About Candes Keating

Candes is a Communication Officer in the Marketing and Communication Department. She writes stories about general news, research and innovation, and the faculties of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Tel: +27 21 959 6311 Email: keatingc@cput.ac.za

The psychology of education

This year the Chemical Engineering Department has been trying a coaching programme as both an intervention and attempt to understand the experience of their first year students.

Dr Disa Mogashana, coach, mentor and advisor at True Success Institute, recently presented feedback on the 2018 Student Coaching Pilot Programme which targeted 62% of the first year Extended Curriculum Programme (ECP)  students in Chemical Engineering.

Students attended five workshops on weekends between March and July, with the first eliciting information to fill in a comprehensive student profile.

The programme targeted students at biggest risk of failing by looking for particular markers: did the students fail their first chemistry test; was Chemical Engineering not their first choice; were they a walk-in; did they need funding; were they not living at home but not in residence on campus either.

Yes to those questions put the students into a group who had to attend all workshops while the rest could choose which sessions to attend.

The programme is based on a life coaching model.

The first workshop showed that some of the challenges faced by the ECP students included: being attacked on or off campus; travelling far distances to get to campus; feeling inadequate; loneliness and not having friends; insecurity about their future; family relationship issues; low self-esteem or lack of confidence; and mental issues such as anxiety or depression.

“The  programme tries to address all of these. It was important that the experience be proactive. How do you empower them to deal with a problem. The structures and way the university functions need to shift the way we teach, but the students also need to realise that they have the power to change,” asked Mogashana.

In addition to the workshops she also set up ongoing support for the students via Whatsapp to allow them to contact her directly for mentorship as needed.

The workshops covered topics such as budgeting, how to set goals and self-awareness and how the mind and emotions work.

She said student feedback showed they had developed a better awareness of the choices they can make and how much control they have over their actions.

Head of the Chemical Engineering Department Prof Daniel Ikhu-Omoregbe said the information could be useful for deciding if and when interventions needed to be made with particular students.

“I hope this will help us understand why students perform or do not. We need to see whether there have been changes in their test performance and next look at how they have adjusted in class. I hope to repeat this programme next year and my desire is to involve the mainstream students as well because they have some of the same issues too,” said Ikhu-Omoregbe.

Written by Theresa Smith

Indigenous fruits are good for you


Freely available indigenous fruits are a good resource for boosting your daily antioxidant intake.

This is according to researchers Daniela Kucich and Merrill Wicht, who recently conducted a study to determine if local indigenous fruits could provide an alternative source of antioxidants.

In the paper “South African indigenous fruits – Underutilized resource for boosting daily antioxidant intake among local indigent populations?” the researchers, who are based in the Department of Chemistry,  argue that a large portion of the population live below the poverty line and are unable to consume the required amount of seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

“Advice on the importance of consuming a healthy, and at the same time affordable diet needs to be provided by suggesting alternatives among indigenous plants that are nutritionally superior to “exotic” fruits,” states the researchers.

As part of their study Kucich and Wicht focused on ten indigenous South African fruits, which included the wild plum, wild olive, colpoon, christmas berry, crossberry, waterberry, tortoise berry, bietou, num-num and the sour fig.  The study saw them evaluate the antioxidant activity of the indigenous fruits and compare it with the popular Northern hemisphere blueberry and cranberry controls.

The study found that by introducing servings of as little as 25 g of wild plum, waterberry, num num or sour fig into the diet, the daily antioxidant intake can be boosted to within an acceptable range to support health.  With wild plum giving the highest Antioxidant Potency Composite index, blueberry and cranberry ranked 4th and 8th, respectively.

The study found that all the indigenous fruits are being used by communities for various purposes, such as treatment of ailments or for the production of beverages. Others,  such as the sour fig which ranked 12th in the study, is sold in open markets as dried figs or used for the production of jam.

“As the results show, freely available indigenous fruits that have been traditionally used by rural peoples in South Africa have relatively high levels of antioxidant capacity and, therefore, constitute an untapped resource that deserves to be promoted more extensively in the community by health educators,” says Kucich and Wicht.

“As affordable, yet nutritionally superior alternatives to the relatively expensive “exotic” fruits, these could help in diversifying monotonous diets.”



Expert leads research in technical textiles

Research is about taking a problem and finding suitable solutions.

