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Stellenbosch University :: 24 Popular Science Stories
Magazines | Sciences 2012-06-26 16:58:28
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    new voices 24 popular science stories 25 popular science stories in science 2012 A report on the new Voices in science colloquium held on 2 december 2011

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    contents Foreword 01 Marula could mean money for peasant households 02 Knowing Creation 04 The coincidence of worms and tuberculosis 05 Brain invasion: The impact of HIV and child abuse 06 Two languages in one mind 07 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 08 Picking and placing without fingers 09 Filtering water, bringing hope 10 I've been on your land for so long: now it's mine 12 Eliminating pedestrian pushing and shoving 13 Sugar fibres can fuel industry 14 Using yeast to make crystal clear wine 15 Naina knows his number (theory) 16 Wood solutions 17 Healing earth's damaged ecosystems 18 Blame your genes when drugs make you sick Cosmopolitanism - Islamic education and Muslim women: 19 can we talk? 20 Injectable contraceptives: good or bad? 21 Living with schizophrenia 22 Is obesity really bad for the heart? 23 More to conservation than just gorillas 24 Fighting nature with nature - a case study of biological warfare 25 Do good fences make good neighbours in South Africa? 26 The Afrikaners, Capitalism and Weber's ghost 28 2 new voices in science 2012 05 06 18 20

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    foreword In 2011, we selected 24 of our graduating PhDs and trained them in science communication skills, encouraging them to make their findings easy to understand and to reflect on the relevance of their research for society. The process culminated in the New Voices in Science colloquium, as far as we know the first event of its kind in South Africa. Each scientist was challenged to reveal their research findings to a lay audience in just 10 minutes. This publication is the printed version of their efforts, and contains a mixture of reports on the colloquium, interviews with the scientists as well as opinion pieces written about their work. The event was such a success that we have decided to make it an annual occurrence. We are committing ourselves to ensuring that young researchers leave Stellenbosch University with more than a degree; armed with the ability to share their research with decision makers and the general public, to the benefit of society. From the feedback I received from the students and the organisers of the event, I gather that this is not an easy task, as scientists are traditionally trained to communicate only with their direct peers, well versed in the technical jargon of their field. We believe that sharing science creates a strong democracy in which citizens empowered by scientific knowledge can meaningfully participate in decisions affecting their lives. Reading through this document, I am once again reminded that few things give humankind as much hope as science. This is in line with how we see the role of science and higher education at Stellenbosch. We think universities have a responsibility to be relevant to people's needs. This conviction of ours is captured in our HOPE Project, which entails that we use our academic excellence and cutting-edge research to tackle societal challenges and promote human development. In these pages you will find young scientists pushing the boundaries of the possible, harnessing their research efforts to solve the complex and multifaceted challenges faced by society today. We hope that you will enjoy and be enriched by what you read here, and we hope to see you at the 2012 New Voices in Science event. Prof. H. Russel Botman Rector and Vice-Chancellor Russel Botman Rector and Vice-Chancellor I am once again reminded that few things give humankind as much hope as science. We believe that sharing science creates a strong democracy in which citizens empowered by scientific knowledge can meaningfully participate in decisions affecting their lives. New Voices in Science colloquium 2012 will be held on 5 December 2012. For more information contact Ronel Steyn at ronels@sun.ac.za. 2012 new voices in science 01

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    FEATUrE MARULA could mean money for peasant households 02 new voices in science 2012 The people of Bushbuckridge have been conserving, cultivating and using marula for decades.

