is an excellent start for anyone who wants to know more but wasn’t sure where to begin.

experienced in baobab country. It points out what is unusual about these trees – the fact that they are thirsty and need to “satisfy that thirst, need space to stretch their roots and suck moisture into their huge water-bloated trunks”; that they are solitary trees “shunning the mutual support system of the woodlands”. It is a book that will be read and enjoyed more widely than just by lovers of nature. Victoria Falls & Surrounds is a superior tourist guide and photographic memento of this beautiful area. There is background information, with fact files about Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana, the nature reserves, the safaris, the history, the falls themselves, and useful and practical notes for the traveller. It is the sort of book that you want to have with you when you are there, and that you want to bring back home with you to keep. Place: A Collection of South African Travel and Landscape Quotations. By Bridget Hilton-Barber and Pat Hopkins. (Zebra, 2007). ISBN 978 1 77007 304 3 Place is a kaleidoscope of points of view, and the authors have clearly enjoyed searching for the unusual and the quirky in their presentation of South Africa through what different people have said or written about it. The anthology draws from sources as varied as pioneers, trekkers, and early hunters, to politicians, novelists, and poets. This is the sort of book you want to have lying around, to dip into and to enjoy at any time.

The African Baobab. By Rupert Watson. (Struik, 2007). ISBN 9781770074309 Victoria Falls & Surrounds: The Insider’s Guide. By Ian Michler. (Struik, 2007). ISBN 978 1 77007 361 6 The African Baobab is an unusual presentation of the baobab, in that it gives information in the form of a story, with history and tradition blending graciously with facts and figures. This book is a pleasure to read for its elegant writing as well as for the explanations of what is seen and

By courtesy of Struik Publishers, we are giving away three FREE COPIES each of titles listed above to QUEST readers! Stand a chance of being one of the lucky winners. All you have to do is to e-mail the Editor at OR send a fax to (011) 673 3683 telling us that you would like a book. Write “FREE BOOK OFFER IN QUEST 4.1”, and give us your full name, physical address and postal code, and telephone number.

Quest 4(1) 2007 21

Measuring up Q How small can we go? ■ Some of the smallest metal nanostructures created so far have been 10 nanometres big – which is 10 000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. This was done using transmission electron beam ablation lithography to ‘carve’ the structures from sheets of metals. (UPI, 26 June 2007) ■ US physicists have succeeded in measuring the spin of a single atom, thereby bringing quantum computers and spintronic devices closer to reality. Researchers striving to shrink computers to the nanoscale consider atomic spin as one possible building block for both processor and memory. (UPI, 12 September 2007) ■ NASA has announced the discovery of nine of the smallest, most compact and faintest galaxies ever observed. They are 100 to 1000 times smaller in mass than the Milky Way, and may offer insight into the Universe’s formative years. The discoveries were made using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. (UPI, 6 September 2007)

Parking lots How much space do Americans devote to parking? Purdue University researchers surveyed the total area devoted to parking motor vehicles in a midsize midwestern county and found that parking spaces outnumbered resident drivers 3-to-1 and outnumbered resident families 11-to-1. They found the total parking area to be larger than 1 000 American football fields, or covering more than 5 km2. The concern is that this way of using land heats up urban areas by 2–3 °C, and pollutes water

when rain washes away oil and heavy metals. (Science Daily, 12 September 2007)

Lightning calculators Forecasters keep improving their ability to predict the power of an oncoming storm. Sensitive sensors are placed strategically to detect lightning within a hurricane. The rate of lightning strikes in the hurricane’s ‘eyewall’ indicates changes in the storm’s strength. (Science Daily, 12 September 2007)

Sites to wonder at The list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites contains 851 properties with outstanding universal value: 660 of them cultural, 166 natural, and 25 mixed. One of them is the Vredefort Dome in South Africa, which is part of an astrobleme, or meteorite impact structure. It is the oldest astrobleme we know of on Earth, dating back more than two million years, as well as the largest, with a radius of 190 km. Also a World Heritage Site is Australia’s Uluru-Kata Tjuta Park. Formerly known as Ayers Rock, Uluru rises 348 m above the plain in which it is situated and has a circumference of 9.4 km. The rock is composed of arkose, a coarse-grained sandstone rich in feldspar. Kata Tjuta is another outcrop of rock, rising 546 m above the plain. The rock is a conglomerate – gravel consisting of pebbles, cobbles, and boulders cemented by sand and mud. (Uluru-Kata Tjuta Park website; UNESCO)

What the numbers say ■ The average person has 2.6 million sweat glands in their skin.

■ Millions of dead skin cells are shed from the surface of your skin daily. Every 35–45 days, you have an entirely new epidermis. It takes 14 700 excess kilojoules to create 0.45 kg of new fat on your body. ■ The tongue of an aardvark can measure up to 30.5 cm in length. It is sticky, which helps to extract termites from their mounds. ■ A knot is a nautical unit of speed equal to the velocity at which one nautical mile is travelled in one hour. The knot is equivalent to 1.151 miles per hour or 1.852 kilometres per hour. ■ In 1812, the mineralogist Frederick Mohs devised the Mohs Scale of mineral hardness. He categorized substances from softest to hardest (1 to 10). Talc is designated as a 1, and diamond as a 10. (“Braindrops” from the Franklin Institute) Compiled by Ceridwen

Do you like “Science for the Classroom”? As a legacy of its 2007 Science Tunnel exhibition, the Max Planck Society has made educational material available to South African schools in the pages of Quest. The first pullout (in Quest vol. 3, no. 4) and this one on “Superconductivity”, are available on our website ( Do you enjoy these inserts? Are they helpful in class? Do you want more of them? Complete an evaluation form and enter a draw – there are prizes for lucky winners. For an evaluation form, visit the website, or e-mail the Editor at, or fax (011) 673 3683.

Postgraduate study in strong materials MSc and PhD by research Opportunities exist for postgraduate study at MSc and PhD level with the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials (CoE-SM). Bursaries of R40 000 pa for MSc, and R65 000 pa for PhD are available. The Centre is hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand, in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the Universities of Johannesburg, KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo, Mintek and NECSA. Strong Materials are materials that retain their distinctive scientific and applied properties under extreme conditions and have established or potential commercial applications. Applicants have a wide choice of research areas, including: Hardmetals: Manufacturing, testing and characterisation of tungsten and vanadium carbides. Ceramics: Multi-component, ultrahard-phase continuous composites for cutting tools and wear parts. Diamond, Thin Hard Films and Related Materials: Laser-based methods are used to measure stresses, elastic and structural properties of bulk solids and thin, hard films, and to study defects in materials. Developments and studies using diamond include radiation detectors, beam optics, radiation damage effects and surface properties. New Ultrahard Materials: Computational and experimental investigations of potentially new ultrahard materials including advanced borides, carbides, nitrides and oxides. Strong Metallic Alloys: Development of new alloys, e.g. superalloys for high temperature applications, property studies of metals, phase diagrams and structure property relationships. Carbon Nanotubes and Strong Composites: Carbon nanotubes (among the strongest and stiffest structures ever made) are being studied for potential chemical and mechanical applications.

PleASe CoNTACT: Dr Tanya Capecchi Tel: +27 11 717 6873 Fax: +27 11 717 6830 email: 22 Quest 3(4) 2007

Diamond anniversary of Mrs Ples José Braga and Francis Thackeray present the newly created ‘virtual’ brain of one of South Africa’s most significant hominids


he fossil known as ‘Mrs Ples’ – the most complete cranium yet found of Australopithecus africanus – was discovered at Sterkfontein, in 1947, by Robert Broom and John Robinson. The year 2007 marks the diamond anniversary of the discovery. New images have now been obtained from computed tomography (CT scans), and the virtual endocast1 of Mrs Ples – that is, a digital image of the inside of the skull – has been reconstructed in three dimensions. Mrs Ples is significant in that ‘she’ is a distant relative of all humanity. The skull has been dated to 2.15 million years2, based on palaeomagnetism and association with fossils of certain species of animal (including those of baboons and antelope) of known age. It is probable that ‘she’ was in fact male (rather than female, as initially thought by Robert Broom). It is clear from CT scans that the individual was an adolescent at the time of death. Although CT scans have been undertaken in the past, they never had the high resolution that is currently feasible. Previous CT images were recorded with slice-thicknesses of one or two millimetres, but new scanners allow for submillimetre resolution, and techniques for analysis are improving rapidly. The most recent scans, analysed in Toulouse at Paul Sabatier University, are based on applications of technology of the kind that is also used to analyse images obtained from satellites in space. The latest imagery shows asymmetry on the left side of the brain of Mrs Ples. This implies that the australopithecine was probably right-handed, since it is the left side of the brain that controls functions of the right side of the body. Furthermore,

there appears to be asymmetry in the region where one might expect to find ‘Broca’s area’, associated (in modern humans) with the capacity for speech3. Phillip Tobias has previously recognized an incipient expansion of Broca’s area in the endocasts of Homo habilis (at an age of about 1.8 million years ago) – it is possible that australopithecines such as Mrs Ples (older at more than 2 million years ago) may also have had the capacity for some form of speech. The Transvaal Museum in Pretoria is marking the 60th anniversary of the discovery of Mrs Ples with an exhibition, entitled “Mother Africa and Mrs Ples: Celebrating our Heritage”. It will be open to the public from 9 November 2007 until 31 January 2008. The star of the exhibition will be the original Mrs Ples (Sts 5), together with the skeleton (Sts 14), which, it is believed, may be that of the same individual (it is more complete than the celebrated ‘Lucy’ skeleton from Ethiopia, representing Australopithecus afarenesis). ■

Above: The ‘virtual’ brain of Mrs Ples, Australopithecus africanus. Image: J. Braga (Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse) and J.F. Thackeray (Transvaal Museum)

Photograph of Mrs Ples. Image: Courtesy of the Transvaal Museum, Northern Flagship Institution

Dr Braga is at Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse, France, and Dr Thackeray is the Director of the Transvaal Museum, Pretoria.

1. An endocast (or endocranial cast) is a cast made from the mould formed by the impression the brain makes on the inside of the neurocranium (braincase), providing a replica of the brain with most of the details on its outer surface. Scientists are able to use computerized tomography scanning technology to create digital endocasts without damaging valuable specimens such as Mrs Ples. 2. Other studies have given the age as 2.6–2.8 million years ago. 3. These observations are currently the subject of more detailed analyses, involving Gautam Dasgupta (Columbia University, New York), as well as G. Subsol, J. Treil, and A. Le Cabec of France. The international collaborative effort has been supported by the French Embassy in South Africa, the CNRS (France), the University of Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, the National Research Foundation (South Africa), and the Transvaal Museum (associated with the Northern Flagship Institution and the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa).

Q News Meditation go-ahead

Fine-tune those precision instruments

To improve attention and reduce stress, try meditation. This advice has now been successfully put to the test. A team led by Yi-Yuan Tang of the Dalian University of Technology in northeast China and Michael Posner of the University of Oregon, Eugene (USA) ran controlled tests of the meditative technique called integrated body–mind training (BMT). They randomly assigned 80 students to 20 minutes per day of tuition, either in how to relax the body’s muscle groups or in BMT. After just five days, the trainees in BMT scored better on tests of attention and mood, and produced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when asked to do some difficult mental arithmetic. Is the effect transient? Does more training mean better results? “The real goodies come with long-term practice”, believes meditation psychiatrist Roger Walsh. Reported in New Scientist (13 October 2007).

Scientists conducting ever-more-remarkable investigations with everimproving technology often forget that words may still be the most important precision instruments of all. Blunt these at society’s peril. Journalists and researchers are looking for new ways to make science and technology understandable to the public for two main reasons, writes the editorin-chief of the journal, Science (2 November 2007). First, scientific disciplines are drilling deeper into fine detail about everything from atmospheric physics to the molecular basis of cell signalling, in language more arcane than ever. Even titles of research papers can pose a challenge. Second, “science and technology are increasingly relevant to public policy, and unless those who speak for science can be understood, the policy decisions are likely to be wrong.”