This is the mantra of award winning researcher and innovator, Dr Asis Patnaik, who will spearhead research activities in the field of technical/smart textiles at CPUT.

Patnaik recently joined the Department of Clothing and Textile Technology and holding a NRF-C2 rating since 2015, he joins the growing ranks of high profile researchers at CPUT.

A renowned expert in technical textiles, he has extensive experience in working with industrial partners and funding agencies to solve research and development problems, and his efforts have resulted in an impressive 62 publications in peer-reviewed accredited sources and two technology demonstrators.

One of Patnaik’s most notable research ventures resulted in the development of innovative dual insulation (sound and thermal) materials for the building and automotive industries, manufactured entirely from waste plastic bottles and discarded sheep wool. Patnaik says the innovation not only provides consumers with a cost-effective insulation options but has created business opportunities for local entrepreneurs and sheep farmers.

“We want to move away from outsourcing from abroad. Research must also be about creating jobs and empowering people,” he says.

With more than 350 different textiles available in the market, the field of technical textiles is very diverse and is not limited to clothing but extends to textiles and technical textile based materials suitable for the manufacturing, automotive, medical, building and footwear industries amongst others.

“The word “technical textiles” means textile based materials used for technical applications. Some of the examples of such materials are roof celling insulation materials for the building, filters for air and water populations, surgical gowns and face masks used in the medical fields,” says Patnaik.

“In a car interior, there are about 40% textile materials used for various applications. It can be in the form of seat, carpet or sound absorbing materials generally used behind the bonnet or door panel of the car to absorb the engine and road noise.”

Patnaik says it’s an exciting field and one with endless opportunities to innovate.

He is also currently working on several innovative projects, including the design of specialised footwear for diabetic patients and the development of an antimicrobial textile that will be derived from natural resources.


*Elsevier publisher selected over 30 publications from various disciplines to feature in a virtual special issue to Celebrate Earth Day on 22nd April 2017. This issue focuses on the research work done to solve some pressing problems the Earth is facing today. One of Patnaik’s article is featured in that selected list of distinguished authors published papers for 2017.



Water is Life


As the Western Cape battles a critical water shortage the research conducted by Prof Vernon Somerset, a leading researcher in Environmental Chemistry, has become ever more urgent.

Somerset recently joined the Chemistry Department, and holding a NRF-C3 rating he joins the ranks of high profile researchers and innovators at CPUT who are using their skills to address the numerous challenges facing local communities, South Africa and the rest of the continent. Describing water as a fascinating field, Somerset says ultimately all his research work is aimed at ensuring South Africa’s water resources are adequately protected and that communities have access to safe drinking water.

“This research is important, because nationally we don’t have a lot of water and on the other hand we have a lot of mining and agriculture activities, which impacts on our water resources. The more we know about the impact of these anthropogenic activities, the better we can advise. There is also the area of emerging pollutants, such as pharmaceutical and personal care products, xenobiotics, antimicrobials, endocrine disruptors, etc. We are becoming much more aware of these components. It’s important for us to know more about it so that we can protect our water resources and safe guard people from being exposed to these pollutants,” he says.

Hailing from the highly respected Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Somerset, who has a PhD in Electro-analytical Chemistry from UWC, will drive environmental related research that has an impact on aquatic ecosystems and human health at CPUT. While based at the CSIR he has also investigated the fate and transport of heavy metals in the freshwater ecosystems of South Africa, especially the global pollutant called mercury. He is currently involved with other researchers across the country, assisting the Department of Environmental Affairs with South Africa’s ratification of the Minimata Convention on mercury.

Somerset says he looks forward to training the next generation of researchers.
“I’m here because we need to make sure that students are trained adequately and are equipped to apply their knowledge of environmental chemistry to protect the environment for future generations.”


Metals Technology Laboratory launched

Through technology transfer and the diffusion of innovative technologies, the Metals Technology Laboratory (METL) will facilitate strategic projects that will contribute towards the growth of a sustainable South African and more closely the Western Cape foundry industry.

Launched recently at CPUT, the METL is a highly specialized unit that is based in the TIA Adaptronics Advanced Manufacturing Technology Laboratory.  Its activities are aligned to the National Foundry Technology Network (NFTN), a key foundry industry support initiative, which is funded by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Spearheading activities at the METL is Llewellyn Cupido, who is part of the first cohort of South Africans who participated in the Research and Innovation in Foundry Technology scholarship programme, a Department of Science and Technology supported initiative aimed at developing high-end expertise to support the technology and innovation capabilities of the South African foundry industry.

