Athra Toffar: Shining a silver light on hydroelectric innovation

Athra Toffar, a bright 17-year-old from Cape Town in the Western Cape, took the 2023 Eskom Expo International Science Fair (ISF) by storm with a research project that centres around the design and construction of a hydroelectric turbine.

The Grade 11 Pinelands High School learner’s ISF journey culminated with the prestigious South African Institute for Civil Engineering (SAICE) Water Engineering Division’s Gold Award, along with a well-deserved cash prize of R7,000.

At the ISF, Toffar’s project in the energy category garnered substantial recognition. Her project centres around the design and construction of a hydroelectric turbine that aims to revolutionise household electricity generation by harnessing the energy of incoming water supply systems.

The spark for Toffar’s innovative project was ignited during the frequent power outages across South Africa. She felt compelled to seek a renewable solution for households to generate independent electricity, eliminating their reliance on conventional power grids. While exploring renewable energy sources, Toffar noted that many power outages depended on specific weather conditions, such as sunlight, strong winds, or rainfall. This limitation drove her to think beyond the weather, and focus on the energy inherent in water supply systems within households. Her idea was to harness this untapped potential for generating electricity.

“Science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) has always been an integral part of my life. Each member of my family has had something to do with STEMI. My brother and father are very interested in engineering, mechanics and physical sciences; while my mother did life sciences in school. I have then developed an interest in those subjects myself. I find enjoyment in challenging myself and trying new things. These sciences allow me to challenge myself,” she said.

Participating in the Eskom Expo was not just an academic pursuit for Toffar. “I enjoyed meeting new people at the ISF and making friends that have similar interests to me. I also enjoyed the experience of going to the Expo,” she said.

Winning awards at the ISF was an overwhelming surprise for Toffar, who was also awarded a Silver medal for her research project. “I was quite surprised at the awards that I received, and I am extremely grateful for them. I appreciate the recognition that myself and my project received after all the hard work that was put into it,” she said.

Toffar enjoys a variety of hobbies that balance her scientific pursuits. Whether it’s creating art, immersing herself in books, getting some much-needed rest, or indulging in the modern pastime of scrolling through TikTok – she knows how to unwind. Spending quality time with her family is also a cherished part of her life.

In the future, Toffar plans to continue her educational journey. “I am still slightly undecided as to what I want to study. It’s a decision between civil- and chemical engineering, and medicine. Although, I am leaning more towards the medical field,” she said.

Toffar is a young scientist with an innate talent for innovation, a thirst for knowledge, and a promising future ahead. Her journey showcases the limitless potential of young minds dedicated to making a positive impact on South Africa, and the world at large.

Registration to take part in Eskom Expo will open on 15 January 2024.


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