Jac van der Merwe Competition for Innovation: No challenge too great for creativity

Article by Nane Zietsman

The 26th Jac van der Merwe Competition for Innovation took place on Wednesday, 13 January 2020. The competition, sponsored by MultiChoice, is intended to reward the Stellenbosch University engineering student with the most innovative final-year project. The competition was named after Stellenbosch University alumnus, Jac van der Merwe, who was a founding member of M-Net. Jac passed away in an aeroplane crash in 1994 and to commemorate and honour his inventive and creative spirit, M-Net established this annual competition in 1995. MultiChoice came onboard in 2013 and sponsors R30 000 towards prize money, ranking this competition as the biggest prize in the Faculty of Engineering.

This year, a different approach was taken to the manner in which the competition was conducted due to the unusual circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Six candidates, representing the six BEng programmes offered in the Faculty, submitted a 15-minute video of their final-year project. A scheduled Microsoft Teams meeting took place where the panel conducted individual 10-minute interviews regarding the individual students’ relevant projects and its inherent innovation.

The panel, consisting of Dr Willie Smit, Chris Jurgens, Prof. Cara Schwarz, Prof. Saartjie Grobbelaar, Christo Nicholls, Dr Mike Owen, Prof. Gert-Jan van Rooyen (Head of Panel) and MultiChoice representative, Mauritz Kloppers, was remarkably impressed by the standard of innovation students presented with their projects and selecting a winner proved to be a challenging task. In the end, the grand prize of R10 000 was awarded to Kimberly Kasper, nominee of the Electrical and Electronic Department, with her project SpiceBot: The Development of a Solenoid-Controlled Dispensing Machine and User Interface, guided by Project Leader Dr Willem Smit. Travis Defty, nominee of the Mechatronic Department, received R8 000 as the runner-up with his project Development of an Automated Mobile Upper-Limb Orthotic Device for Assisting Brachial Plexus Injuries. His project Leader was Dr Karel Kruger. A further R3 000 was awarded to the remaining contestants and their individual projects:

Jean-Pierre Mostert: Topological Interlocking for 3D Printed Concrete (Civil) | Project Leader: Dr Jacques Kruger

Tanya Meyer: Development of a MATLAB Program that Facilitates Rural H2S Adsorption Column Design (Chemical) | Project Leader: Prof. Robbie Pott

James Faure: Computer Vision and Machine Learning Used for Diagnostics in Dental Analysis (Industrial) | Project Leader: Prof. Andries Engelbrecht

Liam Snyman: A Compact Linear Fresnel Solar Collector for Rooftop Process Heat Applications (Mechanical) | Project Leader: Prof. Craig McGregor

In spite of the challenges faced in 2020, the students succeeded in delivering top quality projects, proving that innovation can triumph even the most demanding circumstances. The Faculty of Engineering honours these students for their dedication and commitment toward their respective fields.

Photo caption: (from left to right, top to bottom) Mauritz Kloppers (MultiChoice representative), Jean-Pierre Mostert, Travis Defty (runner-up), Kimberly Kasper (winner), James Faure, Liam Snyman and Tanya Meyer