Cupido says while South Africa has a struggling foundry industry, much more can be done to facilitate the development of a globally competitive industry and the potential is great.

“Technology and innovation in the South African industry is lacking. They are able to melt metal into shapes, but the question is how can they make better products using innovative technologies?” says Cupido.

“Internationally the industry has become innovative. We need to innovate to compete internationally.”

Cupido says the METL aims to expedite projects that will see the introduction of new technology into the South African foundry industry and will also provide general project assistance, in collaboration with its various partners.

Based on the Bellville Campus, the unit has access to a range of capabilities, which include state-of-the-art design and product performance simulation (virtual engineering), and casting simulation utilising the software MAGMASOFT. The unit also has the software Thermo-Calc, which is used for thermodynamic calculations such as phase diagrams and for the exploration of thermodynamic properties of chemical reactions.

The unit will also work closely with the Product Lifecycle Management Competency Centre, also based at the Bellville Campus. The centre, which is the only of its kind in Africa, focuses on product design, product lifecycle management and system engineering.

Cupido says MELT is currently also involved in several projects, which includes a collaboration with the China Academy of Machinery Science and Technology. The project is exploring the use of patternless casting technology to reduce production time and cost, as well as the improvement of dimensional accuracies by producing casting as close to the final product. Other projects involve the design and simulation of castings used on power plants and the investigation of the corrosivity of specialty steels used in nuclear structures.

Cupido will also participate in the upcoming BRICS Foundry Forum and visit China later this year.

  • The Research and Innovation in Foundry Technology scholarship programme is a collaborative initiative between CPUT, the Faculty of Foundry Engineering at AGH University of Science and Technology and the Laboratory for Aerospace Materials of Rzeszow University of Technology in Poland. It is supported by the Department of Science and Technology,

McDonald’s has been forced to make a U-turn on battery eggs. Here’s how

South Africans have been known to be an activist bunch – in recent times there have been a number of high profile campaigns, often with varying degrees of success. These include the #feesmustfall protests against high tuition fees on the country’s campuses, protests against toll roads and ongoing service delivery demonstrations.

But protesters – even successful ones – could learn a thing or two from a small, under-reported, but highly effective campaign against a powerful multinational fastfood chain. Yolanda Güse, a Master’s student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, lobbied support against the burger and fast food chain McDonald’s South Africa. And won.

It started with animal protection group Beauty without Cruelty South Africa. They informed their members through their monthly newsletters about McDonald’s cruelty in using battery caged chickens to produce the eggs used in their Breakfast McMuffin meals.

A battery cage is a wire box, the size of an A4 piece of paper. A chicken spends her entire life in this cage producing eggs. The animals suffer from stress as well as physical harm, including bone weakness and breakage, feather loss and diseases.

Beauty without Cruelty South Africa expressed its concern that while McDonald’s in both the US and Canada agreed to phase out the practice, McDonald’s South Africa hadn’t followed suit. In a statement the local affiliate responded:

We take note of the moves made by our USA and Canadian counterparts, and though we are exploring the viability of expanding McDonald’s cage-free policy to South Africa, we cannot at this stage make a similar commitment as the one made by McDonald’s USA and McDonald’s Canada.

The campaign

As a member of Beauty without Cruelty SA, Güse took up the plight against McDonald’s. In her petition motivation she highlighted a statement from the South Africa CEO, Greg Solomon, and the Corporate Affairs Director, Sechaba Motsielo, which stated:

We absolutely do not condone the cruel treatment of animals by our suppliers. Yet they continued to use battery eggs.

Güse told me in an interview that her love for chickens and having them as pets heightened her desire to pursue this cause.

My chickens are smart and quite engaging. They also enjoy roaming outdoors in the sun, so the idea of having them stuffed in a small wired cage and enduring the harshness that accompanies such a life is unbearable.

With the support of Beauty without Cruelty SA, Güse attracted the backing of other animal protection organisations. These included the United Front 4 Animals, Animal Voice (the official South African representative of Compassion in World Farming) and South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, as well as individuals.

Greater Than, a Cape Town based public relations agency, took on the campaign pro bono and a number of South African celebrities publicised their support in the media. More than 18 000 people signed the campaign’s petition.