Quest 4(1) 2007 23

– a centre for African solutions With the opening of its new Wallenberg Research Centre, the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study has prepared a ‘creative space for the mind’, where scholars from all disciplines and all parts of the world can come together to address issues of all kinds, with a special focus on Africa.


reating a 21st-century building on a property filled with history is no easy exercise. Somehow old and new must blend, yet remain distinctive; and the unique needs of the people using it must be accommodated. The research and conference centre at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), formally opened on 15 November 2007, is a case study in architectural ‘form’ that was meticulously designed to ‘follow function’. The main objectives of STIAS are to advance the cause of science and scholarship, to focus on Africa, and to strengthen the research capacity of our region. Its role is to bring high-level international intellectual activity to African soil, and, by attracting leading scholars, create a hub to energize and stimulate the country’s and the continent’s researchers. The brief for the new building, then, was for it to be “a place where people would like to be, either to work on their research or to spend time with others.” A perfect scholarly environment The question was, what do world-class scholars and creative thinkers need most? And how best could locals be brought into the research action? The answer boiled down to three basic points: the fellows had to have privacy and solitude when they needed to concentrate on their work; they needed somewhere congenial where they could meet colleagues for private discussions

or to work in small groups; and there had to be a place for larger gatherings of young and old to learn and interact. The instructions to the architect, Hein Visser (of Van Biljon & Visser), therefore, were to design a space in which scholars would feel comfortable, whatever their discipline, from the natural sciences to the humanities – in other words, to create “a space and atmosphere which promote inter- and transdisciplinary thinking” so as to cross “the boundaries of existing knowledge”. The aim, explains Visser, was “to ensure the feeling of free-flowing space which sets no limits to the mind, opening new vistas and unexpected perspectives.” For privacy, there had to be individual study rooms for research fellows; soundproofed, to exclude all interference from outside, with an outside view to the mountains or surrounding trees. In Visser’s words, he had to use the magnificent views offered by the site. The result was “a building that is not pretentious from the outside, but one that should rather be enjoyed from the inside” so that, wherever you are within it, “you are constantly aware of the parkland setting of Mostertsdrift. The offices of the fellows offer a fabulous view of the garden, the manor house and the famous Pieke in the background.” For engagement with colleagues, a communal space was needed. Stepping out of their individual private space,

Images courtesy of STIAS (unless otherwise indicated)

Left (from top): The new Wallenberg Research Centre nearing completion. The manor house at Mostertsdrift. The restored wine cellar.

24 Quest 4(1) 2007

Photograph: Cyclops

Photograph: Cyclops

View from a window of the wine cellar onto the fynbos garden.

STIAS fellows find themselves in a large atrium, where people and ideas can meet, in nooks, where the furniture is comfortable, the noise levels do not disturb, and the ambiance is friendly, inviting, and conducive to conversation. For seminars and conferences, there is a ‘public’ area, with a seminar section opening out to a spacious south terrace overlooking the vineyard. It can accommodate 80 people, and it is possible to seat a conference of 150 when necessary. State-of-theart equipment and IT systems in the working area are a given. Old, new, and sustainable Respecting the tradition represented by the old buildings, even as Visser was creating a future-orientated one, meant finding a careful solution. He did not want to replicate the Cape Victorian style of what was on the site already, yet old and new had “to stand in quiet dialogue with each other”. Visser’s solution was “to use the historic leivoor [irrigation stream] running in front of the manor house and cellar as the planning axis”, with three water features to “symbolize the continuation of the leivoor and form the spine of the new building.” Paralleling the solutions being forged inside, the building, too, had to be sustainable and comfortable during all seasons, especially during the hot summer months. Air conditioning was included, but the overall design emphasized low energy consumption and low maintenance. Liberal use of double glazing – together with solar heating and low-energy lighting – all help to reduce the centre’s energy needs. The waterwise garden has hardy plants indigenous to the Western Cape. And, to reduce pollution from motor vehicles, there is a large basement parking area. Finally, the arts are a key part of the STIAS thinking. It is intended that one of the fellows should be ‘an artist in residence’. The layout provides for music and other performances, and there are spacious walls and galleries suited to exhibits of artwork. In such an environment and conditions, STIAS expects its projects to grow apace, and for the solutions they bring to endure, and to benefit and reward the country and the continent in which they were generated. ■

What STIAS does The Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) was established in 1999 as a high-level research facility, to provide a meeting-point for a diversity of scholars seeking to address areas of knowledge relevant for Africa. Based on the model of other institutes for advanced study – such as those in Princeton, Berlin, Uppsala, Stanford – the vision of STIAS is to promote innovative and cutting-edge research. Unlike them, however, it caters for all disciplines, and it focuses on Africa and the challenges of this continent. Its international and transdisciplinary projects include the fields of economics (“Sustainable Livelihoods”, “Good Governance and Poverty Relief”, and “Social and Economic Justice”), health (“HIV Strain Dynamics” and “Affordable Health Care”), and education (“The Future of Universities in Africa” and “Bilingual Education”). Its project on “String Theory and Quantum Gravity” brought together renowned researchers and authors in the field – including a Nobel laureate. Apart from focusing on aspects of the mathematics of string theory that are also relevant to the description of rare phases of ordinary matter, the summer school and workshop exposed young South African and African theoretical physicists to people and activities operating in the top league. It is just as important, observes project leader Hendrik Geyer, “for SA to have a rugby team that can be the world’s best, as it is for our young scientists to be able to believe they can also achieve at that level. For that they need exposure.” They will get it with the National Institute for Theoretical Physics, to be housed in a special wing of the Wallenberg Research Centre from 2008.

How STIAS works STIAS involves all disciplines – from the humanities and social sciences to the biological sciences, physics, and mathematics – and in this way acts as a national resource for research at the highest level across all fields of learning. The issues facing Africa require the talents of the most creative minds, and, to produce solutions that work for the continent in practice, it has to take part in the process actively rather than remain for ever dependent on others. Says Bernard Lategan, the Director of STIAS, “if we do not take special measures to ensure we are part of the global process of producing new knowledge, we shall remain the consumers of the ideas of others and of knowledge produced elsewhere.” These special measures operate at two levels. First, STIAS offers a place, space, working conditions, and an atmosphere that allow for the most productive kind of scholarly interaction and innovative thinking. The Wallenberg Research Centre provides individual study rooms, a communal area, and a multipurpose conference facility. There, fellows will find optimal privacy, for concentrated and undisturbed work, and optimal interaction for exchanging viewpoints and perspectives and for stimulating new thinking. Second, STIAS promotes action that directs experimental and creative research to the real problems on the ground. In this way, the institute plans to provide sustainable solutions for Africa through the generation of knowledge. The institute is located on the historic 2.6-ha Mostertsdrift property in Stellenbosch, which dates back to 1693 and whose old buildings are protected by the Commission for Historical Monuments. It belongs to Stellenbosch University, but has been made available to STIAS to serve as its headquarters. Alongside the old farmstead, the newly opened Wallenberg Research Centre provides a place where the world’s leading researchers can, for a while, set aside their normal teaching and administrative duties, to work closely with their counterparts from Africa and elsewhere. Although STIAS was started by Stellenbosch University, in May 2007 it was registered as a Section 21 company, operating independently, at arm’s length from the university. It has the support of the Office of the President of South Africa, the Department of Science and Technology, the National Research Foundation, and a network of scholars and research institutions nationally and abroad. Financially, it depends largely on grants from within and outside the country. The generosity of the Wallenberg Foundation of Sweden made possible the construction of the new research and conference centre. For more about STIAS visit Right (top): Bernard Lategan, Director of STIAS, with an architect’s model of the new research centre. Photograph: Cyclops Right (below): The completed building, ready for its formal opening.

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His t or ical memor y and healing? Bernard Lategan examines the way memories form and what’s involved in overcoming the pain of the past.


hat is memory? And why does it sometimes imprison people in the past, while at other times they’re able to transcend it and move on? These questions have dominated post-apartheid South Africa, and reached far into the country’s communities at the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as it grappled with trauma and tragedy. They were also explored in a special STIAS project entitled “Historical Memory: Dealing with the past, reaching for the future”1, set up to examine gaps in understanding the way memory works, particularly when different cultures are involved2. What we call ‘historical memory’ refers to the way in which the past is presented to enable people to understand the present and anticipate the future. Its complex mental processes function on different levels of human activity – in everyday life, in official rituals and symbols, in historical instruction in schools and universities, in historiography as academic discipline, in popular culture, in entertainment, films, monuments, and memorials. Its dimensions are personal, local, regional, national, supra-national, and universal, and it integrates nearly all realms of human existence, including religion, morality, political convictions, individual and collective identity, cognitive understanding, and aesthetics. It is a crucial mental and social site of struggle for social differentiation and recognition, for political legitimacy, and for perceiving the self and the other. In times of war, upheaval, political change, and social transformation, historical memory often divides groups of people as each seeks to establish its particular ‘memory’ as distinct from that of other groups. Reconciliation in

Historical memory has been recorded in a variety of ways through the ages, as the examples on these pages show. Above (from top): A clay tablet with cuneiform from Tell-el-Mishrife (Qatna) in Syria; a collection of clay tablets, also from Qatna; and a sample from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. Images courtesy of STIAS

26 Quest 4(1) 2007

such conditions requires the conflicting memories to be articulated, recognized, respected – and also brought into a process of interaction with each other, which can lead to reassessments of the past and adjustments in understanding. Constructing the past Once we recognize that memories can be changed or adjusted, we also accept that, to some extent, they are constructs. Memory involves recalling and selecting particular events and experiences, arranging them into a coherent whole, presenting them as narratives, and making sense out of what in itself, as raw material, is not necessarily meaningful. Memory-making is dynamic – a process of understanding that may proceed almost subconsciously, or that may result from a deliberate, reflective, and critical process, as in the case of professional historiography. Whatever the other physiological and neurological factors involved in recalling past events, memory is a product or artefact resulting from a process of selection, interpretation, and sense-making (‘Sinnbildung’)3. Memories, therefore, inevitably reveal traces of the context in which they were formed, of the presuppositions of the individual or group nurturing the recollections, and of the value system that influenced the whole process. A disturbing implication is that memory can be manipulated and used for other (including ideological) purposes. There are many tragic examples. The most dramatic is perhaps the custom of blood feuds, where the memory of an (assumed) past injustice obliges the next generation to continue the feud with the offending family. Tit-for-tat reprisals between rival gangs form another example4. In monocultural societies, the overlap between individual and collective

1. The STIAS project, “Historical Memory: Dealing with the past, reaching for the future”, addressed issues on both the conceptual and the pragmatic level (the dynamics of the process of remembering and strategies to achieve reconciliation), and its theoretical observations and reflections (the structural dimensions of memory) were informed by first–hand experience of realities on the ground (case studies in various African countries such as Mali, Congo-Zaïre, and South Africa). The work involved the following research fellows: Jörn Rüsen (former president of the Institute for Advanced Study, Essen); Mamadou Diawara (University of Frankfurt and Director of Point Sud in Bamako, Mali); Justin Bisanswa (Université Laval, Québec); Henk Wesseling (former rector of the Netherlands In¬stitute for Advanced Study); Masayuki Sato (Univer¬sity of Yamanashi, Japan); Patrick Harries (University of Basel), Albert Grundlingh (Stellenbosch University); Elisio Macamo (University of Bayreuth); and Bernard Lategan (Director of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study). 2. This study involved considerations of the nature of understanding, its processes, and the conditions that make it possible (this is the province of ‘hermeneutics’, or, the science of interpretation). More broadly, in an age of information overload, the ability to select, organize, and interpret information, and to turn it into knowledge, sense (even wisdom) is crucial. Another example is in the practice of law, whose main business is to interpret statutes, make sense of evidence presented in court, and weigh up possibilities and probabilities. Situations of cultural diversity also demand understanding and negotiating between underlying value systems. 3. Cultural historian Jörn Rüsen, at the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut NordRhein-Westfalen in Essen, refers to the ‘reflective activities of sense generating’, with reference to the work of the prominent French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur. 4. Africa (Congo [Katanga], Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, and Ethiopia, to mention a few), Europe (Poland, Germany, France, Northern Ireland), Latin America (Chile, Uruguay, Peru), the Middle East (Israel, Palestine), and Asia (Korea, Japan, China), all provide examples of past acts of violence and injustice. Individuals and groups of people have had to grapple with the memories, and have done so with mixed results.