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    Peasant households own potentially valuable natural resources, indigenous knowledge and labour sources. Peasant households near Bushbuckridge use their indigenous knowledge about the marula tree and its fruits to lift themselves out of poverty. They are showing government that they are not satisfied to merely receive hand-outs, but that they want to create sustainable and economically viable opportunities for their families. The people of Bushbuckridge have been conserving, cultivating and using marula for decades. Recent years have seen the commercial processing of the marula fruit into the well-known Amarula cream liqueur, pharmaceutical products and cosmetics that have reached international markets. However, the marula tree itself has never been commercially farmed. Local peasant households are at the heart of the lucrative and growing marula industry. They draw on indigenous knowledge and social networks, and are responsible for the propagation, harvesting and supply of the fruit and other useful parts of the marula tree. But widely accepted economic theories and current government approaches to rural development are preventing these key players from reaping the benefits of commercialised marula production. This is the opinion of Dr Vuyo Mahlati who received her doctorate in public development in December 2011 for research on the role of peasant household in the sustainable commercialisation of marula. Dr Mahlati relates how the chairperson of a Marula Committee in Bushbuckridge, Mrs Mabuyi, explains their traditional production system, "We look after the trees, and we plant them, harvest them, clean and sort them. We use wheelbarrows to transport marula to our households and collection points, and then collectively hire cars to take them to the central point." The marula committees even ensure resource conservation by organising campaigns to stop people from chopping down trees. "Despite production methods being pre-industrial, Mrs Mabuyi approaches her enterprise as an investor and entrepreneur, not as a survivalist," believes Dr Mahlati. "Her supply strategy targets opportunities locally, and buyers for primary and secondary producers. She does long-term planning and has a long-term view, all in an effort to benefit from the poorlymanaged ecosystem and imperfect markets." The result is deepening rural poverty despite escalating expenditure on rural development by government. "These findings challenge the widely held view that peasant households are risk avoidant or that they are poor because they are backward and inefficient," believes Dr Mahlati. "These peasant households are value actors," emphasises Dr Mahlati. "They are not just workers or employees, but employers themselves." The disregard of the productive and entrepreneurial potential of rural households has meant that government rural development programmes have focused on welfare and cash grants. Little or no attention has been paid to creating an enabling environment for them to join the mainstream economy, such as creating roads and other production infrastructure. According to Dr Mahlati, these misguided government policies are based on current macroeconomic flow models, in which the firm or the factory is the productive centre, rather than households. The latter can only be providers of labour, the beneficiaries of wages and the consumers of products. This approach has exposed peasant households to exploitative and paternalistic business relations. "The households absorb many production costs and associated risks that are not compensated for or rewarded by the buyers. They witness their buyers grow while they struggle to survive. The result is deepening rural poverty despite escalating expenditure on rural development by government," holds Dr Mahlati. "We need a new approach for inclusive and sustainable rural economies," she believes. "It should be an inclusive economic system that recognises and appreciates home production and the traditional sectors that serve local and particularly rural interests." "The household production centre must be connected with the industrial production centre to create an inclusive value chain model," says Dr Mahlati, who is a senior advisor to government on economic and rural development and a member of the National Planning Commission. "There should be clear contracts between suppliers, producers and buyers." "Through the relationship between rural and urban, small and big, we can create new opportunities, new value and economic growth," she believes. Peasant households own potentially valuable natural resources, indigenous knowledge and labour sources. "They can strategically use commercialisation to secure sustainable livelihoods and prosper as industry players in the mainstream global market economy," Dr Mahlati said. Email: socialwheel@live.com 2012 new voices in science 03

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    OPINION by Najma Mohamed KNOWING CREATION: using faith in environmental education From the coral reefs off the east coast of Africa to the graffitied streets of inner city neighbourhoods in England, young and old are drawing upon a fresh perspective to rethink the way in which they are living on this earth. They are using the environmental message of religion to encourage environmental awareness and action. For many environmentalists, working within a religion framework was unheard of just 25 years ago. Religious leaders were seen as the least likely champions of climate justice, fair trade or environmental protection. However, today they are working hard to protect the planet and to educate people about the destructive impact which greed, rampant consumption and environmental mismanagement is having on 04 new voices in science 2012 The neglect of religion in the environmental movement is a glaring omission and drowns out the voices, beliefs and knowledge systems of cultures and peoples, which could make an invaluable contribution to the environmental question. the planet. Environmentalists are also discovering a language which millions the world over still value: the language of faith. Ecological teachings, some suggest, have always been a part of many faith traditions and thus have great relevance today. The neglect of religion in the environmental movement is thus a glaring omission and drowns out the voices, beliefs and knowledge systems of cultures and peoples, which can make an invaluable contribution to the environmental question. Today, however, the green movement is beginning to acknowledge that religion plays a vital role in shaping attitudes towards the environment. They are discovering religious resources which can be used to build a new ecological future. These include beliefs, religious practices, scripture, educational institutions, and a lived spirituality of simplicity, compassion and care. Islam, the most under-researched of the faith traditions, has a lot to say about the environment, and Muslims across the world are beginning to act on this message. In Islam, the connection between belief and the struggle for social and ecological justice is expressed in an ecological ethic which seeks to