Güse was interviewed on various media platforms, including television and radio talk shows. She also actively shared her views on social media. It got the public interested.

Her passion and perseverance finally paid off.

On 14 November 2016 Güse and her team received news that McDonald’s SA had agreed to stop the harvesting of caged eggs and committed itself, over time, to using 100% caged free eggs. It will start phasing in caged-free eggs at all its restaurants this year and has undertaken to complete the process by 2025. This is because the policy will mean a complete restructuring of the current egg-farming industry.

This is more than just a victory for Güse. Not only are cage free eggs a healthier option but jobs will be created. Farmers will now need to adapt their cages and farms to the new requirements of cage free eggs.

In a Fortune article after McDonald’s US decision to go cage free American poultry farmer Greg Herbruck said transitioning to cage free egg production meant a lot more staff would be required to ensure that birds were socially placed as hens tend to bully each other. There’s also a pecking order of domination which has an impact on the production of eggs. This means that hens require daily checks and need to be trained to lay their eggs in allocated slots.

All of this suggests that the current status quo in egg farming will change. Farmers will be expected to train staff to ensure a successful transition, leading to new skills and job creation.

Lessons to learn

Why was the campaign so successful? Some key factors guaranteed its success. With refining and adapting, they can work for various activist activities:

  • Effective research was done to ensure that sufficient evidence and credibility of the campaign was established and communicated.
  • A clear and definable objective was set.
  • The common purpose of the campaign was communicated in all messages.
  • The campaign activities were designed to share and repeat the messages.
  • A spokesperson was selected and represented the campaign.
  • Contact was made with the influential leaders of the organisation to ensure that the campaign message was received.
  • Relationships were built with the media and other relevant stakeholders.
  • Public and celebrity support was rallied through various media platforms.
  • Those supporting the campaign were given continuous feedback.
  • Effective support was garnered, leaders were influenced and the campaign had an impact on the viability of the brand.


By  (Public Relations Senior Lecturer and Programme Coordinator in the Media Department)

The article first appeared in The Conversation. Click here to view the article.



Sandy solution for wastewater

Gravity, solar power and sand may be the solution to treating wastewater that is produced by the South Africa’s wine industry.

Civil Engineering student, Gareth Holtman, has installed and is operating a pilot-system, which relies on these three factors to treat winery wastewater at a winery in Stellenbosch.

The research, which forms part of his masters, builds on an ongoing research project at the Biocatalysis and Technical Biology Research Group that is aimed at developing cost-effective methods to treat winery wastewater.

Wineries produce large amounts of wastewater which needs to be treated before release. However, many small-scale farmers cannot afford to implement sophisticated and costly wastewater treatment systems. This is a concern locally and abroad. The researchers hope to provide small-scale wineries with a simple method to deal effectively with winery wastewater in order to comply with legislative and ecological requirements.

Gareth says that the biological sand filter treatment system relies on river sand with attached microbial biofilm to treat the winery wastewater. The wastewater is pumped to a holding tank using solar energy, and organic pollutants are degraded by the microbial population as the wastewater flows through the biofilters. Flow is achieved by means of gravity, a key component of the pilot system.

Gareth says the system, which has a 50 square meter footprint, treats approximately 400 liters of wastewater per day. It is simple to operate, and requires little maintenance.

“At the moment I am analyzing the effectiveness of the sand filers with real life winery wastewater,” he says.

Gareth says he is also looking at the inorganic fraction of winery wastewater.

“Often the cleaning products used to clean tanks have high sodium levels. Water that has high sodium levels is damaging to the environment. The biological sand filters have been shown to reduce the sodium absorption ratio by dissolving calcium in the sand filter, but further tests must be performed to establish the long term effectiveness of this,” he says.

Gareth says the treated water can be used for other purposes, including irrigation at the wineries.

Changing the world

Steve Pachan is changing the world, one classroom at a time.

A globe-trotter, Pachan has taught in Australia, Sinpagapore, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now finds himself teaching education students at the Wellington Campus.

His travels is part of an outreach programme run by the United States Consulate and Georgetown University, which sees American teachers spend up to a year in a country and implement initiatives that will benefit communities.

With the Wellington Campus situated in the Boland region, Pachan says CPUT is the perfect fit for the projects he plans to implement over the course of the year.

“I feel this is the perfect location to help teachers in the rural and urban areas,” he says.