The future dimension Although memory is basically orientated to the past, the STIAS researchers found that the presence of a future dimension was crucial in attempts to overcome what had happened. In all the cases examined, successful negotiation of the past depended on whether or not the future was seen as open and as containing alternative possibilities. The case of Eugene de Kock (the notorious chief of South Africa’s apartheid police death squad) before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1995-1998) is a telling example. Psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who contributed to the STIAS investigation, relates how the hope of future rehabilitation was key to the reconciliation between De Kock and the widows of two of his victims. One of the widows explained her decision to forgive De Kock, after his apology to them, saying that she would have liked “to hold him by the hand, and show him that there is a future, and that he can still change”. Analysing the case, Gobodo-Madikizela reached the same conclusion – that De Kock’s future would have been as unbearable as his past were it not for alternative ways to think about himself and the consequences of his deeds. The full Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (released on 21 March 2003) can be found at The introductory chapter provides a good overview. For more on South Africa’s historical memory, read S. Nuttal and C. Coetzee, Negotiating the Past (Oxford University Press, Cape Town, 1998). For a literary perspective, read Antjie Krog, Country of my Skull (Random House, Parktown, 1998), and for a psychological viewpoint, read P. Gobodo-Madikizela, A Human Being died that Night (David Philip, Cape Town, 2003).

memory can be great. An integrated ‘community of memory’ is created, which often forms the basis of nationalistic feelings. The memory of Napoleon’s achievements is used to bolster French nationalism; the heroic deeds of Mao Zedong are recounted to inspire presentday Chinese factory workers. In multicultural societies, such overlap does not necessarily exist. It is more likely that diverse, divergent, and conflicting communities of memory compete with each other, especially after periods of social disruption, war, or major transformations. In South Africa, for example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission extensively, and at times dramatically, illustrated how diverse and contested individual and collective memory in South Africa really is. Clinical reports of assassinations presented by former members of the security forces contrast with the painful memories of the same events by family members; the version of young township ‘comrades’ of the necklacing of a suspected informer contrasts with the recollection of the episode by the victim’s daughter; for rightwing groupings, memories of the AngloBoer war justify acts of violence as part of a ‘third war of liberation’. Looking forward Given the vast literature – both scholarly and popular – that exists on the subject, why should we examine historical memory further? There are three main reasons. First, despite exhaustive treatment of the topic in certain societies and contexts, remarkably little is available that offers an African perspective. Second, professional discussions of memory have lacked directedness towards the future. Third, several issues have been insufficiently addressed, including the intercultural aspect, the threat of instability when the past loses its meaning, and the role of mourning and forgiving in dealing with traumatic events.

The international research team in the STIAS project, “Historical Memory: Dealing with the past, reaching for the future”, explored the inner dynamics of memory in many of its variations, ranging from its most destructive and divisive impacts (for example, Japanese acts of aggression in China in the 1930s and 1940s) to its remarkable potential to heal and to reconcile (the parents of American aid worker and murder victim, Amy Biehl, accepting the apology of her assassins and working with them in job creation programmes in Cape Town). Historical memory in Africa provides a rich kaleidoscope of diverse experiences and perspectives – yet with recurring themes and similar conclusions: the struggle to be liberated from imposed interpretations of the past, the search for common ground, the quest to overcome the past constructively, the danger of new appropriations of the past for ideological purposes. Comparing extensive reflection and response from a German, an Indian, and a Korean perspective, however, shows that although the role of memory in African contexts may have distinctive features, it forms part of a global pattern. The researchers’ most important finding was that the future dimension of historical memory is crucially important for negotiating the past successfully, whether for an individual or a group of people. Most previous work on historical memory suffers from this structural deficit. Strange as it may seem, historical memory has little to do with the past as such. It is mainly a means for making sense of the present and looking ahead. Furthermore, its potential to help constructively to overcome the past can be unlocked only if it gives direction to what is to follow. This by no means implies that we should forget, deny, or suppress the past – on the contrary. But most cases where the past was successfully overcome were characterized by a re-appraisal of


– a centre for African solutions

that past in the light of new possibilities lying in wait. The results of the STIAS project are important for individuals and societies who have to deal with a traumatic past, for the many attempts in Africa and elsewhere at reconciliation and justice, and for healing in deeply divided societies. It has consequences for the writing and teaching of history, for literature, psychology, politics, and diplomacy. And moving beyond the past also has practical longterm economic ripple effects, as groups of people, who were previously split apart, find ways to jettison the baggage of historical memory and work together to create a prosperous and united future. ■ Professor Lategan is the Director of STIAS. He studied classical languages and specialized in textual, cultural, and historical interpretation. In the early 1990s, together with colleagues, he pioneered a process to develop common values in the workplace, and was associated for more than five years with Vaal Reefs, one of the largest gold mines at the time (with 48 000 employees), as well as with other companies thereafter. A vase with clay tablets, and a biblical text (below).

Quest 4(1) 2007 27

Gr appling with complexit y Left: A simple gooseberry – a complex system. Image: Courtesy of

are re-assembled. Complex systems have to be approached in their complexity, and this is a serious, if not impossible, challenge. The pivotal insight offered by complexity theory is that diversity as such is not a problem to be solved, but rather the central resource of complex systems. The identity of a system does not arise despite difference, but because of difference. A living cell is not a living cell first, an essential entity whose identity determines the nature of its subsystems – it is a result of the asymmetrical interactions between the different elements that constitute it.

Philosopher Paul Cilliers considers issues that arise when diversity makes things difficult to understand.


roblems associated with diversity have to be faced on many fronts in both science and society – in the realms of biological diversity, multicultural societies, and mixed economies, for instance. There is no solid theoretical base for thinking about diversity, however, so a STIAS project was set up to examine the potential of ‘complexity theory’ to provide an appropriate framework1. Understanding complexity Complexity theory arose from the growing realization that traditional, analytical scientific methods cannot adequately describe the central (or ‘emergent’) properties of a complex system that is made up of many and varied constituent parts. Spectacular advances in computer technology have generated some new approaches over the past three decades that try to deal with complex systems more holistically than before. Nevertheless, the problem of complexity remains primarily a conceptual one: how do we understand something that is complex? Central to this problem is the issue of diversity. How does one deal with the huge number of different components in a system, such as an ecosystem, an

economy, or a living or social system, especially when these components interact in many different ways? Traditional (or, more specifically, ‘modernist’) approaches to complexity regarded diversity as a problem, and something not central to the essential workings of complex systems. Based on Enlightenment rationality, these approaches assumed that logical rationality and the ‘scientific method’ would ultimately suffice to uncover the world’s secrets. Their strategy was to divide complex systems analytically into subsystems, thereby reducing the diversity within the whole. The hope was that, once the subsystems had been analysed and understood, they could be synthesized back into the original system. It was hoped, for example, that a living cell could be understood by analysing the central subcellular structures separately. This hope proved false, and reducing the diversity led to the elimination of many of the system’s key properties, and how they work together as a whole. In the case of the cell, the central property of ‘life’ disappears in the analytical process, and does not re-appear when the components

1. The project, entitled “Complexity and Diversity: The problem of difference and diversity”, brought together a group of researchers, spread around the world, in fields ranging from philosophy, social and political science, and organizational science, to environmental and sustainability studies. It was led by Paul Cilliers and included the following main collaborators: David Byrne (University of Durham), Peter Allen (Cranfield University), Harry Kunneman (University for Humanistics, Utrecht), Mark Swilling (Stellenbosch University), Leonard Praeg (Rhodes University), John Collier (University of KwaZulu-Natal), Hans Muller (Stellenbosch University). An international workshop was held in June 2006, and the subsequent research findings will appear in book form in 2008.

28 Quest 4(1) 2007

The ethical component Developing a meaningful framework for exploring difference and diversity cuts across scholarly disciplines and forms part of cutting-edge discussion. Complexity theory is proving to be an important way of thinking in the current intellectual climate, with impacts on many fronts. Examining its possibilities across a broad spectrum of interests could help to extend its insights, its benefits, and its applications. Since one cannot deal with a complex system in its complexity, it can be understood only from a particular, selected perspective. Philosophically speaking, this brings in the element of choice (‘what is the best perspective to use?’), so considerations of norms and ethics necessarily form part of the framework we use to generate understanding. The inevitability of an ethical dimension when working with complex things, therefore, means that complexity theory can contribute significantly to discussions of specific vital and controversial issues in our country and our continent – including poverty, sustainability, and viable economies – even as it contributes to the global debate. ■ Paul Cilliers is professor of philosophy at Stellenbosch University. He teaches cultural philosophy, deconstruction, and philosophy of science. He also has a degree in electronic engineering and worked professionally as an engineer for many years. His research is focused on the philosophical and ethical implications of complexity theory. For a general introduction to complexity theory, consult R. Lewin, Complexity: Life on the Edge of Chaos (London, Phoenix, 1993), and M. Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1993). For a more philosophical discussion, read P. Cilliers, Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems (London, Routledge, 1998).


– a centre for African solutions

S eeking a common language o f lif e Systems biologist Jannie Hofmeyr describes the search for a framework through which to understand the connections between life at the micro and at the macro levels.


1. The dangers of compartmentalized knowledge were pinpointed as being at the heart of many of our planet’s problems some three decades ago by E.F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful: Study of Economics as if People Mattered (Vintage, London, 1973). 2. The project was proposed by Stellenbosch University researchers Jannie Hofmeyr, Johann Rohwer, and Jacky Snoep, (who form the Triple-J group for Molecular Cell Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry). This, the first STIAS project, was conducted in 2001/2002 by mathematical ecologist Wayne Getz (professor of environmental science, University of California, Berkeley) and systems biologist Hans Westerhoff (then professor of microbial physiology at the Free University, Amsterdam, and now also Astra Zeneca Professor of Systems Biology at the University of Manchester).

the planet as a whole, finding ways to integrate the different layers of life is clearly a priority. Combining forces The STIAS project, “Merging the Layers of Life”2, sought to address the urgent need to develop a common language that could be used to describe systemic phenomena occurring at all levels in the biological hierarchy. It aimed to develop an integrative theoretical framework that could be applied to any of the different layers of life – and it demanded a transdisciplinary approach. The starting-point was the specific field of interest of the three Stellenbosch proposers of the project – the biochemists forming the Triple-J group for Molecular Cell Physiology – who were working at the level of the reaction and interaction networks in living cells (that is, they were examining the ways in which the different processes within living cells interact). Other researchers were needed who could reconcile this layer of life with the ecological layer, where populations

Above: A lion (Panthera leo) with the carcass of a giraffe in the Kruger National Park, illustrating different trophic levels in a food chain. Photograph: Tim Jackson

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iology spans the entire spectrum of a hierarchy of organizational levels in all living things. These can be regarded as the ‘layers’ of life: from biomolecules, to cells, to organs, to organisms, to populations of organisms. These layers are the domains of different scientific disciplines: biochemistry and molecular biology, cellular biology, physiology, population biology, ecology. The divisions between these study fields, however, mean that most researchers concentrate on only one level in this hierarchy, one rung of this ladder, using theoretical frameworks, terminologies, and methods that differ considerably from discipline to discipline and level to level. A biochemist, for example, can manipulate one enzyme to make a plant more resistant to a pathogenic organism, but there is no way to predict the consequences at the ecological level, where the pathogen may be food for a predator in a food chain. This difficulty hampers our overall understanding of life and living systems. Little has been done in the past to address this problem, partly because a bird’s-eye view is needed, which few scholars are able to acquire. Yet, by introducing biotechnology globally into agriculture and medicine, people have begun to manipulate life on a vast scale, despite having only partial and compartmentalized knowledge1. In the light of concerns with the future health of the African continent, and of

Some definitions Ecosystem: A biological community and the physical environment associated with it. Nutrients pass between the different organisms in an ecosystem along definite pathways (for example, grass is eaten by rabbits, which, in turn are eaten by jackals), and organisms are classified into various trophic levels on the basis of their position in an ecosystem. Foodweb: A system of food chains that are linked with one another, and in which a particular organism may feed at more than one trophic level. For example, in a pond food web, a freshwater mussel may feed directly on green algae, in which case it is a primary consumer. But it can also feed on protozoa, which are themselves primary consumers, in which case the mussel is the secondary consumer. Metabolic flux: The rate at which metabolites are interconverted in enzyme-catalyzed reactions. Normally, flux refers to the steady-state in which each metabolite is produced at the same rate that it is consumed, so that its concentration remains constant over time. Metabolism: The sum of the chemical reactions that occur within living organisms. Virtually all metabolic reactions are catalyzed by enzymes. Metabolites: The various compounds that take part in or are formed by metabolic reactions. Steady-state population level: The level at which the number of organisms remains constant because the rates of birth and death are equal. Trophic level: The position of an organism in a food chain (that is, in terms of who eats whom). For example, green plants (which obtain their energy directly from sunlight) are the primary producers; herbivores are primary consumers (and secondary producers). A carnivore that eats only herbivores is a secondary consumer and a tertiary producer. Many animals feed at several different trophic levels.

