Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the curtain in the world of science? Have you ever wondered whether television shows and commercials are really accurate? During March 2018 the UFS/TIA Saense Platform in the Department of Microbiology, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology at the University of the Free State (UFS) presented an Open Day to a group of home-school learners and their parents to answer some of these questions and introduce them to the activities and opportunities of the Platform.

The Screening Applications and Exploring Novelty in Specialised Environments (Saense) Platform at UFS is a joint initiative between the university’s Department of Microbiology and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), an agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

The SeSotho word for “science” is an effective acronym to capture the scope of the Saense Platform The vision of the Platform is to be recognised as a top-quality research facility that delivers set scientific outcomes and applied solutions to environmental challenges within specific sectors. To this end, TIA provides funding to the platform which goes towards the operations and staffing, thus making sure that Saense can deliver cutting edge solutions and results.

 “Within the Platform we challenged ourselves to not only excite and amaze a future generation of scientists, but to show them how we apply our knowledge and research to real-life situations the world is currently facing,” said Dr Mariana Erasmus: Assistant Director and Saense Platform Manager.

The focus of this Open Day was on microorganisms and the positive roles they play in our everyday life. The topics that were covered included the use of microorganisms, in the production of beer, treatment of contaminated water and the production of biogas, among other things.

The learners were also given the opportunity to experience the basics of some of the scientific activities of the Platform by participating in a few scientific experiments that included extracting DNA from strawberries using common household items, as well as testing the efficiency of their own household cleaning products.

In another experiment, the Platform had the learners and their parents swabbing any surface around them for microorganisms, to give them the opportunity to experience the vast number of microorganisms that live on nearly every surface surrounding them, even on their own bodies. Another highlight of the learners’ experience was when they were given a chance to examine a few cellular structures using microscopes.

“Both the learners and their parents were very inquisitive and expressed their delight and desire to undertake such an endeavor again. It was, overall, seen as a valuable and very educational experience. These learners will now look with new eyes as to what goes on behind the curtain in the world of science. The Saense Platform plans to continue with this new development and to build on the success of this Open Day by presenting similar events once every three months,” said Dr Erasmus.

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