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Meet SA’s best young scientist, crowned at Eskom Expo

Edrig Engelbrecht’s project to help visually impaired people get around a lot more easily has won the young man the coveted overall winner prize at the Eskom Expo International Science Fair (ISF).

ISF, now in its 37th year, is Africa’s biggest school-level science fair, attracting 611 finalists from across the continent to show off their science projects across 24 different categories including energy efficiency, innovation and technology, physics, astronomy and space science as well as social and psychological sciences.

Sixteen-year-old Engelbrecht, who hails from Waterkloof High School in Pretoria, was crowned the overall senior winner, while Kilona Biyalal, from Kwa-Zulu Natal, received the overall junior winner prize.

Engelbrecht and Biyalal walked away with R75 000 and R50 000 in cash respectively and will go on to compete at other international science expos outside of South Africa.

Bursaries, medals, and other prizes were also awarded in various categories.

Engelbrecht’s project, titled “Robotic Walking Aid for the Visually Impaired”, is a small robot which assists visually impaired individuals to navigate around specific objects in public spaces.

“The goal is replace guide dogs where they aren’t allowed entrance, also because many blind people don’t use a white can because they didn’t learn to do so at a young age,” the aspiring megatronics engineer told htxt.africa.

His idea was sparked by a friend’s blind mother who related a story about getting hurt at a shopping centre while out.

ISF is a culmination of a series of exciting and competitive regional science expos held countrywide. The young scientists competing at ISF were selected among the thousands of participants who attended the regional expos.

It is supported by the national Departments of Public Enterprises, Science and Technology and Basic Education. Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor and Deputy Minister of Education, Enver Surty, officiated over the expo’s three-day duration, with Pandor officiating the awards ceremony on Friday, 6th October.

Many of the learners who participate are inspired by challenges they see in their communities and set out to find effective and innovative solutions to these problems. From finding clever ways to tackle the drought that is gripping large parts of the country, developing renewable and cleaner energy sources right through to ways to tackle plastic pollution, these young people have their fingers on the pulse of the country’s most pressing problems.

“The fact that you are here at the national finals of an important contest shows that you have what it takes to be student of and practitioner in the world of science and technology,” Pandor told the finalists.

“You are here either because you are able to design an experiment to test a hypothesis or because you are able to design a new method of investigating a new solution to a problem. You have what it takes to be a scientist. I would like to challenge you, young scientists and innovators, to make your mark. We need workable scientific and technical solutions. And not just any solutions, but answers to some of the specific challenges facing our country,” she said.

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