Quest 4(1) 2007 29


– a centre for African solutions

Above: A cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) with a springbok ram kill in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park: another example of a carnivore feeding off a herbivore. Photograph: Tim Jackson ▲

of organisms interact among themselves and with their environment. They found two experts from greatly differing fields (systems biologist Hans Westerhoff and mathematical ecologist Wayne Getz), who under normal circumstances would not have worked together. Reconciling all the levels At the level of the metabolic and genetic networks in the cell, a quantitative theoretical framework called Metabolic Control Analysis (MCA) (to which both the Triple-J group and Westerhoff have contributed significantly) has been developing for three decades. It helps researchers to pinpoint those cellular interactions that control the fluxes3 (or, the rates at which metabolites – chemicals generated by the cells – are converted to each other) and the concentrations of metabolites3. Theoretical predictions made by MCA have been verified experimentally. One, for example, is that control over a flux does not necessarily reside in one ‘ratelimiting’ step, but can be distributed over different steps in the network. More recent developments have also allowed scientists to distinguish the metabolic from the

genetic contributions to control. For the first time, through MCA, a tool became available for exploring how the properties of a network as a whole may arise from the properties of its components and the ways in which they, in turn, interact with each other. The question, now, was whether or not, and to what extent, principles similar to those ruling intracellular biochemistry apply in ecology. Getz and Westerhoff approached the problem by studying so-called ‘ideal ecosystems’, that is, ecosystems3 comprising species that interact by influencing each other’s feeding, growth, and death rates through their densities. An example of such an ideal ecosystem is an ‘unbranched trophic3 chain’ – for example, ‘grass is eaten by rabbits, which are eaten by jackals’, which could imply that the greater the rabbit density, the better it can support a jackal population. In a subset of such ideal ecosystems called ‘linear trophic chains’, the functions that describe the rate of growth depend linearly on feeding – in other words, if more food becomes available,

3. For an explanation of this term, see the Definitions box on page 29. 4. It is worth noting that TCA (and MCA) are not themselves hypotheses to be tested; they are, rather, ways of analysing and interpreting data obtained by experiment, observation, or modelling. These frameworks can be used to test certain hypotheses made about the system being studied.

30 Quest 4(1) 2007

the size of the population increases proportionally. For this subset, the STIAS researchers developed a theory called Trophic Control Analysis (TCA)4. Real life conditions are more complex, however, so the TCA was extended to encompass the control properties of more general ideal ecosystems, in which the growth of populations respond nonlinearly to feeding. Their new ecosystem control theory allowed the researchers to postulate general principles (or laws) for ecosystems. This had not previously been possible, because earlier ecosystem studies had not undertaken a mathematically rigorous analysis of the sensitivity of steady-state3 properties when faced with perturbations (or disturbances). Just how sensitive, for instance, is a jackal population when drought has reduced the amount of grass for rabbits to eat and has, thereby, also decreased the rabbit population for a time? These control theories now offer a way to conduct wider analyses of factors that control population densities by feeding and growth processes occurring at each level in a trophic chain. They also offer a new vocabulary for conceptual discussion of foodwebs3. Our work showed that it was possible to discuss and analyse the cellular and ecological layers of life in mathematical language, which, in turn, means that we can start building models that could allow us to predict what effect a perturbation on the lower trophic level could have on the higher level, and vice versa. Reconciling the layers of life in an encompassing theoretical framework is a huge undertaking: this STIAS project has provided a start. ■ Professor Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr is a systems biologist in the Department of Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University. He has made fundamental contributions to the development of metabolic control and regulation analysis and computational systems biology. For more, consult W.M. Getz, H.V. Westerhoff, J.H.S. Hofmeyr, and J.L. Snoep, “Control analysis of trophic chains”, Ecological Modelling, vol. 168, pp.153–171 (available at Reprints03/GetzEtAlEcoMod03.pdf); Simon Levin, Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons (Basic Books, 2000); and Dennis Noble, The Music of Life: Biology beyond the Genome (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006). For a list of textbooks on ecological modelling, visit http:// Knorrenschild/embooks.html.

T he Mos t er t sdr i f t ex per imen t al v ineyar d Left: The unique layout of the rows of vines in the experimental vineyard, designed to test the effects of sun direction on the ripening of fruit and on the subsequent flavour and aroma of the wine. Image: Courtesy of STIAS Below: Forty-year-old Pinotage goblet vines at Hoogstede farm (Agter-Paarl area) in spring.

Albert Strever explains how the new experimental vineyard at STIAS will work.


– known in South Africa as ‘Hermitage’ – hence its portmanteau name. The decision was made to use the new vineyard for further research on Pinotage2. Design Layout

The vineyard layout is unique. The vines will be planted in rows that fan out from a central point (contrary to the normal practice of positioning rows parallel to each other), in this way representing almost all possible row-direction combinations for this specific location. Grapes will be harvested from a randomized selection of each row direction, and wines made so as to evaluate the effects – in terms of chemistry and taste – of the differing row directions. Row direction mainly affects sun angle relative to the grapevine canopy3, so it also affects the relative time and intensity of exposure to the sun by the leaves and bunches of grapes. (It also affects the movement of wind through the rows, which may not be an important factor at this site, where the cooling effect of maritime breezes are not expected.) Aesthetics

The layout will please the eye, with ‘down the row’ views of vines from all positions as one moves around the plot.

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ostertsdrift was originally part of the Lanzerac wine farm in the Jonkershoek valley. In 1695 it received its own title deeds, and soon after that began producing its own wine. When Mostertsdrift was allocated to STIAS in 2000, the manor house was the first building to be restored; work on the wine cellar (originally built in 1848) soon followed. Municipal zoning regulations in Stellenbosch forbid the erection of buildings on the southwest corner of the property. Because of the close association that Mostertsdrift had always had with wine, and the role of STIAS as promoter of innovative research, the idea was mooted to plant an experimental vineyard on this half-hectare plot. ‘Village vineyards’ are common at the entrances to the town, and they soften its ‘urban feel’ – others are found, for example, at Nietvoorbij, Welgevallen, Oude Libertas, and Dorp Street. The Pinotage Association of South Africa ‘adopted’ Mostertsdrift in the spirit of Professor Abraham Izak Perold, who, in 1925, produced South Africa’s first wine-grape cultivar (from Vitis vinifera L.), called Pinotage. It was a cross1 between Pinot noir and Cinsaut noir

The changing fortunes of Pinotage

1. Pinotage is a viticultural cross, that is, a cultivar that results from crossing two or more cultivars within the same species. A hybrid, on the other hand, is a cultivar bred from members of different species. Dictionaries define a cultivar as “a plant variety produced by selective breeding from a natural species and maintained by cultivation”; the term derives from cultiv(vated) + var(iety). 2. Advice on the layout of the vineyard and the most suitable cultivar to be grown there came from Albert Strever and Melanie Vivier of the Department of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. When the Pinotage Association of South Africa – with Duimpie Bayly and Beyers Truter in the lead – learned of STIAS’s goal to promote innovative research, they also became interested. One of the aims of the association is to continue Perold’s ground-breaking work, by, amongst other things, experimenting with new plant material and cultivation practices. 3. The ‘canopy’ is the combination of leaves and shoots that forms the photosynthetic factory for grape development.

Pinotage was born from Abaraham Isak Perold’s attempt to combine the best qualities of the robust Cinsaut with Pinot Noir, a grape from which excellent wine is made but that can be hard to grow. Cinsaut originated in the Mediterranean area in the south of France, and has been cultivated since 1850. Pinot Noir, considered one of the world’s oldest cultivars, originated in Burgundy, France. The Roman author of the encyclopedic Natural History, Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79), was already describing wines from this cultivar. Perold planted the four seeds from his cross in the garden of his official residence at Welgevallen experimental farm but then apparently forgot about them. A couple of years later he left Stellenbosch University, and the garden became overgrown. A clean-up team was sent in and a young lecturer who was passing by – and who knew about seedlings – saw the plants and saved them. They were moved to Elsenburg Agricultural College, where, in 1935, Perold’s successor, C.J. Theron, grafted them onto newly established Richter 99 and Richter 57 stocks. This was a further stroke of luck, as the other rootstocks at the college were so badly infected with viruses that they had to be destroyed. The first wine was made in 1941 at Elsenburg, and the first commercial plantings were at Murtle Grove, near Sir Lowry’s Pass. A Bellevue wine made from Pinotage became the champion at the Cape Wine Show of 1959, and, in 1961, was the first to mention ‘Pinotage’ on its label when it was marketed under the Lanzerac brand. Easy viticulture and early success encouraged wide planting in the 1960s, but after 1976, when a visiting group of British Masters of Wine panned it, interest waned. Not until 1987, when Beyers Truter won the Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year with his Kanonkop Pinotage, did the fortunes of Pinotage finally change for the better. Sources: Wikipedia and Professor Piet Goussard (Department of Viticulture and Oenology, Stellenbosch University)

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– a centre for African solutions

in wine industries across the world. What’s different here is its practice on medium-potential soil. The goal is to find a way to reap the benefits of root competition without overshadowing canopies. Drainage

Above: The facade of the newly restored Mostertsdrift wine cellar, originally built in 1848. The linings for wine casks dating from this time are still visible. The cellar was subsequently used for other purposes – as storeroom, as hay loft, as stables, and even as a fully fitted billiard room. After becoming part of STIAS, the exterior was restored to its original state of 1848, but the interior was refurbished to serve as a modern research facility. Photograph: STIAS Images: P.G. Goussard, Department of Viticulture and Oenology, Stellenbosch University (unless otherwise indicated) ▲

Above (from top): Adapted lyre trellis to be used at Mostertsdrift, here shown in use at the Sauvignon Blanc (cv. Vitis vinifera L.) vineyard at Tokara, where this form of the trellis system was pioneered. Photograph: Albert Strever Fine yield from the cultivar, Roobernet (cv. Vitis vinifera L.), originating from material generated by a special in vitro cultivation technique to eliminate leafrollassociated viruses, and representing ground-breaking work by Goussard. These diseases affect most vines, especially older ones, in South Africa. A promising harvest already visible in spring (Welgevallen experimental farm, Stellenbosch). Below: Early spring budburst and rapid elongation of young shoots of Chardonnay (first leaf unfolding, inflorescence already visible).

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The trellis system used for this vineyard will be an adapted lyre-type trellis, mostly used in the industry to counteract very strong growth induced in vines that are planted on high-potential soils. It is designed to induce root competition between vines – common in narrowly spaced vineyard plantings – while at the same time accommodating the larger canopy surface per surface area of soil in two different rows, with wider betweenvine spacing allowed in each row. This essentially means that the canopy is allowed ‘normal’ development, as would be the case in the common hedgetype trellis system. The root competition between adjacent rows (where the spacing is about 25% narrower than the betweenvine spacing in the row) limits vigour, and also brings other advantages, such as a deeper, finer root system that allows far greater utilization of the same soil volume. Vines are planted in pairs of rows spaced only 80 cm apart, but the distance between the vines within each row is kept at 1.5 m. The principle is not new

The vineyard is unique in another way. The land was originally marshy with a high water-table (standing water on the soil surface was visible right until September). Vine roots need optimal soil temperatures (in the range of 25–30 °C) as well as sufficient oxygen in the soil, both of which facilitate root respiration – a critical process for water transport early in the growing season, when the leaves are too few and too small to ‘extract’ water from the ‘soggy’ soil. The existing marshy soil conditions, with suboptimal temperature and very little oxygen, would therefore severely hamper vine budburst and vigour, as well as normal root functioning. Rather than ridging the topsoil (which would raise the root temperature too high in the summer), it was decided to use the river stones and soil – excavated during the building of the new Wallenberg Research Centre’s basement – as filling material. In this way, the level of the vineyard could be raised by more than 1.5 m, which eliminated most of the drainage problems. Management and training

The vineyard will be ‘manually managed’, with no mechanical cultivation methods used. Although this does not reflect the state of most commercial vineyards, it will provide an example of what it can mean for a vineyard to minimize the mechanical compacting of the soil. Spraying against pests and diseases will be conducted with backpack sprayers, using low-volume spraying technology currently being researched in the Department of Plant Pathology at Stellenbosch University. And, for postgraduate students of viticulture, Mostertsdrift will be a training vineyard for honing their pruning, canopy-management, vine-planting, and grape-analysis skills. In due course, STIAS hopes to produce a ground-breaking wine under its own label! ■ Albert Strever is in the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University. He lectures in viticulture (general cultivation practices) and conducts research into the application of hyperspectral remote sensing in cultivating vines.

