Pretoria — Geologist Tshiamo Legoale has made history by being the first South African to be crowned the FameLab International Champion for a project which researched a method of using wheat to harvest gold from mine dumps.
"Not only am I the first South African... but I am the first African to win the international award. It's a very humbling experience because when I was in Cheltenham, I realised how much pride I had given South Africans," Legoale said on Wednesday.
Legoale recently won the award at the Cheltenham Science Festival, which was held in the United Kingdom.
The 27-year-old woman said the competition enables scientists to have a platform where they can discuss the work they do and how it impacts the environment, society as well as the economy.
FameLab is a communications competition designed to engage and entertain by breaking down science, technology and engineering concepts into three-minute presentations.
Legoale did her research project with Mintek on phytomining.
She said phytoremediation, which is a method that uses plants to remove heavy metals or unwanted elements from oil spillages or any polluted subtracts or soils, has been studied by many scientists in the past.
"About three years ago, we decided at Mintek that if we can use vegetation to take out elements that we don't want... can't we do the same to extract elements and minerals that we do want? So we looked at the translocation and hyper accumulative capabilities of certain plants and we arrived at wheat.
"Also because in the Free State area, there are a number of gold [mine dumps]. Wheat grows very nicely and is able to handle the climatic conditions of the province. We decided to bring the gold dumps and wheat together and do a phytomining project, using wheat to hyper accumulate gold," Legoale said.
She encouraged young people who want to be scientists to pursue their dreams, as it is possible to achieve.
"It's doable. There are quite [a few] challenges with studying the sciences but it is very fascinating and rewarding. You get to answer questions that you couldn't previously answer, to be innovate and create new technologies.
"You will also get the opportunity to interact with people who have great ideas and it gives you abilities as well as skills to take part in changing the world.
"It gives you a platform to be able to create a much better future for our children but most importantly, science is very cool. It is not boring by any measurement," Legoale said.
She is a beneficiary of one of government's bursary programmes as well as a geologist and researcher at Mintek's small scale mining and beneficiation unit.
Mintek is a science council reporting to the Department of Mineral Resources, which is responsible for, among other things, research and development in mining skills development.
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has congratulated Legoale on her achievement.
"We are very proud that during this Youth Month, young people like Legoale are demonstrating that South Africa is capable of producing scientists of an international calibre.
"As we continue to move forward with government's plans on beneficiation and adding value to our mineral resources, in line with government's Nine-Point Plan to grow the economy, skilled scientist like Legoale and many others will be an asset to our country," Minister Zwane said.