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Biography of Thebe MEDUPE

South Africa > Science : Thebe MEDUPE

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Biography :

Dr Thebe Rodney Medupe ( 1973), is a South African astrphysicist and associate producer of "Cosmic Africa", a feature documentary about traditional African astronomy released in 2002. He is a researcher at the South African Astronomical Observatory, where he is participating in a programme to encourage black South Africans to take up astronomy.

Dr Thebe Medupe had apartheid to contend with growing up in South Africa but still realised his boyhood dream of becoming an astronomer.Now he's here in the UK trying to encourage black school-children to consider careers in science and technology.
Thebe Medupe grew up in a poor village outside Mmabatho, without electricity, lights or television, where he sat near the fire under the African sky, listening to the elders tell traditional Setswana stories. But his family sacrificed to send him to a fine, modern high school in Mmabatho, where modern western science and mathematics captured his imagination. Halley's comet inspired Thebe to build a crude telescope with a cardboard tube and lenses donated by a school lab technician. On an unforgettable chilly, windy night, he pointed his telescope at the moon, and found himself looking at mountains, plains and craters on another world.

 Dr Medupe said: "I went ahead and built my telescope.I was 13 years old at the time.The first time I looked at the moon with it seeing craters, mountains and valleys I was hooked.That's when I knew for sure that I was going to become an astronomer."

From that point Dr Medupe became more interested in maths and science and read more widely.On completing school he won a scholarship to study at the University of Cape Town.

There he took a first degree in physics and a masters and doctorate in astrophysics.

But throughout his education, even under the scourge of apartheid, Dr Thebe credits his mother with unshakeable belief in him.
At the age of 17 in 1990 Dr Medupe won a Science Olympiad and was awarded a trip to England to visit the science institutions, which was the first time he had been outside Africa.

He told Black Britain: "I made sure I went to the Greenwich observatory where I saw a working telescope for the very first time.It increased my motivation to become a scientist."

On leaving university Dr Medupe's first role was as a research fellow at the University of Cape Town.However, he asked the director of the observatory to allow him to return to his home town to try to get some of the young black South Africans into astronomy.He said:

"Part of my reason for wanting to do that was my annoyance at people telling me that black South Africans were not interested in astronomy."

Within the first year nine young hopefuls were involved in research projects that he was conducting.Dr Medupe is also involved in the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme (NASP) which aims to get young people into master's science programmes in astrophysics.

Dr Medupe said that the problem of how to get young black children interested in science and technology is one that affects black people on the continent or in the Diaspora generally.

Part of the reason, he feels is that young black children do not have enough role models:

"How can someone imagine becoming an astronomer when they do not even know that a career as an astronomer exists?"

Dr Medupe said that one of the ways to overcome this is by promoting black scientists and technologists within black communities in the same way that professional soccer players and musicians promote themselves in the media.

Last update : 08/19/2011

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