Viewpoint Q

Bridging the digital divide South Africa needs cheap, fast, and reliable bandwidth to fulfil its aspirations – not just in big science, but to reach its development goals as well. Phil Charles demonstrates the relationship between astronomy and the Internet and argues that the time has come for bold action.


ore and more people are gaining access to the Internet at work and at home, and broadband services are increasing in speed while simultaneously decreasing in cost. So a ‘digital divide’ between Africa and the rest of the world (especially Europe and the USA) is not immediately apparent to many people. But a glance below the surface tells a very different story. Something needs to be done urgently. Africa and the ‘digital divide’ The data connection speed (TCP, or Transmission Control Protocol, or

Above: International internet throughput, as monitored worldwide from Stanford University in California (USA), demonstrates the logarithmic growth in bandwidth over the past 12 years. All areas are growing, but the different slopes of the lines in this graph show that the rate of growth in Internet speed is different. Africa’s rate of growth is the lowest, which means that it is further behind the rest of the world now than it was in 2000. Figure courtesy of Les Cottrell of SLAC and the worldwide PingER team

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throughput, or simply the speed at which data can be moved around on the Internet) between the USA and other world regions has evolved exponentially over the past decade or so (see graph). Yes, everybody has improved. The average growth rate has seen the speed increasing by an amazing 30% per year, or a factor 10 in a decade, but Africa has seen by far the poorest level of improvement. Remarkably, at the turn of the millennium, our continent was ahead of Asia and the Middle East. But they have progressed much more rapidly than Africa (indeed, the Middle East at a rate faster than anybody!), leaving us now well and truly at the bottom of the league. Internet performance can be measured in other ways too – the Digital Access Index, the cost of Internet access, the % of data losses, the unreachability of sites, congestion, and the quality of VOIP (Voice-OverInternet protocol) connections. All have one thing in common: Africa is at the bottom1. The rates of growth in Internet speed are different too. Not only is Africa slowest, but it is falling further behind as we move into the future! You only have to visit Europe or the USA to experience and appreciate the magnitude of this digital divide. Given South Africa’s current political emphasis on evolving from a resource-based towards a knowledge-based economy, keeping

up with international developments is absolutely critical. Astronomy Geographic Advantage Programme (AGAP) Fast, cheap, and reliable Internet bandwidth is crucial for developing South Africa’s economy as a whole as well as its science. Astronomy is significant to Africa and to the world, and this field of research serves as a clear case study for the country’s – and the continent’s – need to bridge the digital divide if it’s to become a meaningful global player. A look at the map of the world shows the importance of our astronomical observation sites for exploring the southern skies. World-class research requires access to dark, clear skies with good seeing conditions – that is, we need places where there is little atmospheric turbulence, or ‘twinkling’. This means moving away from sea level to areas above 1 500 m, and, for southern-hemisphere astronomy, only Chile and South Africa qualify, as Australia’s optical observatories are located at lower altitudes and have poorer seeing conditions. South Africa’s ‘astronomy geographic advantage’ (AGA) makes it an attractive partner for international astronomical collaborations, in which the country provides the observing sites, and participants elsewhere provide technical and financial resources. In this way, South Africa benefits scientifically in global projects that it would otherwise be unable to afford, and that

1. For details about measures of Internet performance see

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bring new skills and opportunities to our rapidly developing nation. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is a splendid example. Constructed and commissioned over the last seven years, it cost about R200 million, but South Africa contributed only R50 million, part of which is the assessed value of the site and local infrastructure at Sutherland in the Northern Cape. The country did even better than these figures suggest, as two-thirds of the capital cost of the telescope was expended with South African companies. To protect this advantage, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) sponsored an Astronomy Geographic Advantage Programme (AGAP) bill, recently passed by Parliament. It seeks to limit the human activities that can be undertaken (from the light and radio interference arising out of housing developments and mining, for instance) in areas close to South Africa’s best astronomical sites. The extraordinary quality of our African skies is demonstrated by the familiar night-time compilation image of the Earth, showing southern Africa. The darkness of the Karoo on a clear, moonless night is truly awe-inspiring. Modern astronomy, SALT, and the Internet Not so long ago (only 25 years), ground-based observational astronomy was conducted with telescopes using photographic plates, and the main means of communication with the outside world was by telephone, fax, or telex machine. Conditions have changed dramatically. Telescopes evolved during

the 1980s to being fully computer controlled; and highly efficient, digital detectors (charge-coupled devices, or CCDs, similar to those now common in digital cameras) have replaced the photographic plates. But the real transformation came in the 1990s with the World Wide Web. It revolutionized research communication for all branches of science, and for astronomy it opened up a host of possibilities. These included the ability to access astronomical databases compiled and maintained anywhere in the world, as well as the ability to receive and respond rapidly to time-critical results2. Increasing Internet bandwidth brought the possibility of shipping data immediately from the telescope to the home base (often overseas) for reduction and analysis. For many research projects, this needs to be done during the observing run so that particular observations can quickly be followed up with observations at other wavebands. This process is being applied to SALT data, but for different reasons. SALT3 is completing its commissioning phase and has already produced valuable results. But how does SALT data get to the scientists who want to work with them? There are five large-format (8-million-pixel) CCDs in the cameras used by SALT, and a typical night can produce 1–10 gigabytes of data. Sending such large quantities of data over our existing international links with Europe and America, for instance, is impossible, so we use a different approach. We have a dedicated (1.5million-bits per second) line between

Top and above: Blow-up of the southern African region as seen from space at night. The Cape Peninsula is clearly delineated, as are the Garden Route cities. What is remarkable is how dark the area is in the Karoo around Sutherland, where the Southern African Large Telescope is located. Images courtesy of NASA/GSFC

Sutherland and Cape Town, which can transfer a night’s data in a few hours (data are sent throughout the night while observing is taking place). However, these are all raw, uncalibrated data in the form of large files, which are then processed automatically (using a ‘pipeline’ processing system) into reduced data occupying far less computer space. These data can then be accessed over the Internet by the SALT partnership’s scientists, both internationally and within South Africa. Astrophysical virtual observatory The 1990s saw massive growth in the volume of astronomical data generated around the world, as a result of the new generation of large telescopes combined with larger-format detectors and more powerful computing facilities.

▲ ▲

2. An example of how rapidly scientists can respond to observations concerns what is happening in the world of gammaray-burster (GRB) research (see Martin Still’s article, “The birth of a black hole”, in Quest, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 12–15). 3. For details about SALT, see Quest, vol. 2, no. 2.

Top left: The red dots mark the locations of the best astronomical observing sites for optical and infrared astronomy around the globe. The horizontal line shows the position of the equator, demonstrating how only Chile, Australia, and South Africa have access to the southern skies. Image: David Buckley

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Left: Map of southern Africa, showing the proposed location for the Square Kilometre Array core in the Northern Cape, with the rest of the array distributed among Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Kenya, and Ghana. Image: KAT Project Team

The IVOA has created standards for formatting such data and provided suitable software by which to access these huge datasets remotely. So there is only one copy of the atlas (it could be located anywhere in the world) and you simply query it, work with it, and get results, which are then sent over the Internet to your own computer. Such is the power of the IVOA. But to work effectively it needs high-speed Internet links.

Above: Two views of the KAT test dish.

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This was true for all wavelengths, from radio to infrared to optical to ultraviolet to X-ray, both in space and on the ground. For deeper understanding of the physical processes occurring in many astronomical objects, scientists combine observations made at different wavelengths in what is known as ‘multiwavelength astronomy’. Beginning with space missions, and now expanding to include most major ground-based observatories, such data have been and continue to be archived into large, central computer databases which (at least in the case of nationally funded observatories and missions) are made publicly available to astronomers over the Internet. Working with such huge databases, however, and combining the data effectively can be difficult and timeconsuming. It is now feasible to consider accessing an atlas of the entire sky taken at a resolution of 0.1 seconds of arc4 – but such an atlas would correspond to 100 terabytes (TB)4 – that’s 100 000 gigabytes (GB)! Distributing such a giant database is obviously impossible (just think, your home or school PC most likely contains everything on a ~100-GB hard disk, so you’d need 1 000 of them to store this atlas). Enter the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA), which aimed to simplify the process through the power of the World Wide Web.

The digital divide and South Africa’s SKA bid The dark Karoo skies are ‘dark’ (or ‘quiet’) at radio frequencies too, giving South Africa a further geographic advantage, this time for radio astronomy. As a result, with the support of other countries in the region, South Africa is on the short-list (together with Australia) as one of the two potential sites to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). With an effective collecting area of a million square metres, the SKA will be the most powerful radio telescope on Earth, achieving a sensitivity a hundred times greater than current instruments, and costing ~US$2 billion. If the SKA is located in southern Africa, an array of antennas will be distributed over the entire southern African region (see map above), with its central core area concentrated near Carnarvon in the Northern Cape. This remote, radioquiet area is ideal because of the very small number of people living and working there – no people means no cell-phones, television, or radio transmission, all of which cause the high levels of radio ‘interference’ over so much of our world. In preparation for the SKA, South Africa and Australia are both constructing ‘SKA pathfinder’ radio telescope arrays. In South Africa, the KAT (Karoo Array Telescope) Project Team has commenced design and construction of the MeerKAT5, a worldclass radio telescope, composed initially of 80 12-m dishes and extending over a distance of up to 10 km in the Karoo.

4. A second of arc (arcsec) is a very small unit of angular measure, equivalent to one-sixtieth of an arc minute or 1/3600 of a degree. (For example, the Sun and Moon are each 30 arc minutes across.) The prefix ‘tera-’ (T) is used in the metric system to denote one million million times, so 1 terabyte (TB) = 1 000 gigabytes (GB).

Q Viewpoint

Developments in eastern and southern Africa Optical fibre (for data transmission) is being deployed throughout Africa at an accelerating rate, as a result of developments by national and cellphone operators, electrical power expansion, and various international consortia. As is the case in Europe, national research and education networks (NRENs) are emerging in African countries to provide the academic backbone to link their major institutions by procuring Internet bandwidth. Map showing how southern Africa might be connected to In South Africa, to begin this process, the rest of the world. The WASC and SAFE cables exist, but SANREN is being funded by the Department have limited affordable bandwidth available. EASSy (and of Science and Technology through the the recently proposed Seacom) cables could transform the Meraka Institute, as well as TENET (Tertiary situation for South Africa if political and financial hurdles can Education Network), the broadband system be overcome. Image: Duncan Martin, TENET that serves South Africa’s higher education and research institutions. Together with six other African NRENs, they have formed UbuntuNet, aiming eventually to become the ‘Geant’ of Africa – inspired by the European Geant2 network, which currently provides a staggering 10-gigabits per second academic backbone throughout Europe and is at least 1 000 times faster than that currently available within South African academia! Providing the linkage between southern Africa and the rest of the world means developing intercontinental connectivity (as proposed in the map above). Many groups of professional people in all walks of life recognize the urgency of providing affordable, international bandwidth. But achieving it requires political intervention on a heroic scale.

and MeerKAT) are providing external support, since South Africa has so clearly shown that it wants to participate in science on the global stage – as a ‘real’ partner, and not just as a third-world provider of first-class research locations. In time, the cost and speed of commercial bandwidth in South Africa will both improve – driven (it is to be hoped) by increased telecomms competition. But when ...? ■ Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Bruce Bassett, Roy Emmerich, Jasper Horrell, and Duncan Martin for providing material for my April 2007 presentation to the meeting in Florida, USA, where representatives from around the globe met under the auspices of the American Physical Society to discuss how to ‘bridge the digital divide’. This article is a summary and an update of that presentation.

