From Eskom Expo participant to University of Pretoria professor

It was a rare snow day in Johannesburg in 1981 when a young Walter Meyer first had an opportunity to exhibit his research project at Expo for Young Scientists.

The Expo was held at the Johannesburg College of Education at the time, and Meyer who was in grade 7, was awarded a gold medal for his first attempt at a research project.

“I remember the joy of finding students with similar interests and judges that showed genuine interest in our projects,” says Meyer, who is now a professor in the Physics Department at University of Pretoria.

Prof Meyer had been introduced to Expo for Young Scientists by the late Prof Lötz Strauss, who became one of the founding members of the Expo, when Dr Derek Gray first put together a small committee to launch his vision for youth science in South Africa  in 1980. The aim of Expo was to produce opportunities for gifted scientists and engineers to grow their passion for the sciences and realise their full potential – while still in the school system.

Prof Meyer has always been fascinated by electricity. When he was five years old, his father gave him some batteries and light bulbs to play with, and he was hooked. A few years later, he bought an electronics magazine in a bookshop and this started his interest in electronics.

“During my school career, I participated in most of the Expos with projects ranging from physics, to electronics to computer science,” says Prof Meyer.

“At university, I decided to study a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in the field of physics, as I had a broad range of interests and wanted to understand the fundamental principles behind phenomena. The beauty of physics is to me that, when the basic principles of physics are combined with the power of mathematics, one can describe and understand so much of nature. It is amazing that these relatively simple rules underpin everything from chemical reactions to complex biological systems,” adds Prof Meyer.

Having enjoyed his experience studying towards a BSc majoring in physics, mathematics and chemistry, Prof Meyer then obtained a BSc Honours, Master of Science (MSc) and finally, in 2007, his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in physics, all at the University of Pretoria.

“I realised that I enjoyed teaching as much as I did research – while studying – and therefore, took up a position as lecturer at the University of Pretoria,” he says.

While currently teaching physics from first year to honours level, Prof Meyer is also a supervisor to MSc and PhD students. His main research interest is the behaviour of defects in semiconductors which he investigates, both experimentally and theoretically.

“These defects may be intentionally induced in order to enhance device properties or unintentionally, e.g. due to radiation in space. The results of my research could be used to make electronic devices such as cell phones, computers and satellites more efficient, faster and more reliable,” he says.

Prof Meyer, who is an avid jogger and cyclist, is currently serving on the Expo for Young Scientists Board of Directors, representing the Dr Derek Gray family. He says: “I see this as an opportunity to support Expo so that more students can share the opportunities I had as a participant”.

“I have adjudicated for Expo since the 1990s, at first only at the Northern Gauteng regional science fair, but later also at the Expo’s International Science Fair (ISF). I enjoy engaging with participants, discussing their projects and listening to their ideas. I also like to give guidance to participants discussing how they can expand their projects and make further discoveries,” he concludes.

Registration to take part in Eskom Expo is open. Register and upload your project by clicking here.

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