New university in Gauteng ‘can produce Nobel prize winners’

2020-02-27 01:00

World-renowned South African innovator and engineer Professor Mulalo Doyoyo has welcomed government’s plan to open a new science and innovation university in Gauteng which he says could address the country’s most pressing challenges.

President Cyril Ramaphosa during his state of the nation address announced that a new university would be established in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.

But Doyoyo warned that the university would fail to have an impact if it did not tackle the challenges such as power supply, water and sanitation, infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, pollution, economics and business administration.

He said it should incubate geniuses from all walks of life, identify talented youngsters from an early age and tape into the country’s indigenous knowledge to develop innovators to resolve local technology challenges and create new industries.

Doyoyo said that the university should also be able to assist innovators develop their concepts, license them and help them commercialise their final products.

It should also interface industries and academia.

The university should have an academic, innovation, indigenous knowledge, a little geniuses wings to support novel ideas from everybody with a passion to create new products.

The professor spent 25 years studying and teaching engineering in top American Ivy League universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Brown University and Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech).

The MIT and Georgia Tech are among the world’s top engineering universities leading technology patent generation.

Doyoyo has a string of innovations to his name – such as the cementless concrete called Cenocell, the eco-friendly paint Amoriguard, hydrogen motorbikes, Ecocast brick-making machines, ultra-lightweight pressure vessels and flushing solar-powered toilets, among others.

Doyoyo, who returned to South Africa in 2013, has a plan to create vibrancy around innovation and support inventors in establishing new factories and strengthening existing ones, creating jobs and export locally-invented and products to grow the economy.

The plan should see the creation of a resource-driven technology concept centre.

He said the centre could catapult South Africa to be one of the Big Five industrialised countries.

This is an opportunity for us to build our own university that focuses on endogenous technological challenges. We can be among the top five industrialised countries and we can produce Nobel Prize winners
Professor Mulalo Doyoyo

Last week the president said the new university would “enable young people in that [Ekurhuleni] metro to be trained in high-impact and cutting-edge technological innovation for current and future industries”.

Ishmael Mnisi spokesperson of the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology, said: “Minister [Blade] Nzimande will provide details on the establishment of the university during the department budget vote for this year.”

Doyoyo said the university would have a meaningful impact only if it addressed the country’s challenges.

“The challenges are not isolated to South Africa. All African countries have them.

“This is an opportunity for us to build our own university that focuses on endogenous technological challenges. We can be among the top five industrialised countries and we can produce Nobel Prize winners ... let’s be that ambitious.”

The university could be self-sustaining, he said, just like the MIT which makes a lot of money from royalties from companies that have licensed and commercialised their technology products.

Indigenous knowledge

When Doyoyo developed the Cenocell, he was inspired by his grandmother in Limpopo who made hard clay pots.

“As children we used catapults to shoot the pots with stones, but my grandmother’s were a lot stronger and did not break easily. One day I followed her and saw that she used liquid in the algae-fraught parts of the river where frogs are abundant. She threatened to kill me if I told anybody because that was her secret. Later in my life, I developed Cenocell from that experience,” he said.

“If the university can have a centre specialising in traditional or indigenous knowledge connected to the innovation wing, it can achieve a lot,” Doyoyo said.

Recruitment of talent

Doyoyo said the university should proactively traverse the whole country to unearth young talent to incubate.

It should also support genius capital – innovative people who do not have formal education such as the world-renowned Ndebele painter, Esther Mahlangu (85).

In 1991, she did artwork for the interior of the BMW 525i and recently she was commission to do the Rolls Royce Phantom.

“There must be innovation competitions during school holidays and those little geniuses must be identified from the age of six. Those who have ideas must be given a chance to spend time at the university during their holidays to assist them develop their ideas,” said Doyoyo.

“The genius capital must be incubated too and assisted to develop. If the university does concept development, licensing and commercialisation [of products] it can assist these innovators to grow,” he said.

Academia-industry interface

Private companies could play a big role in funding students that they would later employ.

These companies should work closely and be “intertwined” with the university and allow students they support to do their internships with them.

“This new university can be a mini MIT for Africa. We can do it, if we are committed, because as Africans we built the pyramids,” Doyoyo said.

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March 29 2020