Physics entertains students at Lucy and Stephen Hawking book launch in Khayelitsha

15 Jun 2018 - 08:15

Molo Mhlaba performing their welcome song and dance routine:  Photo:  Gregor Leigh

Molo Mhlaba Primary School in the far-flung part of Khayelitsha is so new that even local residents and other schools in the area weren’t able to guide the UCT Physics contingent through the last 500 m of their journey on Wednesday 13 June – but after driving around for some time, asking directions in rusty Xhosa, the team was eventually spotted by one of the organisers and ushered into the school.

UCT School of Education's Xolisa Guzula, who translated George's Secret Key to the Universe into isiXhosa, introduces pupils to the book.  Photo:  Gregor Leigh

Dr Trisha Salagaram, Gregor Leigh and MSc student Lizelle Niit (and, most importantly, a car load of demonstration equipment!) had been invited by The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) to lay on a mini science show as part of the launch of the children’s book written by Lucy Hawking and her famous father, George’s Secret Key to the Universe, which has been translated into several South African languages.

Gregor Leigh demonstrates the effects of atmospheric pressure to pupils.  Photo:  Trisha Salagaram

The event was attended by several hundred pupils from surrounding schools, each one of whom left with a copy of the book after having had passages from it read to them by the very woman who translated it into isiXhosa, UCT School of Education’s Xolisa Guzula.  According to the organisers, however, the highlight of the afternoon was the series of interactive science shows.  Students ranging from 4 to 14 years old were treated to a variety of demonstrations and hands-on experiences – a ball “floating” in an air stream, cans being crushed by nothing more than the atmosphere, home-made divers in water bottles which sank or rose apparently in response to commands in isiXhosa, and liquid nitrogen and water propelled rockets which went WHOOOSH!! and disappeared high over the roof tops, never to be seen again.

Khayelitsha school pupils watch in amazement as Lizelle Niit uses Bernoulli's principle to "float" a ball in an air stream.  Photo:  Trisha Salagaram

Molo Mhlaba in Khayelitsha is one of a “network of Pan-African low-fee independent private schools for girls, providing quality STEAM education through innovative teaching and learning strategies” (  Given the school’s strong emphasis on science and mathematics, Director Rethabile Sonibare was very happy to have established a link with UCT Physics and is keen to maintain the contact.

Molo Mhlaba learners grapple with a Cartesian diver.  Photo:  Trisha Salagaram

Lizelle Niit demonstrates electrostatics with the aid of a Van der Graaf generator.  Photo:  Trisha Salagaram

Liquid nitrogen rocket launch:  the instant before take-off.  Photo:  Trisha Salagaram