As scientists prepared to launch a new optical telescope near Sutherland in the Northern Cape, the South African Astronomical Observatory handed over a revamped science laboratory and new desks to two local schools in the Karoo town on Thursday.
On Friday, the South African Astronomical Observatory will launch the MeerLICHT, which means “more light” in Dutch, which is an optical telescope that will be linked to the 64-dish MeerKAT in Carnavon to simultaneously scan the southern skies.
Situated about 400 kilometers from Cape Town, the MeerLICHT has been built a stone’s throw away from its big brother – the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) – which is the biggest optical telescope in the Southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world.
Speaking at the handover ceremony at Roggeveld Primary School on Thursday afternoon, South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) director Professor Petri Vaisanen said their donations to the schools showed their renewed commitment to invest in the local community.
“I am really delighted to have this kind of communication with the town and the schools, especially because one of the things I believe in very strongly.
“The observatory as a whole is educational and having a high-tech science enterprise just next to the town, it would be totally wrong not to have it make an impact on the community. This is something we want to grow together with the school governing body, the school and the municipality,” he said.
While Sutherland High School was gifted with a new science laboratory, Roggeveld Primary School received 56 new desks to replace rundown desks that they have used for decades.
Sutherland High School principal Persephone van der Ross said in an interview that the new lab would improve the standards of learning. She said the old lab was outdated and that some of the teachers used the same facility while they were students years ago.
The new “up-to-standard” lab is now equipped with a new science experiment kit and lab accessories which learners can use to take their school work beyond the theory aspect of the curriculum.
They can now do lab experiments that they could not do before the lab was upgraded.
Addressing guests shortly after the handover ceremony, Van Der Ross said the location of the SA Astronomical Observatory at the town has brought a huge change to local learning.
“Because of the South African Astronomical Observatory on our doorstep, we know that science plays a crucial role in the development of our learners to further their dreams not only in astro-physics, but in all fields of scientific development.
“Therefore, we see this as a privilege, knowing that we are only a small rural town.
“The learners of this school, especially those who have maths and science as their core subjects, are in awe of the use and availability of this brand new lab. With the establishment of this state-of-the-art lab, I hope that the number of learners will grow rapidly and that they will be able to excel in the field of science,” she said.
Roggeveld Primary School principal Christo van Wyk welcomed the donation of the new desks, saying the SA Astronomical Observatory has had a relationship with the school for years and that similar contributions have been made in the past.
“The kids are sitting more comfortably. The old desks I am talking about are desks that [I sat on] in my days as a scholar at this school,” he said.