Reaching for the Stars

My friend Ginny was invited to a think-tank on how to popularize multi-wave astronomy (no – don’t run away, this blog is not about that – although it is really interesting stuff) a few days ago, and had lunch with one of the other participants who happened to have a disability.

Not wanting to offend the lady in the slightest she asked a bit hesitantly… ‘Um, what is the politically correct way to describe somebody who cannot see?”

The lady promptly responded “Blind!”

Thereafter a lovely conversation followed, with the lady, Wanda, giving some insights (excuse the pun) into one of the challenges of being blind.
But let’s clarify something first. The lady is Dr Wanda, and she’s an astrophysicist, who, amongst other things, really enjoys developing interesting lesson plans to teach kids about astrophysics. She has not allowed being blind to restrict her in the slightest and continues to reach for the stars – literally. Except Wanda listens to them instead of looking at them!

She reckons the most irritating thing is when somebody sends her a .pdf file to read. PDF stands for “portable document format” and it’s a way of saving a document from any application into a format that most systems can read – unless you are blind.

Wanda explained that her special software that “reads” the document cannot comprehend a .pdf file. It just picks up random words and strings them together. Obviously this could lead to major confusion. She gave us a hysterical example that went something like the “The moon was in the bathroom exploding.”

The numbers at the table swelled with Alfred from Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown (Jozi) joining the ranks. Wanda asked Alfred what his favourite exhibit was. His answer was the one that explained sound waves. Of course she did not leave it there – she had him explain to her just how he got the concept across to the people visiting Sci-Bono.

Initially Alfred waved his hands around a lot, which Wanda could not see, but he quickly got the hang of it and used his words – very simply and effectively to explain how sound waves work.

We all take many things for granted and our sight is one of them.

By the way – how often do people check the toys that their young children play with for sharp bits they could potentially stick into their eye (or somebody else’s) by mistake? Double check that toy box please, just to make sure.

Reach for the stars people – don’t let anything hold you back.


Consider a career in Science!

The 16th of February was International Day of Science for Women and Children. People tend to think that science is only for clever people – but actually – it is all around us and we are all doing some sort of science in one way or another each and every single day. In honour of this day – you can read “Sibo Mixes Things Up” – my story book about chemistry – it will be free to read on the website until the end of the month.

Nowadays girls are actively encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology. There are so very many interesting fields that you can go into, it is almost mind boggling.

We’ve been talking about planning, imagination and initiative over the past few weeks and you are going to need all of these things if you want to go into the science field.

SAASTA Observatory in Johannesburg also offers cool programmes for learners, teachers and members of the public. They have all sorts of exciting things to make you look at Physics in a completely different way. Check out their website for more information.

Nanotechnology is the way of the future as well.  I bet many people don’t even know what nanotechnology is. “Sibo Sizes Things Up” is all about nano – one of these days we’ll make that a free read on the website too! Stay tuned!

Remember – a safe bet is to always take maths as one of your subjects. Maths is one of those things that you sometimes feel like dropping because it seems a bit hard or not really necessary. In fact – it’s very necessary for lots of careers. If you don’t have matric maths there are some doors that are so firmly shut there is no easy way to open them again.

I mentioned while ago that science centres can help with career guidance. Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Jozi has a very awesome career guidance centre and it’s free. You can just walk-in and find out about jobs and careers that you never even dreamed of. However, for career assessments and career counselling they do prefer if you make an appointment. It’s a professional service and they don’t want to you to be disappointed if you arrive at the centre and the staff are all busy.  Call (011) 639 8450/8476/8479.

Last but not least – you can always go and visit a science centre like Sci-Bono in Newtown or Sci-Enza in Pretoria to have an enormous amount of fun and get you into a sciencey frame of mind!

Science rocks!