Set to collaborate with a fellow American who is based at another institution in South Africa, Pachan says they are looking at projects such as developmental workshops for teachers in the Wellington area as well as Massive Open Online Courses (free online courses).

He will also utilise the American Corner, a facility funded by the United States Consulate that is based in the South African library in Cape Town. The American Corner provides individuals with access to computers, 3D printing, a sound facility and a conference room.

Pachan, who currently teachers English communication and curriculum design to first, second and fourth year students, says he will also look at how he can incorporate students in the upcoming projects.

Sailing the seas

Conducting scientific experiments during a raging storm or having to deploy equipment in extreme weather conditions, proved to be a good learning opportunity for students Tanja Hanekom and Stefan van der Merwe.

Both enrolled in the Marine Science course, each had the coveted opportunity to hone their skills at sea after being selected to participate in international scientific research expeditions.

Tanja participated in the ACE Maritime University programme, an international initiative that brings together more than 100 researchers and students, and sees them work at sea on a wide range of scientific projects.

Describing it as a “floating university,” Tanja says while they were presented with a range of challenges, such as roaring seas and having to adapt to life on board a ship, the experience gained was valuable.

“We went through two big storms and it was a challenge as you still had to work and conduct your experiments at the same time.”

One of Tanja’s highlights was being able to work with sophisticated equipment and learn about new technologies used in her field of study.

“It’s such a great initiative because you are exposed to projects from all over the world.”

Stefan spent several weeks aboard the SA Agulhas II and worked alongside a diverse group of researchers ranging from marine scientists, climate researchers, geologists and ice observation scientists from Finland. He had the opportunity to deploy and retrieve sea gliders as well as wave gliders. For the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, they collected valuable samples from the underway water supply and CTD’s, which will contribute to the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory programme to study global warming.

But it was not just all work for Stefan, who along with the crew had the opportunity to play a game of soccer in Antarctica.

“It was a good experience. You learnt how to deploy specialised marine research equipment and had the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and connections with experienced scientists in all forms of science,” says Stefan.

Lecturer David Walker says they were pleased that CPUT was represented on these various expeditions.

He says the department always encourages students to participate in a range of learning activities as they contribute to their development.

Innovative leak detecting system

A final year engineering project could save thousands of litres of water by helping municipalities to detect leaks in their water distribution lines.

Jean-Pierre Mostert, who recently graduated with his BTech in Electrical Engineering: Control Systems, developed a low-cost water leak detection system, an innovative project that helped him secure the coveted spot as the best performing student of the 2016 graduating class.

Mostert, who is now employed at Lesedi Nuclear Services, says pipeline leakages within the water distribution network of municipalities is one of the major contributing factors to water loss, with some recording losses of more than 1 769.69 mega liters per year.

“There is a need for an automatic early detection method of water leak detection within a water distribution network,” he says.

“These leakages waste money, cause severe damage to the surrounding area and infrastructure and pose a potential risk to public health.”

Mostert says current leak detection methods, such as looking for wet patches of ground above pipes, are not sufficient and that very little techniques and methods have been used to constantly and continuously monitor a pipeline.

To prevent water loss, he developed a software algorithm that makes use of flow measurements within a simulated water distribution network to detect leaks.

As part of the project, a rig simulating a mains water distribution pipeline was constructed, which featured an inlet and outlet flow sensor to detect the amount of water entering as well as exiting the pipe. Utilising a micro controller unit and specialized software, the flow measurement data is transmitted to a central monitoring station (PC) over a wireless sensor network and captured into a database.

“The basic idea is to make use of the volume balancing method, whereby the current flow measurements are constantly compared to a normal threshold. Once a deviation from these conditions is detected and present for a certain amount of time, the algorithm will signal an alarm,” says Mostert.

The alarm system will allow individuals who are monitoring the water distribution system to easily cut power to a problematic bulk line and prevent further water losses. Mostert says this approach is low-cost as water distribution networks already have sensors, which can be incorporated into the proposed system.

“The final recommendation for this project will be that the existing flow sensors within the water distribution network of a municipality should be adapted so that data can be transmitted remotely over a network,” says Mostert.

“These sensors can then form a wireless sensor network and the early leak detection method can be implemented on the central PC. This will also allow for the data to be accessed remotely via an internet connection from any location.”

*The project was supervised by researchers Dr Wilfred Fritz and Deon Kallis.