Professor Phil Charles is Director of the South African Astronomical Observatory, which has its headquarters in Cape Town and is contracted to operate SALT at its observing station in Sutherland, Northern Cape, on behalf of the international SALT partnership. He has worked with computers in astronomy throughout his entire 35-year career, and was an early convert to the concept of the Virtual Observatory as a result of ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA data archives for space astronomy missions. ▲ ▲

The current limitation in data transmission from the Northern Cape is a very large factor in the MeerKAT construction. To complete it at this stage would be impossible, because the bandwidth, computer processing power, and data storage required simply do not yet exist anywhere. The problem will partly be solved through Moore’s Law, the remarkably wellestablished relation by which raw cpu (central processing unit) power and hard disk storage capacity essentially double every two years. Extrapolating this into the future indicates that the necessary technology should be available by about 2014 (even if we don’t yet know what form that technology might take). For South Africa, the main problem lies in the data transmission. We are way behind in terms of affordable bandwidth on both local and international scales – that is, the digital divide is holding us back. A large investment is required to improve this situation! Progress has been frustratingly slow, but encouraging signs are beginning to emerge, and the government is aware that intervention is needed. A highspeed academic internet backbone is an urgent priority. Put simply: without high-speed links, MeerKAT and the SKA bid are non-starters. In the short term, SALT (as will probably also be the case for KAT) is using the Virtual Observatory method described above. Users and other interested astronomers (locally and overseas) access only final data-products (for example, the processed images) and not the (much more voluminous) raw data. This approach can be extended to other astronomical observatories, both ground and space-based, if the data archives are copied and moved to a central South African site (a ‘mirror’), from which the data can be accessed. The broad support that exists for the recently passed AGA Bill and KAT (as well as other developments) is being used as a lever to change the face of research networks. Furthermore, our international partners (in SALT

5. The KAT (Karoo Array Telescope) is a 1% version of the projected Square Kilometre Array (SKA), and is intended as a technology demonstrator radio telescope array. A single prototype dish has been constructed at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) in Gauteng to test the dish manufacturing technology. MeerKAT (or ‘more KAT’) is the logical next step in this process, and will comprise an array of approximately 500 dishes, equivalent to 10% of the SKA. It will be constructed based on technologies developed from what is learnt in building and operating KAT, and will be an extremely powerful radio telescope and research tool in its own right. The full SKA (if South Africa is chosen to host it), will expand the array over its full extent. The decision as to which country will host the SKA is unlikely to be taken until 2009 or later.

Side view (top) and close-up (above) of the former NASA deep space tracking station, converted and upgraded as the HartRAO 26-m dish for radio astronomy.

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KAT, MeerKAT, and the SKA The first KAT test dish, manufactured at HartRAO (the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory), is currently undergoing engineering tests. Telescope arrays work as interferometers, where the radio waves detected by each dish in the array ‘interfere’ with each other, producing a pattern that is related to structure in the image (see http://; the sensitivity is achieved by having many dishes, geographically widely separated, all observing the same part of the sky at the same time. MeerKAT is intended to start operations around 2012, with the first phase as a 7dish system operational from 2010. The telescope array will generate data at different rates, depending on its level of performance. When operating optimally, its data-rates will be truly phenomenal. For example, an 80-dish MeerKAT will generate data in excess of 8 gigabits per second (that’s eight thousand times faster than current South African broadband rates!) after the first stage of correlation processing in the standard imaging mode*. This will produce a full spectral image cube of 11 terabytes (TB) after typically 8 hours of observation (which would take about 30 hours to download over a dedicated 1-gigabit link). For a 10% SKA comprising 900 dishes, the numbers are much larger: the data rate at the correlator output would be of the order of 6 terabits per second, and spectral image cube sizes of the order of 265 TB would be produced. This is a very large amount of data to try to move around! * The correlator is the piece of electronics that combines the signals from each of the dishes and produces the interference patterns that tell us about the detail in the radio image.

Above left: Photograph of the HartRAO 26-m radio dish at Hartebeesthoek, with the MeerKAT test dish in the background. Left: The MeerKAT test dish.

For more information, visit the following websites: The International Virtual Observatory Alliance is at; and You’ll find SALT at; KAT and SKA at and; TENET at; and telecommunications reform in South Africa at

News Q

Communication for Africa

Telephone access There’s no getting away from it – the cost of expensive telecommunication has pricey ripple effects. The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report, Mapping Communications Access in South Africa (2007), highlighted the fact that the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGI-SA) had identified the high cost of telecommunications – which includes computers, the Internet, and other electronic developments – as a key factor that could affect the goal of achieving 6% economic growth and alleviation of poverty in South Africa by 2014. To assess the reality in South Africa, the HSRC investigated the extent of access to landlines and cellular phones. Gauteng had the highest proportion of households with cellphones (48.7%), closely followed by the Western Cape (46.7%); the Northern Cape had the lowest (20.1%); and the national average was 33.1%. The Western Cape had the highest proportion of households with landlines (55.3%), followed by KwaZulu-Natal (31.7%); Limpopo had the lowest (7.1%); and the national average was 23.6%. Access, in other words, was much higher in cities with good infrastructure and higher household income levels than in poorer rural communities. Cellphones remain the great liberator, enabling services to reach less populated parts of the country. For more visit Article-62.phtml.

EASSy does it The Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) is an initiative to connect countries of eastern Africa by means of a high-bandwidth fibre optic cable system to the rest of the world. It is considered a milestone in the development of information infrastructure in the region The plan is to run it from Mtunzini in South Africa to Port Sudan in Sudan, with landing points in six countries, and connected to at least five landlocked countries – which would no longer need to rely on expensive satellite systems to carry voice and data services.

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The project, funded by the World Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, was initiated in January 2003. Telkom, a major EASSy stakeholder, has indicated that it may withdraw, as it could be forced to reduce the fees it charges rival operators to use its bandwidth on SAT-3, the cable connecting Portugal and Spain to Melkbosstrand, South Africa, which is co-owned by Telkom. EASSy is 27% owned by three South African companies, but policy guidelines are being drafted that would forbid any cable system that is not majority owned by South African companies from landing in the country. The World Bank Group says it will fund the construction of the cable, whether or not South Africa grants landing rights to it. Its director of information and communications technology hopes that South Africa will in fact allow EASSy the rights it needs to provide international bandwidth to South African consumers, but the project will continue regardless. It is scheduled to come on stream in early 2009. Sources: Wikipedia and Financial Mail, 21 September 2007.

A wireless option The way to bridge the digital divide, said Intel chairman Craig Barrett during a tour of Africa in October 2007, is to communicate “wirelessly”. Less than 1% of Africans has access to broadband, and only 4% uses the net. The continent’s geography and political barriers have made it difficult to roll out wired broadband – quite apart from the shortage of fibre cable links between African countries, and the fact that few states have the extensive copper wire networks for ADST broadband. Cellphones outnumber fixed-line connections in most African countries, and the advice from Intel is to “forget about wires and twisted copper and go directly to broadband wireless technologies like WiMax.” This is a long-range, low-power wireless broadband system that can be used to connect PCs and laptops to a broadband network, and, in future, cellphones too. Source: BBC News, 31 October 2007.

Q News

Carbon emissions worse than expected

Red List alert

Carbon dioxide emissions were 35% higher in 2006 than in 1990, concludes a study published in October in the American journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are increasing faster than expected and sooner than expected, say researchers, despite the Kyoto Protocol that is designed to hold them down in western countries. Inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels increased levels of CO2 by 17%, scientists found. The other 18% came from a decline in the natural ability of land and oceans to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere. Since 2000, improvements in the carbon intensity of the global economy have stalled, leading to the unexpected jump in atmospheric CO2. Furthermore, the weakening of the Earth’s ability to cope with greenhouse gases is thought to result from changing wind patterns over seas and droughts on land, which makes stabilization of atmospheric CO2 more difficult to achieve than previously thought. “Nearly half of the decline in the efficiency of the ocean CO2 sink is due to the intensification of winds in the Southern Ocean”, says report co-author Corinne Le Quere of the British Antarctic Survey. And the declining power of the seas to soak up industrial pollution is being recorded in the North Atlantic too. Most atmospheric scientists accept the idea that action is needed, but political problems are caused by the potential costs to economies. Human population growth combined with unsustainable consumption have resulted in a planet increasingly under stress, however. According to the new study, carbon released from burning fossil fuels and making cement rose from 7 billion tonnes per year in 2000 to 8.4 billion tonnes in 2006.

The 2007 Red List of Threatened Species was launched by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in September 2007 with serious warnings about danger to life on Earth as we know it. There are now 41 415 species on the Red List, and 16 306 of them are threatened with extinction, up from 16 118 last year. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are found only in captivity or in cultivation. One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one-third of all amphibians, and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 list are in jeopardy. According to Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the IUCN, the latest Red List shows that “the invaluable efforts made so far to protect species are not enough. The rate of biodiversity loss is increasing and we need to act now to significantly reduce it and stave off this global extinction crisis. This can be done, but only with a concerted effort by all levels of society.” South Africa has played its part in the work of the IUCN. The Freshwater Research Group of the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) was closely involved in collecting data for the Red List. Earlier this year, a workshop was held at SAIAB under the framework of an IUCN/Wetlands International EUfunded project entitled “Integration of freshwater biodiversity in the development process throughout Africa: Mobilizing information and site demonstrations”. It brought together experts in freshwater fishes, molluscs, crabs, odonates, and freshwater plants to build a comprehensive status data set on these groups in southern Africa.

Reported in BBC News (23 October 2007) and The New York Times (22 October 2007).

Computer users be warned Those who have had access to computers for a long time, be warned: many second-hand hard discs still hold data, some personal and some commercially sensitive. The proportions vary, but it is estimated that 65% of discs in Australia still contain data, 55% in the USA, 35% in the UK, and 17% in Germany. Furthermore, the going rate in the UK on eBay is said to be £6 (or, about R80) for a CD that tells you how to hack into other people’s computers. Reported in New Scientist (29 September 2007).

For online GIS maps for each species visit SAIAB’s infoportal ( infoportal/onlineGIS.html). For further information visit

Complementing this work, a major report was issued at the end of October by the United Nations Environment Programme. In this, its fourth Global Environment Outlook since 1997, the point was made that climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are putting humanity at risk. Over the last two decades, the world population increased by almost 34%, to 6.7 billion, from 5 billion, but the land available to each person is shrinking, from 19.5 acres in 1900 to 5 acres by 2005 (1 ha = 2.71 acres). Reported by the IUCN, SAIAB, and in The New York Times (26 October 2007).

The good news All the reports emphasize that there is still time to avert the environmental crisis. The public is increasingly aware and involved. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize for work done in calling attention to global warming is a signal that the will exists to find and implement solutions.

Serving Africa's needs in understanding fishes and aquatic environments Situated in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, SAIAB is an internationally recognized centre for the study of aquatic biodiversity, serving the nation through the generation, dissemination and application of knowledge to understanding and solving problems on the conservation and wise use of African fishes and aquatic biodiversity. Research in the institute is directed at marine and freshwater fish taxonomy, systematics, genetics, biology, ecology, ethology, conservation, management and environmental issues. SAIAB houses world-famous collections of marine fishes from the Atlantic, Indo-Pacific and Antarctic Oceans, as well as freshwater fishes from Africa and adjacent islands. Its collections are national assets that are held in perpetuity for the benefit of science and future generations. The collections include biological specimens, genetic samples, photographic images, original scientific illustration artwork, spatial data and publications. It is an information hub for African fish, fisheries and aquaculture. Contact us: Private Bag 1015, Grahamstown, 6140, Tel +27 (0)46 6035800, Fax +27 (0)46 6222403, email, web © SAIAB 2007. Illustrations by Elaine Heemstra and Dave Voorveldt. Layout by Magriet Cruywagen

Quest 4(1) 2007 39

Your Q uest ions answered Q

Understanding planets & beating addictions Hot planets and water QUESTION


“A recent article in the Financial Times reported the detection of water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a star 64 light years away from the Earth. The planet is very hot. It is described as a “gas giant of the type known as ‘hot Jupiter’, with atmospheric temperatures rising above 1 000 °C”. I am puzzled at the existence of water on such a planet. I take it that the water vapour means that water exists in some form on the planet?” Question from Ronée Robinson

This is simply water vapour that is being detected in the upper atmosphere of this planet. When we view Venus in our Solar System, for example, the light is reflected sunlight which, in passing through part of Venus's atmosphere before being reflected, contains (spectroscopically) information about the gases that are present there. In exactly the same way, this ‘hot Jupiter’ is reflecting light from its parent star, thereby telling us what kind of material is present in the atmosphere. It is not telling us anything about what is happening on the surface of the planet. Professor Phil Charles, SAAO, Cape Town

Giving up smoking QUESTION


“I’m a smoker who wants to give up but can’t. What kind of addiction is this? a chemical dependency that’s impossible to overcome? a habit that's psychologically hard to beat? why do some people succeed and others keep failing?” One of many would-be ex-smokers

