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Interview with the winners of the ACCTA "Year of Science Awards"

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The winners Yared Assefa Abebe (left) of the Leibniz Universität Hannover and Suvash Chandra Paul of Stellenbosch University // Photomontage

As part of a special session at the ACCTA 2013 conference “Advances in Cement and Concrete Technologies in Africa”, the “Year of Science Award”  was awarded for outstanding achievements by young scientists in the field of cement and concrete technology. The winners were Yared Assefa Abebe of the Leibniz Universität Hannover and Suvash Chandra Paul of Stellenbosch University, both of whom can now look forward to a scholarship for a research placement in their respective partner country.

Read our interview with the prize winners to find out about the fields of research the scientists are involved in, and what they think of the cooperative project between Germany and South Africa.

What does your research deal with in particular?

Yared Assefa Abebe/ Leibniz Universität Hannover

My doctoral research mainly deals with developing concrete concepts for very tall or long engineering structures such as solar chimneys or tunnels that are built in arid and semi-arid regions. The immense dimensions of these structures in combination with the usually challenging local conditions in most arid and semi-arid regions demand a sophisticated construction technique and most importantly a tailored concrete concept. These regions are typically characterized by higher ambient temperatures, lack of modern construction techniques and shortage of special industrial construction materials as well as poor construction site conditions. Hence, developing a tailored concrete concept that is suited to the technical requirements as well as the local conditions would be of paramount importance in addressing the general question of a sustainable infrastructure development in these regions. 

Suvash Chandra Paul/ Universität Stellenbosch

The main thrust of this study is the "Durability of Concrete Structures". Durability is mostly influenced by the transport properties of concrete such as diffusivity, permeability, and sorptivity, which cause the corrosion of steel reinforcement in concrete. If corrosion starts in rebars, the life span of any concrete structure will reduce significantly. Concrete structures in developing and developed nations of the world are faced with the challenge of corrosion; hence, large amount of money is being spent in repairs. This research will focus on implementing a new type of material called ‘strain hardening cement based composite’ (SHCC), which is reported to delay any kind of transport properties into concrete. The enhanced durability is envisaged to result in longer life span of concrete structures thereby decreasing repair and maintenance cost.

What do you make of the cooperative project between Germany and South Africa?

Yared Assefa Abebe/ Leibniz Universität Hannover

The importance of Germany’s engagement in supporting the development efforts in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, with a wide ranging cooperation in technic, education, health, sustainable economic development and good governance couldn’t be overstated. The cooperation between Germany and South Africa, especially in the areas of scientific research and technological innovations is very excellent and could serve as a blue print for other countries in Africa. I sincerely believe that the outcomes from this cooperation would benefit not only the two countries, but also the whole of sub-Saharan Africa in tackling some of the serious challenges of our time.   

Suvash Chandra Paul/ Universität Stellenbosch

Modern civilization and progress is almost wholly dependent on developments in the fields of science, engineering and technology which are always changing with the inclusion of new ideas, innovations and skills. So, whether a country is either developed or developing, it is not possible to update existing knowledge without collaboration with those who have gone a step further. From this point of view, I would say it is an excellent initiative of exchanging science and technology between these two countries and it is a positive sign for the society also.

What are you expecting from your research placement?

Yared Assefa Abebe/ Leibniz Universität Hannover

It is my hope that during my stay in South Africa, I would be able to test the practicability of some of the concepts from my doctoral research under the real African boundary conditions. I am looking forward to sharing new knowledge and experience with my future colleagues and possibly students at the University of Witwatersrand. I am also very excited to witness the beauty of the land and to get to know its people as well as their rich history and culture.

Suvash Chandra Paul/ Universität Stellenbosch

One of the major focuses of my research is to observe the durability performance of concrete structures after cracking. Future modelling needs to link between un-cracked concrete structures to a cracked structure. This will definitely help designers to predict the approximate time period for a specific structure in between these two stages. With this, the entire life span of any concrete structures can be predicted even before the construction.  In terms of anticipations from my research, it is believed that long term studies are needed on new type of materials like SHCC before design guidelines can be developed. This study will attempt to achieve the following:

  • Develop a link between crack and corrosion rate in SHCC concrete.
  • Compare durability performances of SHCC with fine sand and local coarse sand including mortar concrete.
  • Make available extended information for future modelling of corrosion for SHCC structures. 
  • Encourage the use of SHCC for important structures.

What are your hopes for the research opportunities in your respective partner country?

Yared Assefa Abebe/ Leibniz Universität Hannover

In the areas of scientific research, I see a great potential for both countries if they continue to engage in collaborative research activities. This collaboration would also open new possibilities, which otherwise would stay inapplicable. Even though South Africa has very good research institutes and Universities, it still can benefit from the cutting edge technologies available in Germany. In addition, the well developed economies of Europe would provide a large market for innovative South African products. On the other hand, Germany needs new material resources to maintain its competitive edge in industrial exports. This could be realized by tapping the abundant resources in Africa in a sustainable and innovative ways. These mutual goals could effectively be achieved by expanding the existing collaborative scientific research activities.

Moreover, both countries, as the largest economies in their respective continents, have the responsibility to lead in combating the critical social-political, economic and environmental challenges in their respective regions. To this end, innovative solutions resulting from such research activities would play a significant role. It is my hope that the top Universities in South Africa would take the initiative to expand their role in advancing scientific research in Africa by establishing a bilateral or multilateral cooperation with Universities and research institutes in other countries. As always, the participation of Germany in such endeavors would be significant.

Suvash Chandra Paul/ Universität Stellenbosch

Learning new research methodologies and techniques, exposure to the use of unfamiliar instruments and also knowledge sharing. The wealth of knowledge that will be acquired during the period of this partnership will be of immense benefit in my service to my country and the engineering world at large.

Can you tell us about your experiences during the German-South African Year of Science?

Yared Assefa Abebe/ Leibniz Universität Hannover

Particularly, the special German – South African year of science session at the ACCTA 2013 conference, where the nominees for the young researcher prize had the chance to present their research works, was an interesting event. I appreciate the fact that the year of science initiative took the chance to be part of the conference and promote scientific research in the areas of cement and concrete in Africa. It gave me the chance to get to know many experts who are engaged in those areas and to exchange ideas and experiences. I very much enjoyed my time in Johannesburg and am looking forward to returning back.

Suvash Chandra Paul/ Universität Stellenbosch

It was great to meet people from different countries and gather new technique as well as knowledge from them. I believe it will have a great positive influence in every person’s individual career by creating a strong network with experienced people from various fields.