Award-winning student’s exceptional year

For Kurt Coetzer 2019 was a year full of highlights. He received three awards and his research took him to three overseas destinations. “The year started well and turned out even better,” he says. “I handed in my master’s thesis at the end of 2018 and was awarded 88% for it in 2019.

“Early in July I travelled to Otranto, Italy, with my one supervisor (Dr Arnold Rix), and two other members of my research group (Warren Farmer and Armand du Plessis) to present at the 7th International Conference on Clean Electrical Power. Altogether, we presented four articles, and we were invited to submit extended versions of all four of these articles to a special edition of the IET Renewable Power Generation journal. Only 29 articles out of the 112 submitted to the conference received this invitation – this was certainly something to be proud of as the three of us had presented work conducted during our master’s degrees, whilst amongst largely postdoctoral researchers and above. One of my two presentations won the award for best (overall, not just limited to students) oral presentation.

“Later in July I had the honour of travelling with my other supervisor (Dr Gideon Wiid) to New Orleans, USA, for EMC+SIPI 2019 where I was awarded the IEEE EMC Society President’s Memorial Award for my research. This was truly a privilege to receive such recognition on an international stage. As the award recipient, I was invited to the President’s Luncheon, where I had the opportunity to mix with both the board of directors, as well as the past and present presidents of the Society. I had the wonderful opportunity to share a meal and conversation with esteemed engineers from, for instance, IBM and the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre, as well as those who quite literally wrote the book when it comes to electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). What a fantastic group of people!

“My final trip of the year was in September with Dr Wiid to present another article of mine at EMC Europe 2019, the premier European conference in my field of research, in Barcelona, Spain.

“In October, I was awarded the Rector’s Award for the top master’s student in 2018 in the Faculty of Engineering at a function where 92 Stellenbosch University students were honoured for excellent achievement in areas ranging from academics, sports and culture to social impact and co-curricular. At this function, my brother Brandon also received an award for an average of 84% for his BCom (Management Sciences).”

Kurt is currently in the second year of his PhD. He explains: “I have always wanted to be an engineer. In my first year Dr Wiid, who lectured Electrotechnique 143, inspired me immensely. In my PhD, I am developing a broadband electromagnetic model of a photovoltaic module, in order to be able to accurately simulate the induced voltages and currents within a photovoltaic installation as a result of electromagnetic interference (EMI). This model would allow for both the diagnosis of EMI-related issues within an existing PV plant, as well as the analysis of the susceptibility of a PV plant design to EMI before the plant is actually constructed. There is a particular interest in a photovoltaic module’s response to the strong natural EMI created by nearby lightning activity. This project falls within the field of EMC, however knowledge of photovoltaic systems, high-voltage test techniques, and lightning physics is also required.”

When asked about his plans for the future, he does not hesitate to answer: “I would love to lecture. My number one outcome would be to lecture and to do research.”

Photograph: At the Barcelona Cathedral from the left are Dr Gideon Wiid, Prof John Norgard (NASA) and Kurt Coetzer.