St John's College

The year started a week earlier for 60 Grade 12 Physical Sciences students who attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) / ISASA / St John’s College Science Enrichment Programme. These young men and women hailed from independent schools throughout South Africa, Swaziland and Namibia, to take part in the programme run by six MIT students (postgraduate and undergraduate). The programme was designed around three primary threads “Neuro-and Cognitive Science”, “Computing Science” and “Research Methods”, under the broad umbrella theme “The Brain: Natural and Artificial Intelligence.”

Our students were exposed to a wide range of activities from working through problem sets typically presented to MIT undergraduates in their studies as well as to the practicalities of designing and building structures against the real-world constraints of time and budgets.

They built and programmed robots and discussed the importance of developing entrepreneurial skills. A visit to the IBM research lab and Tshimologong District in Juta Street, Braamfontein, proved to be a highlight for many. Exposure to breaking edge concepts such as Quantum Computing opened our students’ eyes to the breadth of possibilities that lie ahead of them and to the understanding that disruptive innovation occurs at the nodes (intersection points) of our fields of science, art and the humanities.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Head of Research at Wits, captivated his audience in his usual charismatic manner. He spoke about the development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers, and the importance of collaboration and networks in the development of new technologies.

A strong theme that underpinned all discussions, was the importance of cherishing what makes us human; and thus the importance of developing strong ethical codes to guide our scientific endeavour.

Over and above the sharing of their knowledge and research experience, the MIT team remarked on how much they had gained from the programme. They loved the energy and deep curiosity of the ISASA students and the humbling learnings they took from visits to The Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill and the Cradle of Mankind.