Sky’s the limit for Buren pupils

Dene Castles, Chantal Mbala with principal Marwaan Shiri.

Two Buren High School pupils are going to unveil a secret prototype they’ve been working on, at a space conference in America.

Chantal Mbala, 17, and Dene Castles, 18, will touch down at the four-day International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles, later this month, thanks, in no small part, to Professor Hal Walker, the American scientist who helped to build a laser used in the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

The laser measured the distance between Earth and the moon.

Professor Walker has been working with schools in Cape Town for many years.

In 2002, he started the South African STEM Achievers programme (an astronomy club) at Ysterplaat Primary School.

Stem stands for science, technology, engineering and maths.

Chantal and Dene were part of the club when they were in primary school.

Buren High School principal Marwaan Shiri said they had both shown a keen interest in pursuing careers in science and technology, and their teachers had chosen them to take part in the conference.

“I don’t think people realise the magnitude of this. This is an African first and we as a school are very excited and very proud of the students.”

Chantal said she felt both excited and overwhelmed.

“I feel that it is an honour to not only represent your school but your whole continent. We want to show the rest of the world that we, as Africans, can also compete, and it’s a great way to show other kids the fun side of science and that it’s not as boring as people think.”

Dene said he had always been fascinated with buildings things.

“I have always liked to use my hands to build things. I prefer that than to sit in class listening to long lectures. I will admit that it’s a bit frightening but very exciting at the same time.”

Professor Walker said he had made it his life’s work to promote science and technology among the youth.

“In 2002, we started working with Buren so that we could expand science and technology to young minds, and we figured, the younger the better.

“My wife, Dr Bettye Walker, and I are part of the National Space Society in the United States, and we believe that children from all over the world should have the same opportunities, and this is one way we try to help,” he said.

Chantal and Dene were tight-lipped about the prototype but claimed it would revolutionise the way we see space technology.

The conference is from May 24 to May 27, but Chantal and Dene will be staying on afterwards for several days to see the sights and visit schools. They pair also hope to visit Disneyland.