Science students from across Africa met in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare to share their ideas and inventions at the inaugural Africa Science Buskers Festival. The event, which organizers say targets more than 20,000 students in Zimbabwe alone, aims to inspire and develop a love of science among primary and secondary schoolchildren.
Among the participants in Harare is Jan-Williem Verhoef, 13, of the Hoerskool Garsfontein School in South Africa. The aspiring scientist exhibited what he says is his own discovery, inspired by his “habit of being lazy.”
In 10 years, he predicts, Africa will have a self-washing car on the market.
"I have a bad habit of being lazy, and every Sunday I am being pledged to wash my dad's car and I strongly disagree with that," he explained. "Basically, I looked into nature and found that the white flower has property of staying clean in very dirty, unclean conditions. This is due to the surface of the orchid flower. Usually you think that smoother surface is a cleaner one, but actually it is not the case. The rougher surface is the cleaner, but the difference is, it has to be extremely small. So we find these nanostructures of this flower everywhere."
It is that type of creative thinking that has festival organizers saying Africa has the potential to excel, just like the United States and other first-world countries, if it sets its base right.
Knowledge Chikundi, with aid from the Australian government, is coordinating the Africa Science Buskers Festival. He says the program is planned for other parts of Africa, as well.
"The main message is to make students love science," Chikundi said. "So we should create an excitement for science. The science fairs have created billionaires. Bill Gates is a product of intel science fair. So we said, 'Why can't we promote science through the science fairs?' Our students are good, but we want them to apply what they know in solving some of the challenges. Sometimes we send themes to our students and some of the themes are based on every day challenges like water, water pollution and things like that."
Also present at the fair was a science student who aims to produce nanofertilizer. Carol Van Rooyen says 10 years from now, her discovery will result in less pollution in Zimbabwe's water from chemicals in fertilizers.
"In 10 years to come, Zimbabwe will be self-sufficient in agriculture [with] sustainable agriculture," she said. "No nutrient loss to the environment; no increased cost on importing fertilizers because we will be self-sufficient; no costs to purifying water, because there is nanotechnology; fertilizers, which are nutrient user-efficient, low cost and reduced frequency of application. That is what I promise."