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), under the heading “tobacco withdrawal”, gives an excellent description of what a person experiences when he or she is trying to give up smoking. If the individual is a ‘true’ addict, then a number of the following withdrawal symptoms will be felt: ■ craving for tobacco ■ irritability ■ anxiety ■ difficulty in concentrating ■ restlessness ■ headache ■ drowsiness ■ gastrointestinal disturbances. This sums up very well what makes ‘giving up’ so very difficult. It also helps to explain why the numerous aids to lessen the ‘craving for tobacco’ (perhaps more accurately, ‘nicotine’) – for example, patches, nicotine chewing gum, sprays, mild antidepressants, and other things – are, on the whole, unsuccessful. There is more at stake than just a craving for nicotine. The problems of ‘difficulty in concentrating’ and ‘restlessness’ stand out among the above eight features. Over time, the tobacco addict has discovered that a cigarette is an invaluable aid in focusing the mind, so a strong association has built up between the two. This has the effect that, without a cigarette, concentration becomes extremely difficult and leads to disabling restlessness. What the DSM does not include is also, I believe, a major factor: the comforting effect of a cigarette – inhaling the nicotine, but especially the comfort of simply holding a cigarette. The person trying to give up will say, “I don't know what to do with my hands!” The whole process – reaching for a cigarette, lighting up, inhaling, holding – offer just the same as did the famous ‘security blanket’ or dummy of old. It is no wonder that ‘giving up’ is such an enormously difficult experience. Victor Kotze, clinical psychologist

ANSWER Smoking is a chemical dependency, which, like other chemical dependencies is difficult, but certainly not impossible to overcome. Nicotine is the chemical that underlies the addiction associated with smoking. It causes both physical and psychological changes in the brain. It is extremely addictive. Some authorities believe it to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. The problem with quitting is that one has to deal with both the physical and psychological changes. It is no good only dealing with the physical changes without simultaneously dealing with the psychological ones. Relapses are common when people attempt to stop smoking and one must accept these. Don’t give up trying to quit. The reason some people are able to stop is pure perseverance, as well as understanding how difficult it can be to stop. There are various programmes that assist people to stop, and it is often a good idea to join others who have the same problem, because the social support from people in the same boat can be very helpful. You can also speak to your doctor, who is able to prescribe substances that could assist. They include nicotine replacement therapy, buprion hydrochloride (trade name Zyban), and psychotropic analgesic nitrous oxide (PAN). PAN is a homegrown South African method, which is now also used in the USA. But remember, about 90% of smokers stop smoking without the use of any drugs and are able to stop by going cold turkey. If you need to use drugs to help you to give up, such medicines must always be used under medical supervision. Dr Mark Gillman, CEO: South African Brain Research Institute, Johannesburg

Send your questions to the Editor (write S&T QUESTION in the subject line) by e-mail to OR by fax to (011) 673 3683. Please keep questions as short as possible, and include your name and contact details. (We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.)

40 Quest 4(1) 2007

Q Q uest crossword You’ll find most of the answers in our pages, so it helps to read the magazine before doing the puzzle.

Q Letters

Letter to Improving career guidance





Mists or pea-soupers (4)


Thigh-bone (5)


Digital impression of the inside of the cranium (8)


Product of only the sweetest plants (7)


Quicksilver (7)


Eagle’s nest (5)


Money allocated for special purposes (6)


This mammal does a flip for a fish (4)


One of a pair, fixing Earth's axis of rotation (4)


Source of intense light, only one colour at a time (5)


Code or procedure (of behaviour) (8)


--- area of the brain associated with speech (5'1)


South Africa’s Antarctic Research Strategy (6)


Large black sea-bird (9)



A thin coating or covering layer; takes pictures (4)

Another name for the Universe (6)


The world's largest ocean (7)


Study of organism functioning (10)


Disease-causing agent (8)


Research vessel that services Antarctica (2,7)


Trellis or music-maker (4)



Warm Pacific current, especially around Christmas (2,4)

A 2-million-year-old ancestor (3,4)


A moving ship’s ‘footprint’ (4)


Problems are addressed here (5)


This current goes round the world (3)


Temperature scale (7)


Describes electrons and fluids on the move (7)

How do you like the crossword puzzle? Was this one too difficult? Too easy? Just right? Would you like more difficult puzzles as well (with prizes)? Or other kinds? Fax the Editor at (011) 673 3683 or e-mail your comments to (mark your message CROSSWORD COMMENT).

has been a ‘wake-up call’, and I’ve been trying to find out what students need by way of career guidance, through numerous informal interviews with schoolgoers from Grades 10–12 level, as well as teachers. I found that career-path development at school level is in a bit of a mess. At this time of year, the young people critically need information about how to make career choices. Their main concerns are that: ■ available information about careers is not linked to activities in the classroom (this link is key to career guidance) ■ teachers are unable, for a variety of reasons, to help them make suitable career choices ■ insufficient information is available about the ‘bridge’ between (i) career ‘choosing’ and (ii) career ‘realization’ ■ insufficient information is available about funding opportunities (bursaries, etc.) ■ they lack co-curricular development opportunities (i.e. in the academic area). They would like access to ‘prepare while you study’ career-development opportunities while still at school. Most want to start with their careers even before they finish their final exams, for instance through practical learning opportunities or ‘internships’. They realize that they need to have acquired certain skills by the time they write matric, as this is important when bursaries are allocated. They experience a gap between “I want to become a ...” and “I can become a ...”, and they are asking for advice and information about “How can I qualify for ...” while they are still at school. Good examples of what they want are: ■ internships, practical training sessions, and competitions, through which they can obtain respectable and authoritative career-related qualifications ■ more about the practical use of available technology (such as mobile phones) to assist them with assignments and school work (by linking them to the Internet, for instance). Of my group of Saturday outreach students, more than 90% has access to cellphones, and 30% has access to the Internet through their cellphones, even though they live in disadvantaged school communities, while less than 10% has access to the Internet through personal computers. Perhaps can provide this sort of information on its career pages? Adrian S Meyer, CEO: National Youth Development Trust, Pretoria Address your letters to the Editor and fax them to (011) 673 3683 or e-mail them to (Please keep letters as short as possible. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.)

Quest 4(1) 2007 41

Diary of events Q Shows & exhibitions ■ Iziko Planetarium, Cape Town Specially produced for the Christmas holiday season, "Magic Milo and the Astronaut", is a new Planetarium show that tells the story of Magic Milo, a curious fish, and his starfish companion, Sammy, who undertake an amazing space odyssey. It is particularly suited to junior stargazers between 5 and 12 years. Opening 1 December, it runs daily at 12:00 and 13:00 on weekdays and 12:00 on weekends (except 24, 25, and 31 December). No booking required. The show “Living inside the Cosmic Egg” runs until year-end. It describes an opaque ‘wall’ surrounding the observable Universe within which exist billions of galaxies – each galaxy a conglomerate of stars and each star probably with its own solar system. Screenings Mon–Fri at 14:00 and weekends at 14:30; additional screenings Tue at 20:00 followed by a Sky Talk on the current night sky. Phone (021) 481 3900 or visit ■ Transvaal Museum, Paul Kruger Street (opposite the Pretoria City Hall) A new exhibition, “Mother Africa and Mrs Ples: Celebrating our Heritage”, marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the ‘Mrs Ples’ fossil. It is open to the public from 9 November 2007–31 January 2008. The star of the exhibition will be the original Mrs Ples (Sts 5), together with the skeleton (Sts 14) that, it is believed, may be

that of the same individual. Replicas of Mrs Ples, suitable for educational purposes, are obtainable subject to availability. With a few exceptions (check in advance for the end-of-year holiday season), the Transvaal Museum opens daily from 8:00–16:00. Contact the Director, Dr Francis Thackeray, at

Outings Botanical Society of South Africa (Bankenveld Branch), Gauteng: Tree Identification Walk with Walter Barker, President of the Tree Society (17 Nov, meet at the main entrance to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden at 08:45); Bird Identification Walk, Delta Park with ornithologist Geoff Lockwood (18 Nov, meet at the main entrance to Delta Park Environmental Centre at 06:00); Bird Walk in the Garden with Gail Shaum (1 Dec, meet at the main entrance to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden at 06:00); Fun Frog Walk with Andrew Hankey (1 Dec, meet at the main entrance to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden at 18:00). Booking essential. Contact Karen by phoning (011) 958 0529 (mornings only) or e-mail

Lectures & conferences 19–20 November "Reporting Science” Conference for science researchers and writers, reporters, sub-editors, features editors and producers. The purpose is to build and strengthen journalists' awareness of scientific news, and their skills in reporting and writing about science in accessible and interesting ways. Venue: Hacklebrook Estate, Craighall Park,

Johannesburg. For information and bookings contact Ruth Molopyane by phone at (011) 341 0767, fax. (011 325 2631), or e-mail 21 November “Sultans of Science: 1 000 Years of Islamic Science Rediscovered” (at 17:00): illustrated talk by Professor Mike Bruton on research conducted during the past two years, in South Africa and the Middle East, on the ‘golden era of Islamic science’ from AD 700–1400. Venue: Iziko SA Museum, Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town. For information e-mail 28–30 November “Science Centres and Sustainable Living – does your life style cost the earth?” 10th Annual SAASTEC Conference. Venue: Pine Lodge Resort, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. Information at, or phone (035) 340 2409 / 082 320 0538 or e-mail 29 November–3 December Marine Mammal Conference: 17th Biennial Conference on the biology of marine mammals. The latest research will be presented on the science, conservation, and management of whales, dolphins, seals, polar bears, manatees, and dugongs. Information at

Diarize ■ 1 December – World AIDS Day ■ SciFest Africa, Grahamstown – 16–22 April 2008. Find out more by visiting, or phone (046) 603 1106, and join the mailing list for all the latest information. ■ The International Year of Astronomy (2009). For developments on the South African front in education and outreach, and for details about how to join the AstroNet e-mail list, visit

Special years to celebrate Earth and sky International Polar Year (2007–2009) International Polar Year (IPY) takes place amidst abundant evidence of changes in snow and ice, reductions in extent and mass of glaciers and ice sheets; in the timing and duration of snow cover; and in the extent and thickness of sea ice. There are local consequences for terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Changes in the large ice sheets will affect global sea level, and in turn have an impact on coastal cities and low-lying areas. Changes in snowfall and shrinking glaciers will have consequences for millions of people whose daily use of water for personal or agricultural use depends on snowpack and glacial sources. Warming of polar oceans, coupled with changes in ice cover and river run-off, will alter marine ecosystems and affect globally significant fisheries. Accompanying IPY is a mood of urgency and discovery. What secrets and clues to the planet’s past lie under the ice? How does life survive extreme cold and long periods of darkness? What structural and physiological adaptations occurred in cold waters? How do microbial communities in the upper ocean influence clouds in the atmosphere? The IPY is a huge international collaborative scientific effort to probe the unknown in these areas, and to set the stage for predictions, assessments, recommendations, and future discovery. For more about IPY developments and its activities worldwide, visit

International Year of Planet Earth (2009) The IPYE global programme aims to increase awareness of the importance of Earth sciences in achieving the sustainable development of society. The 60th United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the year 2008 to be the UN International Year of Planet Earth, and the activities run for the years 2007–2009 (IYPE Triennium) to realize ambitious science and outreach programmes.