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    The religion and ecology movement, of which Islam is a part, is emerging as a vital partner in the green movement. safeguard the welfare of all Creation. Muslims have introduced the environmental teachings of Islam across the educational landscape, using traditional and new institutions to broadcast their green message. From the Friday sermon to the construction and upkeep of mosques, the mosque or masjid plays a central role as a centre of lifelong environmental education. In the maktab, young Muslims attending religious school audit the amount of water being used for ablution before prayers. This is done in an effort to ensure that water is not wasted. The technologically-savvy are accessing the growing number of blogs and websites devoted to the ecological message of Islam. In South Africa, as these examples show, and across the world, Muslims are drawing on a range of institutions, old and new, to put the environmental message of Islam into action. The religion and ecology movement, of which Islam is part, is emerging as a vital partner in green endeavours. There are notable areas of commonality between the two movements: both look at the environmental question from a moral perspective, both acknowledge that the natural world has innate or intrinsic value; and both oppose the excessive consumption that is plaguing our planet. Environmentalists and environmental educationists are finally listening to these messages. They are now using the language of faith, which maintains that it matters to care for the well-being of all Creation, human and non-human. Dr Najma Mohamed received her doctorate in curriculum studies from the Faculty of Education in March 2012. She is a freelance environmental writer and researcher. Email: najma_mohamed@hotmail.com rESEArCH NEWS The coincidence of WORMS and TUBERCULOSIS Is it merely coincidence that in developing countries people infected with the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB) also often suffer from parasitic worm infections? This is the question that Dr Nelita du Plessis set out to answer as part of her doctoral research in medical biochemistry in the Faculty of Health Sciences. The interplay between these infections would make a lot of sense, given what scientists currently know about their influence on the immune system. People who are infected with worms typically have what is known as a Type 2 immune response, whereas the bacteria that cause TB normally induce a so-called Type 1 immune response. "Each type of immune response sets in motion a different series of cellular activities in the body, which are aimed at ridding the body of the particular infection," Dr Du Plessis explains. The two types of immune responses can counteract each other. "It would be reasonable to assume that a worm-infected body displaying a Type 2 response would be more vulnerable to the bacteria causing The results suggest that the immune cells of the lungs may play an important role in fighting off TB causing infections. TB, which requires a Type 1 immune response," she says. She tested the hypothesis on mice, and describes her findings as 'somewhat surprising'. "We saw that mice that were co-infected with worms and the TB causing mycobacteria were better able to fight off the bacteria than those not infected with worms," she says of the findings, which showed an increase of an early immune cell-type known to engulf and kill mycobacteria in the lungs of the worm-infected mice. "When these lung immune cells were transported to other mice that were not infected by worms, the rodents were better able to fight off mycobacteria," explains this postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Stellenbosch University. "This suggests that these lung immune cells could play a critical role in fighting off mycobacterial infections." She is quick to add that this does not necessarily mean that worm infections could be good for you or can be used as an effective way to curb the TB causing bacteria. "One cannot necessarily generalise the results of this mice study to a human population," Dr Du Plessis cautions. "Also, we only found improved lung protection found in the worm infected mice during the early stages of infection, and not at later stages." This study shows that co-infection with two unrelated pathogens could positively or negative influence the ability of a host to fight these infections. The results suggest that the immune cells of the lungs may play an important role in fighting off TB causing infections, which opens up a new avenue for further research. Email: nelita@sun.ac.za 2012 new voices in science 05

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    IN BrIEF by Georgina Spies BRAIN INVASION: The impact of HIV and child abuse Current research shows that HIV infection can have a negative impact on brain functioning, as can child abuse. Researchers have shown that a history of childhood abuse can cause abnormalities in the functioning and structure of the brain. What does this mean for South Africa, a country burdened not only by the HIV epidemic, but also an equally devastating and underreported epidemic of abuse against women and children? Most of the studies on the effects of either HIV or a history of child abuse on the brain have been conducted in countries other than South Africa. In addition, no studies to date have looked at the combined effect of HIV and child abuse on cognition in women. My doctoral studies in health sciences set out to provide local knowledge on the subject, by investigating the effects of HIV and 06 new voices in science 2012 childhood abuse on neurocognition, both separately and in combination, in South African women. The findings showed that women infected with HIV/Aids performed weaker on immediate learning, memory recall, and executive functioning compared to uninfected women. Executive functioning includes brain processes such as attention and concentration, planning, problem solving, reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, and monitoring of actions. In women who reported a history of child abuse, poorer memory recall was also documented in comparison to their non-traumatised counterparts. Although evidence was found for individual effects of HIV and child abuse on cognition, no proof was found that the combination of HIV and child abuse had a greater impact on cognition. Researchers have shown that a history of childhood abuse can cause abnormalities in the functioning and structure of the brain. How was the study done? The study was conducted among 130 women, who were divided into four groups: HIV-positive women with and without a history of childhood abuse, and HIVnegative women with and without a history of childhood abuse. They underwent three assessments on two separate occasions, and were interviewed about their health, feelings and situation at home. They also underwent a series of pencil and paper tests, very much like IQ tests, to assess a range of abilities. Contrary to expectation, women who were dually affected with HIV and childhood abuse did not perform worse compared to women who were influenced by only one of these conditions. This could be attributable to the inclusion of relatively healthy, asymptomatic HIV-positive women and less severely traumatised women. Further investigation of the interaction between HIV and child abuse is therefore warranted. Dr Georgina Spies received her doctorate in psychiatry (Faculty of Health Sciences) in December 2011. She is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Stellenbosch University. Email: ggiocos@sun.ac.za

