Jaco Luus – from wine to water

[Article by Nane Zietsman]

Growing up on a farm in Hazyview, Mpumalanga, Mr Jaco Luus always wanted a career where he could invent creative plans to solve practical problems. Engineering, therefore, seemed like the perfect fit. “You don’t become an engineer to know the answers, but rather to know how to approach the problems,” says Mr Luus. He enrolled at Stellenbosch University for an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering on the notion that the discipline would give him a broad set of skills and the ability to work in almost any field. Further motivation for his choice lay in the attractive offerings of the town itself: “Stellenbosch has so much to offer in terms of adventures and outdoor activities. It’s a place where you have access to a good academic environment, but you can also have a healthy work-life balance.”

On his decision to do a postgraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, Mr Luus comments that he views it as a smart career move and invested a lot of time in doing some groundwork before making his final choice. “I spoke to a lot of people before choosing to do postgrad. I also spoke to many supervisors because I wanted something that would not only broaden my skillset, but that I am also passionate about. I found the idea of a topic with an agriculture component to be very appealing and eventually I was granted the opportunity to collaborate with the Department of Viticulture and Oenology for my project.”

For his project, Mr Luus was tasked with identifying whether low-cost infrared temperature sensors could be used to measure grapevine temperature for plant water stress detection. “There is a proven correlation between plant temperature and plant water stress, and the focus of my project was on the measurement parameters and equipment,” Mr Luus explains. The worked involved a lot of physical measurements on the Thelema wine farm during the hot summer months. “I had to start in December, shortly after my graduation, to ensure that I had two seasons of measurement data. I learned a lot in the first season, which prepared me to plan the necessary experiments for the second.”

Mr Luus shares his satisfaction with the final outcome of his work: “The project aims were reached, and it was determined that low-cost sensors can be used for grapevine temperature measurement. The methodologies I developed to get to the solution proved to be very interesting and took the project down an unexpected avenue.” He presented his work at the International Symposium on Grapevine Physiology and Biotechnology and is awaiting feedback on two articles submitted for publication. Mr Luus is also set to start his employment at Zutari in Cape Town next year. Zutari specialises in engineering consultancy and Mr Luus will be showcasing his skills in the company’s Water Unit.

Photographs: Mr Jaco Luus spraying a leaf with water for a reference temperature measurement for one of his experiments at Thelema Mountain Vineyard, Stellenbosch.