Eskom Expo for Young Scientists alumni, Rahil Samlal, has graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences degree from the University of Pretoria, and aims to continue conducting research and gaining work experience, while developing tools or products that aim to solve South Africa’s biggest problems.
Rahil, 21, from Newcastle in Northern KwaZulu-Natal became involved with Eskom Expo when he entered the regional science expo in Ladysmith in 2014. From a young age, he had a natural love for science, and cites his physics, maths, and life sciences teachers at Curro St Dominic’s for their monumental impact on his formal science training.
At the 2017 Eskom Expo International Science Fair (ISF), Rahil captivated judges with his ingenuity, depth of knowledge and mastery of inquiry methodology, winning the prestigious University of Pretoria-Derek Gray Memorial Award, which included a full bursary to study at the university and the opportunity to represent South Africa at the Stockholm International Science Seminar (SIYSS) during the Nobel Prize Week.
Talking about his university experience, Rahil said it was unique to say the least. “I experienced university through both online and in-person mediums, with the latter being what I preferred. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, contact classes were limited and I found myself missing my first year of university before the pandemic. However, my university experience has taught me the importance of being able to adapt to new situations and make decisions quickly, which are skills that are becoming more desirable in the age of hybrid work,” he said.
What Rahil enjoyed most about his final year of university was where theory, discussion, and practical skills all mixed to form an exciting and cohesive environment for learning.
“I enjoyed all my modules, even the ones I found difficult because by this time I understood that all of the work was connected in some way or the other. My favourite module was a microbiology module dealing with gene manipulation and biotechnology. This module formed the basis of my critical scientific thinking, and helped me understand how to form research questions and dissect them, along with familiarising me with the current standards of biotechnological methods. I also enjoyed my genetics modules, as this helped me understand how complex systems are controlled in microbes and how they can be exploited to gain new insights, prevents disease, or produce valuable compounds,” he said.
Rahil has had an ongoing interest with biology and microbiology, as his Eskom Expo projects between 2014 and 2018 all focused on biological agents with a microbial nature that could either prevent, cure, or treat disease – and which had far-reaching applications in agriculture.
“Only once I completed my undergrad, did I realise the potential of my Eskom Expo project from high school. The main way that I ‘continued’ with my project was by performing extensive literature reviews and learning new lab protocols on how to extract and visualise DNA and proteins. These new skills have allowed me to update my Eskom Expo project proposal, and I am looking forward to one day exploring it in more detail,” he said.
Rahil remains passionate about allowing promising young scientists interested in Eskom Expo to reach their full potential, and has thus mentored several learners at the local-, regional-, and international science fair levels.
“Being a judge or mentor is a vital and necessary step for Eskom Expo alumni to pass on knowledge and remain in the loop of what new innovations are shaping our generation’s future. In my short, years of judging and mentoring, I have realised an increased demand from this generation to learn science and use it as a tool to solve problems that are close their hearts,” he said.
Mentors at Eskom Expo are vital in cultivating ideas and finding the right project for a specific learner, and to build their confidence when undertaking challenging research. To mentor, contact an Eskom Expo Provincial Coordinator in your province. For contact details, click here.
To judge at District of Regional Expos, contact the Regional Science Fair Director in your area, click here.
To judge at the ISF, apply online when applications open. Please note, to judge at ISF, three years’ Regional Expo judging is required (or judging at three to four regional expos). Click here to apply.