My Dean as recently launched the EBE Initiatives for Public Good campaign. This latest endeavor from our faculty is (I dare say) the only one of it’s kind in South African Universities. The problem arises from the habit of academic institutions to follow the following procedure when identifying a problem-area in whatever area:

1) A professor or group of professors get together and come up with a name for this identified problem, namely “The health risks of burning tyres”
2) A document is thus drawn up, outlining how grave the situation is and requesting funding for research: “we suspect that its real bad to burn rubber tyres”
3) Upon convincing whatever party that this area of interest is worth throwing money at, the professors give projects to MSc and PhD students and for the next two years, a ton of data is collected about the problem, and the gravity of the said problem.
4) At the end of this long, drawn out and expensive undertaking, a thorough and well cited document is produced, the MSc and PhD students throw on some colorful dress-like robes, are ‘dong’ed’ on the head by the Chancellor’s all-powerful magic wand, and leave with a bit of paper.
5) This report that was oh-so-important and oh-so-expensive and which tells everybody that oh yes, “it really is real bad to burn rubber tyres” (not like we didn’t all know that already), sits on various desks for a few weeks, is filed into a locker and remains there until someone decides to recycle it so that the boys at Kramer-building (the environmentally over-eager law building scumbags) can have their recycled notebooks. If you’re lucky, the department might convince government to pass a by-law that makes this illegal (but isn’t monitored) and everyone goes home feeling like they have mad a real contribution to the environment.
See my point? We’ll I’m going to explain it anyway…In this whole long, expensive process since the moment the problem was identified, nothing had been done to try and fix that problem!
Now listen, I’m not saying that this type of research is pointless. It’s actually very critical! What I’m saying is that why highlight a problem and not do anything to try and fix it??? Are we not Engineers? Do we not revel in the very thought of tearing apart an engine in order to move around the crank and dismantle every little valve just to be able to put it all together again? Is our first reaction to being given a task to improve something not to grab the nearest serviette and lipstick and scribble a ton of concepts in 2mins flat?
This is plain unnatural! We are fixers, tinkerers, DESIGNERS at heart!
But alas, someone has to do the dirty work (and by that I mean the above-mentioned research).
So our wonderful Dean decided to link these two ideas, combining things such as emissions and health-risk testing, with technology improvement and design, with actual deployment of existing technology…and thus, the TD4SUD project was born. (We have to work on that acronym!)
Technology Deployment for Sustainable Urban Development!
1) Emissions testing over the Cape flats (PhD/ MSc/ other good stuff going on there)
2) Transport node research and design (ok so here we actually make a plan)
3) Health impact testing and monitoring (so we’re starting to engage with ‘real’ people)
4) Implementing sustainable energy solutions for informal catering businesses (ah! now we’re talking!)
And in a nutshell, thats the new and seriously awesome project that the EBE (Engineering and the Built Environment) faculty is doing, as part of the Initiatives for Public Good. And where do I fit into all this? Well, Engineers Without Borders is responsible for 4) above; the deployment part of that awful acronym…and I just happen to be lucky enough to be the lead of that leg...
Tonight was the Dean’s function, and I got to do a bit of networking. Coincidence , coincidence, I met another lady from Cell-Life, and we’re having tea next week! Yay, my thesis is looking good! I have to remember to tell you the story about the water problem in the eastern cape…thats for another day though…Good night!