The research projects by South African young scientists swept up a number of accolades at this year’s International Science Technology Engineering Competition (ISTEC) in Bali, Indonesia.

The fifth edition of the ISTEC, aimed at encouraging research and innovation in Indonesia, offered participants a distinct platform to nurture their passions in science, technology, and engineering.

Husna Docrat, a Grade 11 learner at St Dominics Newcastle Curro in KwaZulu-Natal, was a Gold medal recipient and a Grand Award certificate receiver after impressing judges with her research project entitled “Exploring the feasibility of bioplastics as alternatives to conventional Plastics”. With conventional plastic bags taking approximately 20 years to decompose, Docrat embarked on developing a bioplastic solution that offers a sustainable alternative to these widely-used pollutants.

“I am very grateful to be given the opportunity by Eskom Expo for Young Scientists and all my mentors that have taken the time to help and encourage me and made it possible for me to be here,” says Docrat. “I am overwhelmed at the fact that I have won a Gold medal and a Grand Award. It has been a dream of mine, and I am so glad that I could accomplish it.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my parents, siblings, and family members,” she says. “My highlight of the trip was meeting and interacting with individuals from across the world. They have all been extremely friendly and welcoming. And, of course, winning the awards to bring home to South Africa.”

Rikyle Andrio Jordaan, a Grade 12 learner at Paterson High School in Gqeberha; S’qiniseko Mpilenhle Mpontshane, a Grade 12 learner at Mandla Mthethwa School of Excellence in Ndumu, KwaZulu-Natal; and Isabel Lutz, a Grade 10 learner at Bloemhof Hoër Meisieskool in Stellenbosch all scooped Silver medals at the ISTEC.

Jordaan, who presented his research project – “Building a resilient grid: Leveraging solar, wind, and hydro power for improved reliability” – says: “It has been an exciting journey participating in the ISTEC. Eye-opening in terms of mission and vision. I didn’t think I was going to win an award, let alone a Silver medal, due to the complexity of the competition as we competed with university and college students from across the globe.

“It feels great representing my country and school on a global stage,” he adds.

Having showcased his research project entitled “Sustainable transportation using a solar-powered autonomous car”, Mpontshane says: “Winning an award at the ISTEC was truly validating, recognising the dedication poured into the project. It is humbling and motivating to receive international recognition for hard work and passion. This experience was enriching as we had an opportunity to engage with different perspectives – and I was inspired by innovative projects globally.”

Lutz, who presented her research project – Integrating AI-enabled chatbots in the classroom – friend or foe? – adds: “Participating in the ISTEC was an extraordinary experience, which brought me immense happiness and pride. It was a clear sign of our exceptional teamwork and the successful outcomes we achieved after putting in so much effort. To the young, aspiring scientists, I offer this advice: ‘Persevere even when faced with challenges. Stay committed to your goals. And remember that overcoming obstacles brings you closer to achieving your dreams.”

The CEO of the Eskom Development Foundation (acting), Mologadi Motshele, says: “Congratulations to the remarkable young scientists whose individual work was recognised internationally to receive the awards and medals at the ISTEC in Bali, Indonesia. Indeed, their outstanding achievements not only showcase individual brilliance, but also underscore the collective potential of South Africa youth in driving innovation and excellence.

“The research projects undertaken by these youngsters are not merely academic pursuits, but hold significant promise in addressing real-world challenges faced by our nation. The dedication by the young scientists to advance knowledge and find practical solutions reflects a commitment to shaping a brighter future for South Africa and beyond.”

Eskom Expo executive director, Parthy Chetty, adds: “It is very exciting to see our learners competing with some of the best in the world and excelling. These learners come from all parts of the country and it is promising to see that our long-term STEMI initiatives are bearing fruit across all nine provinces and across all school types irrespective of their location.

“It is equally pleasing to note that these learners use the expertise of various people in a mentorship role in addition to the support from their teachers.”