42 Quest 4(1) 2007

Guiding the IYPE are the following observations: The human race needs its planet. We depend upon it completely, because we evolved from it, remain forever part of it, and can exist only by courtesy of the self-sustaining Earth System…. The Earth provides so many riches, about which we have so much more to learn …. The more we learn, the more we understand that we must nurture the Earth as we would our children, for their sake. To help to celebrate the official launch of IYPE, in Paris in early 2008, the next issue of Quest: Science for South Africa will feature the work of South Africa’s scientists in these important fields. For more on IYPE and for updates, visit

International Heliophysical Year (2007) Broader than the concept of ‘geophysical’, the term ‘heliophysical’ indicates a holistic approach (rather than a focus on separate domains) to the study of the Earth, Sun, and Solar System, through the universal processes governing the human realm of space. The year 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of space exploration, and our ‘Great Observatory’ – the extensive suite of spacecraft and observatories now in space – enables scientists to pursue system-wide understanding of the interconnected heliophysical system. The three main objectives of the scientific collaborative effort of the IHY are: to advance our understanding of the fundamental heliophysical processes that govern the Sun, Earth, and heliosphere; to continue the tradition of international research and advancing the legacy of the International Geophysical Year 50 years ago; and to demonstrate the beauty, relevance, and significance of space and Earth science to the world. For more on IHY and for updates, visit

Q ASSAf News

ASSAf’s consensus report on HIV/AIDS, TB, and Nutrition Nutritional influences on human immunity and the response to major pandemic infections, such as those caused by the retrovirus, HIV, and the slowgrowing bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, have caused controversy in South Africa. In line with its ‘Science for Society’ objective, the E-mail Web 15-member study panel ASSAf in 2005 convened Tel +27 12 843 6481/2 Fax 0866 810 143 to examine Postal theaddress most reliable evidence relevant to Academy of Science of South Africa Box 72135 these issues, and toPOLynnwood make appropriate and feasible Ridge 0040 South Africa recommendations. The53 internationally peer-reviewed Physical address Building First Floor, Block C CSIR Campus, Gate report, HIV/AIDS, TB andSouth Nutrition, was made public Meiring Naude Road 1. 0184 on 22 August 2007Brummeria (Tshwane/Pretoria, Gauteng Province, South Africa)

Nutrition and chronic infectious disease An array of products available over the counter claim to ‘modulate’ the immune system to prevent or ameliorate HIV and/or active TB, ranging from “active nutritional factors” present in certain foods to processed or crude “complementary medicines”. They have confused a public desperate to find ways to treat and heal these and other chronic conditions. 9 780620 392099 The two diseases have different histories. Initially, treatment for TB focused on strengthening the immune defences of infected subjects through diet (for example, cod liver oil), improved and altered environmental conditions (sunlight, sanatoria), and other measures. After effective anti-TB drugs were developed in the early 1950s, nutritional and environmental elements of TB therapy quickly became secondary and largely uncontroversial. However, HIV infection cannot as yet be cured but only controlled, and antiretroviral drugs are applied at particular, serious stages of progressive disease (according to current guidelines, at least). The emphasis remains on ‘general support’ for patients during the phases prior to drug administration, particularly as, for many reasons, it is desirable to postpone for as long as possible the introduction of antiretroviral therapy. ISBN 978-0-620-392-09-9

Some findings The panel made recommendations for policy, practice, and further research required to address many unanswered questions. It concluded that no credible scientific study has identified any component of food as an effective substitute for appropriate antiretroviral agents at the time when these are indicated for treating HIV infection, or for the appropriate specific antimicrobial agents when indicated for treating active TB. It found a serious shortage of soundly designed, locally relevant, and contextually appropriate studies that could effectively inform policies to optimize nutritional support for infected people, before or after specific therapy is started, in a population where macronutrient deficiencies (overt hunger) and/or micronutrient deficiencies (‘hidden hunger’) are common. Furthermore, at a time when unsubstantiated claims for food supplements of various kinds were being made, there were no agreed, cost-

Scientific inquiry into the nutritional influences on human immunity with special reference to HIV infection and active TB in South Africa

Knowing & Helping

Above: Residues 37–46 of the human CD4 molecule. Virion or macrophage-associated HIV envelope glycoprotein gp 120 binds this site with high affinity, displacing the physiological CD4MHCH interaction and hypothetically thereby causing death of the activated T cell by apoptosis. Through this interaction, the virus is able to infect CD4 bearing cells, including macrophages. Curiously, unmodified depiction of the secondary structure reveals an antiparallel beta sheet with a remarkable resemblance to the AIDS ribbon. effective methods for detecting micronutrient deficiencies that are functionally significant, or for assessing immune functions relating to nutritional status in individuals and populations. The commissioning of a cooperative study programme was suggested, to achieve a national working consensus in these areas.

Much more research needed The report recommends that the precise physiology and (possibly competitive) handling by the body of food-derived micronutrients should be compared with the handling of synthetic vitamins and/or mineral intakes/supplements, either as single substances or as multi-component preparations. Several questions need answers. Are the consequences of self-administration of (commonly available) multivitamin preparations sufficiently understood in terms of interactions between constituent compounds and body constituents? Are individual bioavailability patterns affected by bulk ingestion? Do preparations differ in their effects/effectiveness? Are measurable parameters of immune function altered when uninfected persons take multivitamins? What about HIV- or TB-infected people?

Better understanding is needed of the significance of lifelong programming of the human immune system arising from nutritional or toxic ‘insults’ suffered by fetuses during pregnancy. The evidence for a systematic, programmed ‘stunting’ of the immune system of malnourished people through this mechanism is insufficient to become part of accepted thinking in the field. Proper studies of South African communities are needed, to help in assessing the significance of this possibly quite general phenomenon, given the high prevalence in our country of ‘hidden hunger’ (as distinct from protein/energy starvation). Active vitamin A repletion has proved helpful in many childhood diseases, including HIV infection, and (potentially) unhelpful in preventing motherto-child transmission of the virus. This fact highlights the need to understand more fully the effect of this multifunctional vitamin. We need to know whether many South Africans can in fact synthesize enough of their own vitamin D, with possible lowering of serum D levels and increased susceptibility to TB. Other nutrients needing detailed investigation using modern methods are the vitamin folate and the trace elements zinc and selenium.

Genetic susceptibility A pitfall of many human population studies is the belief that all subjects react in the same way to infections and interventions. Infection prevalences and progression rates in fact vary among individuals and groups infected by HIV and M. tuberculosis. For example, within any population, and among different populations, some individuals with increased susceptibility and others with increased resistance, may, in either group, progress to AIDS or develop TB more slowly or more quickly. Many genes have already been found that affect the clinical course of these infections. Genetically determined variations in host susceptibility are important because they constitute ‘background noise’ in clinical trials and other investigations of disease progression. Fortunately, active research is creating the laboratory means to establish the nature of other possible resistance or susceptibility genes in human subjects and will help in dealing with this problem.

Nutrition research a national priority The national interest requires deliberate and coordinated focus on pandemic infectious diseases and their nutritional components. The panel has strongly recommended the elevation of the national research agenda in the field of nutrition and immunity, and for programmes for new research chairs, centres of excellence, special training programmes, and international collaborations, for example, to give priority to this critically important field. – Wieland Gevers 1. The full report can be read at

Quest 4(1) 2007 43

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44 Quest 4(1) 2007

Q Back page science Getting there ■ “Information is the currency of democracy.” – Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), US president, architect, and author. ■ “Whatever people in general do not understand, they are always prepared to dislike.” – Letitia E. Landon (1802–1838), author. ■ “God gives every bird its worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.” – Swedish proverb. ■ “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stone-cutter hammering away at a rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it would split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before together.” – Jacob A. Riis (18491914), journalist and social reformer.

Sacrificed for science Progress is great, depending on your point of view. Consider the creatures and plants that have given their all for our greater understanding of biology. Now there’s a book giving them some overdue credit: Jim Endersby’s A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology: The Plants and Animals Who Taught Us the Facts of Life (Heinemann). The guinea pig has been used in laboratory experiments since the 18th century, but “other species have proved to be smaller, easier to keep, faster to breed and less troubling to the conscience”, explains reviewer Georgina Ferry in The Guardian (2 June 2007). The book traces these scientific advances and shows their wider social context: for example, how fruit flies found their way to the Caribbean (and thence to the USA) with the bananas imported to feed slaves in the 16th century.

Cheep hits Golden oldies don’t go down well with sparrows, apparently. American biologist Elizabeth Derryberry “compared recordings of sparrow hits from 1979 to those of 2003 and found that the newer songs have a much slower rhythm and dip further down into the lower registers.” (CGH/DPA in Der Spiegel, 5 July 2007) Upon playing the different versions to hip, modern-day sparrows in a variety of areas, she found that today's birds are much more into current chart hits than into those of 30 years ago. The males became more keen to defend their territory, while the females became more open to sexual advances. “Regional dialects among songbirds have long been recognized, as has the fact that birds – like humans

– respond more strongly to local songs than to those from abroad. However, scientists were previously less knowledgeable about changes over time.”

Be noticed: B flat National Public Radio in the USA broadcast an amusing song about the intriguing ubiquity of B flat. The American Museum of Natural History found that if you play the note of B flat on a tuba to male alligators, they begin to bellow, presumably mistaking the sound for an intruder of their own kind. No other note gets a response. Then there was the Massachusetts piano tuner who was climbing some stairs and humming more or less in B flat when he noticed that the walls around him carried on resonating B flat even when he stopped. And from rather further afield: in 2003, astronomers found a black hole 250 million light years away that was sending out waves in that same frequency, 57 octaves below middle C, and had been stuck on the same tune for 2.5 billion years. As the museum put it, it’s enough to make you want to bite the tuba.

smell like either, depending on your genes. Most people perceive it as stale urine or male body odour, but others find it sweet-smelling or can’t smell it at all. Scientists at Rockefeller and Duke universities in the USA have traced this variation in perception to genetic variations in one odorant receptor. "Two independent things are interesting about this odour," said one of the researchers. "One is that it is a potential social signal, but the other one is that so many people cannot smell it." (Science Daily, 17 September 2007)

A tad girlish A Swedish study has shown that male tadpoles can be changed into females by oestrogen-like pollutants. This may be why up to a third of the world’s frog species are threatened with extinction. Not only were there not enough males in the experimental population; some of the females were sterile. “Pesticides and other industrial chemicals have the ability to act like oestrogen in the body,” said one researcher. (Sapa)

Batty heroics

Did you know?

Some movie ideas may indeed have a basis in science, but Popular Science (September 2007) looks at some of the worst scientific inaccuracies. “Falling with Kim Basinger from the top of one of Gotham City's gloomiest bell towers in the first Batman flick, a right-on-the-money shot from Batman's alwaystrusty grappling hook catches on one of the tower's gargoyles, stopping their fall and saving their lives. If you noted their painfully abrupt and inelastic jerk to a stop, though, you'd be on to something. With Newton's second law (F = ma), we can calculate just how painful this ‘life-saving’ shot may have been. Assuming a total mass of 140 kilograms for the falling pair, a near-terminal velocity rate of fall of 60 metres per second, and an abrupt 0.1-second stop to zero (yielding an acceleration of 600 m/s², or 60 times the force of gravity), the force exerted on Batman via the rope is a massive 85 000 newtons, or 60 times the force of gravity: the equivalent of about nine tons.… But Batman manages to do it all without even a wince – all the while keeping his grip around his lady's waist. Dreamy!”

■ Unlike other fruit trees, fig trees do not have blossoms. The flowers actually develop inside the fruit. ■ The sea-spider's body has very little room inside, so its intestines are in its legs. ■ A person can live without food for about a month, but only about a week without water. If the amount of water in your body is reduced by just 1%, you'll feel thirsty. ■ It takes about 90% less energy to recycle aluminium cans than to make new ones. (“Braindrops” from the Franklin Institute.)

Guys who smell like cake Can you tell the difference between urine and vanilla? The smells, that is. A substance called androstenone, derived from testosterone, can

Compiled by Ceridwen

Answers to Crossword (page 41) ACROSS: 1 Fogs, 3 Endocast, 6 Mercury, 7 Grants, 9 Pole, 13 Protocol, 14 ARESSA, 16 Film, 18 Physiology, 19 SA Agulhas, 22 El Niño, 23 STIAS, 24 Celsius, 25 Current. DOWN: 1 Femur, 2 Sucrose, 3 Eyrie, 4 Seal, 5 Laser, 8 Broca's, 10 Cormorant, 11 Cosmos, 12 Pacific, 13 Pathogen, 15 Lyre, 17 Mrs Ples, 20 Wake, 21 ACC.

MIND-BOGGLING MATHS PUZZLE FOR Q UEST READERS Q UEST Maths Puzzle no. 5 EVE/DID = 0.TALKTALKTALKTALK... is a normal fraction that can also be written as a recurring decimal. Which fraction is this? (Each letter in the version above represents a digit, and repeated letters imply that the digit is repeated; the “0” is zero.)

Win a prize! Send us your answer (fax, e-mail, or snail-mail), together with your name and contact details, by 15:00 on Monday 14 January 2008. The first correct entry that we open will be the lucky winner. We’ll send you a cool Truly Scientific calculator! Mark your answer “QUEST Maths Puzzle no. 5” and send it to: QUEST Maths Puzzle, Living Maths, PO Box 478, Green Point 8051. Fax: 0866 710 953. E-mail: For more on Living Maths, phone 083 308 3883 and visit

Answer to Q UEST Maths Puzzle no. 4 Of all the numbers from 100 to 999, here is the fourth of the four numbers where the sum of the digits cubed equals the original number: 371 = 3 (cubed) + 7 (cubed) + 1 (cubed). The winner is John J.S. Polokwane.

Quest 4(1) 2007 45



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