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    rESEArCH NOTES 2 1 languages MIND in Effects of the second language on the first in higher education It is much easier said than done to study the effects of increased exposure to a second language on the first language of students at higher education institutions. "This question is especially relevant in South Africa, because the majority of the students in our higher education system do not receive their training in their first language," says Dr Marcelyn Oostendorp, who received her doctorate in general linguistics in March 2012. She wanted to find out what the effects of increased exposure to English in a teaching and learning context was on Afrikaans first language speaking students' academic literacy, and on their general academic achievement as a whole. Dr Oostendorp looked at first year students who are bilingual and speak both Afrikaans and English, who had Afrikaans as dominant language, and who were educated in Afrikaans during their primary and secondary education. She divided this group into students taught in the medium of Afrikaans only and those who were taught the same course partially in English. The latter is an option available for some courses at Stellenbosch University. She found no significant differences between the two groups. "Increased exposure to English did not make a significant difference in the academic literacy in the first language or general academic achievement of these first year students", she summarises her preliminary findings. Dr Oostendorp argues that her research highlights the limitations of current research methodology on multilingualism. A standard approach in investigating the effects of one language on another is to establish two groups: one group with exposure to the second language and the other without, she explains. "However, I could not control how much input my research subjects got in English outside of the classroom, or through the use of English textbooks and learning material," Dr Oostendorp sums up some of the curveballs she was thrown as part of the study. "Where does one find nowadays, for instance, South Africans who have not yet been exposed to English?" "It is simply not true anymore that multilingualism is a rare phenomenon, that input in the second language is restricted to classroom settings, and that you can study multilinguals by comparing them to monolinguals," Dr Oostendorp explains why she believes that standard approaches need to be updated. "We should not shy away from the problems and the 'messiness' of this topic," believes this researcher from the Department of General Linguistics at Stellenbosch University. "We cannot transplant models and theory as is, but need to adjust them to the context we are working in." "Only then can we truly learn more about how two languages work in one mind," concludes Dr Oostendorp. Email: moostendorp@sun.ac.za What does current research say about multilingualism? * Multilingualism is not a rare phenomenon, with half of the world's population being at least bilingual. * Very few multilinguals know the two languages they have access to 'perfectly' or are able use the two languages 100% in all contexts. * Multilinguals code-switch for a variety of reasons. Students in Dr Oostendorp's study said they used it as a learning strategy. * Children raised as multilinguals tend to mix their languages more when communicating with other multilinguals. However, when they communicate with someone who is not multilingual they tend to mix their languages much less. * Children seem to be better language learners than adults and the age at which somebody learns a second language seems to play an important role in the level of proficiency they will achieve in the language. * Languages that are not used can attrite, but can also be re-learnt again. Increased exposure to English did not make a significant difference in the academic literacy in the first language or general academic achievement of these first year students. 2012 new voices in science 07

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    OPINION by Gabriƫl Botma The Good, the Bad and the ugly Arts Journalism at Die Burger (1990-1999) The famous 1960s spaghettiwestern movie featuring the legendary Clint Eastwood, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, is part of the popular culture framework of millions of people world-wide. This is in no small part due to the role played by the media in general, and arts and entertainment journalism in particular. Arts journalists play a role in not only what we get to see and talk about in terms of arts, culture and entertainment, but also to an extent on what we think and feel about those offerings - and eventually about our own culture. Arts journalists are very much like 08 new voices in science 2012 the self-appointed sheriffs of taste who tell you what you should regard as 'good, bad or ugly'. As the Taste Police of the media they stand with their mighty pens at the ready to draw the line between the so-called 'culture vulture' and 'vulgar culture'. Why, for instance, do the current arts and entertainment pages of our main regional newspapers cover each and every Hollywood movie, but only very occasionally make mention of movies made in other parts of the world? South African movies often only get wide local exposure after they have received international acclaim - such was the case with Tsotsi after it won an American Oscar in 2006. As a former arts editor of the Western Cape Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger until 2006, I speak from personal experience. After 15 years at the publication, I was well versed in the joys, responsibilities, limitations, and frustrations of arts journalism. Back then, I agreed whole-heartedly with commentators who said that arts journalism was in a 'state of crisis' for reasons such as that too much attention was given to the bottom line and to the so-called celebrity culture. It was only when I joined academia

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