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10 November 2016

SA's inspiring young scientists

World Science Day is 10 November, a great reason to celebrate the cream of our country's crop of young, inspiring science innovators.

Let's put our hands together for these youngsters who are working to make our country and our world a better, easier and more equitable place to live.

Ashley Uys: aces the test

Age: 34
Innovation: Reliable, affordable home testing kits for malaria, HIV, drugs and pregnancy
Home town: Cape Town
Education: BSc Honours degree in Biotechnology

He's inspirational because: Instead of slapping huge mark-ups on his test, Ashley believes his products must be within reach of those who most need them, so they're accessible for most South Africans.

Ashley Uys’s company Medical Diagnostech manufactures tests for detecting malaria, the presence of drugs, HIV, and to confirm pregnancy. If that isn’t impressive enough, consider that this is only one of this serial entrepreneur’s three medical innovation-related companies, and he is only 33 years old. In fact, Ashley founded his first company, Real World Diagnostics, in 2006 at just 24.

In addition to his BSc Honours degree in Biotechnology and a Wits University management development programme certificate, Ashley won the South African Breweries Social Innovation Award in 2012, was named the Western Cape Business Opportunities Forum (WECBOF) Young Entrepreneur of 2010. He has also been featured in the Forbes Top 30 under 30 and the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans.

Siya Xuza: the sky's the limit

Age: 27
Innovation: His award-winning science project that won him international recognition developed a cheaper and safer rocket fuel. Today, he focuses on making cheaper solar cells and examines solar technologies for commercial viability.
Home town: Mthatha
Education: Graduated from Harvard University with a degree in energy engineering

He's inspirational because: He wants to use his talents to offer strategies for solving the world's energy crisis, using the power of the sun to provide clean affordable energy.

Siya's science project, called African Space: Fuelling Africa’s quest to space, won gold at the National Science Expo and the Dr DerekGray Memorial award for the most prestigious project in South Africa. This led to an invitation to the International Youth Science Fair in Sweden in 2006, and his project was then entered into the world's biggest student science event, the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in the US. He won the two grand awards - one of which was the scholarship to Harvard.

And then the Nasa-affiliated Lincoln Laboratory named a minor planet after him because they were so impressed with his contributions to science: planet 23182, discovered in 2000, is now known as Siyaxuza.

Kiara Nirghin: orange you proud of her?

Age: 16
Innovation: Kiara developed a super-absorbent polymer to help plants retain the little water they receive in drought-stricken areas using orange and avocado peels.
Home town: Johannesburg
Education: Currently in Grade 10

She's inspirational because: Her age, for one thing, makes her invention really impressive - she's the youngest innovator on our list. It's also inspirational that she did something that fully grown adult scientists have done but using only natural materials, which had never been done before, making it an accessible, affordable solution to drought.

Kiara called her invention “No More Thirsty Crops” and was inspired by the current drought in South Africa to try to find a way to help crops retain water. Her invention could have a huge impact on how we cope with the effects of climate change around the world.

Her project was entered into the Google Science Fair earlier this year and won first place in the Community Impact Awards, earning the school pupil $50 000 in scholarship funding.

Chene Mostert: brushing up our dental hygiene

Age: 21
Innovation: An affordable, simple solution to rid toothbrushes of disease-causing bacteria.
Home town: Ladysmith, KZN
Education: At the time of her invention, she was in Matric

She's inspirational because: She took an everyday problem (bacteria-riddled toothbrushes - pretty much every toothbrush in the world), noticed a gap in the local market, and found a practical, low-cost solution. Her accessible invention helps keep people healthy and disease-free without huge cost or inconvenience.

Chene's toothbrush cleaner won her an international award at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in the US (competing against 1 500 other young innovators from 70 countries around the world), earning her $2000 in research funding and was invited back to the US by the American Dental Association to patent her invention.

She tested 150 toothbrushes from all South African provinces and neighbouring countries and found pathogenic bacteria on over 100 of them.

So she devised a solution that is basically a plastic box with a rotation system that cleans toothbrushes using hydrogen peroxide on an internal scrubbing brush. It's also a storage solution to keep toothbrushes safe from the bacteria prevalent in bathrooms.

At the time of winning the award, Chene said that her ambition was to distribute her invention to rural areas in South Africa, to help keep communities safe from easily preventable diseases, including flu and oral herpes.

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