Engineering, Science and AgriSciences students victorious at SU’s FameLab heat

Author: Dr Alec Basson (Corporate Communication & Marketing)

​​​Thabani Mtsi, a Master’s student in Civil Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU), won the SU heat of the 2020 national FameLab science communication and public speaking competition. The virtual event took place on 14 October. Kaylan Reddy, a Master’s student in Botany and Zoology, and Zimbili Sibiya, a doctoral student in Forest and Wood Science, finished second and third respectively. Considered one of the biggest science communication competitions in the world, FameLab creates a platform for young scientists to speak to public audiences about their work.

Mtsi and 23 other postgraduate students were given only three minutes to share their research with the audience. He spoke about ways in which the minibus taxi industry user experience can be improved, while Reddy talked about how indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants can be combined with brain biology to treat  anxiety and depression. Sibiya focused on the link between nature and technological sustainability. As the winner of the heat, Mtsi will represent SU at the national final in April 2021 where he will compete against the winners of heats at other universities in South Africa.

The SU FameLab heat was organised by Jive Media and the Division for Research Development’s Postgraduate Office​. The judges were Martin Viljoen (Corporate Communication and Marketing), Wilma Stassen (Marketing & Communications at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences), Dr Palesa Mothapo (Research Development) and Prof Nox Makunga (Botany and Zoology).

Commenting on his win, Mtsi, said “my life purpose is to inspire and edify those within my sphere of influence and everything I do is in service of this purpose. It is imperative that we use our academic pursuits to build the communities that built us because we are because of them. I was clothed, fed and raised by the taxi industry and so ‘isintu’ has it that I reciprocate that benevolence.”

Regarding the importance of science communication, he said “Science that is circumscribed to the bounds of scientific journals and papers has stifled societal applicability. The gap between science and society needs to be bridged so that we can co-create solutions — particularly on the Afrikan continent.”

Mtsi also boasts a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship and two Rector’s Awards for Excellence, among others. His undergraduate thesis was named the best in South Africa by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering for 2018/2019.

The winner of the South African final will compete against participants from 30 countries at the international FameLab competition.

Photograph: Thabani Mtsi.