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There are whole worlds of science and technology to discover at Sci-Bono; here, children can play soccer, and learn science, as well as lots of other things.
THERE aren’t many places where you can hear dinosaurs roar, create your own whirlpools and align satellites to stream live radio. But at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, you can do all this and more.


Learning scienceLearning scienceThis is what won the centre this year’s Halala Joburg Award in the Relaxing and Playing Joburg category. “This category focuses on creative and innovative use of the built environment,” reads the Halala highlights brochure. “Essential to the project is the bold use of new or existing buildings, creating a uniquely Joburg recreational experience.”

Based in the Old Electric Workshop, Sci-Bono has annexed a building with a past. Once Joburg’s power house, in the late 1980s and early 1990s it was a venue for raves; then it stood empty until the Discovery Centre moved in in 2004.

It was initiated by the Gauteng department of education in association with the private sector with three key objectives: to improve teaching and learning in mathematics, science and technology in Gauteng schools; to provide career education to all learners in the province; and to promote and improve public awareness of and engagement with science and technology.

In line with these aims, the centre houses a collection of over 300 interactive displays, as well as the Science of Soccer exhibit, a world first that was launched during the football World Cup in 2010. Science of Soccer has the tagline “Play science, learn soccer” and features soccer-related games and quizzes to help people learn about matters such as nutrition and sports injuries.

Thandi O’Hagan, the public relations and marketing manager of Sci-Bono, feels the programme is so successful because it is “minds on, hands on and feet on”. “It is about taking abstract science and turning it into something you can touch and feel.”

And it has wide appeal. “In recognition of its location in the cultural heartland of Newtown, Sci-Bono is committed to promoting the science centre as a premier public destination for local and international tourists,” she explains.

It seems to be succeeding. O’Hagan confirms that the centre beat its target of attracting 160 000 visitors in 2010 when a record 180 000 people went to the centre. This year’s target is 200 000; 40 000 people have visited in the last four months.

“The popularity of Sci-Bono as a public destination continues to grow, bringing schools, families, businesses and lovers of art and science into Newtown, assisting to build a lively and vibrant inner city.”

Education and careers
This contributes to why the centre needs to expand and is becoming a complex, O’Hagan explains. “The Sci-Bono complex includes the original Newtown Electric Workshop as well as two new buildings designed by architect Nicholas Sack of AlboSack,” she says. “The modern, industrial feel of the new buildings with flowing spaces and triple volume windows allow in natural light and afford visitors great views of both Newtown and Braamfontein.”


A place to playA place to playThe two new buildings house the education centre, which was completed in 2009, and the BHP Billiton career centre. The education centre includes a 240-seater auditorium with audiovisual equipment, a computer laboratory, two science laboratories, an amateur radio station, a boardroom and numerous classrooms.

“These venues are successfully utilised for school and public edutainment programmes and are sought after by government departments, non-profit organisations and corporate companies as a novel and cost-effective venue for team-building events, family days and public launches.”

The BHP Billiton career centre was launched in 2010, and is the only centre in the province that works with learners, teachers and out-of-school youth.

With all this space, it is no surprise that the centre’s calendar is jam-packed with events. For instance, there are workshops where children can learn to build rockets, race remote control cars and make slime; there are science shows that make physics and chemistry more accessible; international exhibitions; the gizmos and gadgets expo; the speak2ascientist presentations; and career focus weeks, which provide more information on careers in aviation, health science and environmental science, to name a few.

It is also a particularly popular spot to host birthday parties. “In response to ongoing requests to host children’s birthday parties, Sci-Bono developed a brand-new party venue in 2009,” O’Hagan says.

“Since January this year we have hosted over 80 children’s parties, and the birthday party team receives consistently positive feedback.”

Dialogue in the Dark
There is plenty more in the pipeline to keep people coming, though. In September, Dialogue in the Dark will be launched. O’Hagan does not want to ruin the surprise by giving too much away, but says that the centre is excited to be hosting the exhibition, especially as it is the first time it is travelling to Africa’s shores. It has been viewed by over seven million people around the world.


The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in NewtownThe Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown“We are trying to see ourselves as an arts, culture and science centre.”

Sci-Bono is located on Miriam Makeba Street between Jeppe and President streets in Newtown. It is open seven days a week, from 9am to 5pm, from Monday to Friday; and from 9am to 4.30pm on weekends. The BHP Billiton career centre is open six days a week.

Entry fees for the discovery centre are R10 per child over the age of six and R20 per adult. It is also possible to make group bookings; to do so contact Cynthia Sithole or Siphokazi Ndzamela on 011 639 8400 or email them at or

The Halala Joburg Awards take place annually to honour those who contribute to the regeneration of the Joburg inner city; this year’s ceremony, which happened on 22 June, was the fourth one. There are seven categories: Living Joburg, Working and Buying Joburg, Relaxing and Playing Joburg, Sustaining Joburg, Conserving Joburg, Caring Joburg, and Believing Joburg.

Relaxing and Playing Joburg, the category won by Sci-Bono, looks for “spaces where the Jozi entertainment experience is enhanced”, according to the highlights brochure. Previous winners in the category were Gandhi Square in 2008, Smart Gym in 2009 and Arts on Main in 2010.

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