Where were you born and bred and, as a student, did you ever think of bringing it this far? I was born in Pretoria and grew up in Schweizer-Reneke. I realised at a young age that I’m different but never thought that I will have the opportunities I have had so far in my professional career.
Tell us more about the US patent, the Cubitainer Spout Support Tool, and its applications. The tool was designed to prevent spills, excessive dead volumes, and contaminations using cubitainers, which contain chemicals/fluids used in medical diagnostic equipment and relevant chemical industries. On the eye, it doesn’t look like much, but the financial benefits are guaranteed.
This is not the first patent/invention to your credit. You also boast the Rain Catcher and the Unified Incubation and Detection System (UIDS) which caught the attention of the media. In short, remind us of these patents and their applications. The Rain Catcher was developed to give people in developing countries, including rural areas, the opportunity to collect rainwater for personal use and, at the same time, prevent cholera from contaminated sources. However, I realised the endless possibilities for its use. What makes the UIDS remarkable is the fact that it allows for blood samples to undergo testing while moving, therefore reducing processing times and allowing for higher throughputs. I also developed dissolvable fish sinkers – an environmental game-changer.
You must be quite proud to have your name attached to these patents . . . I’m proud and truly grateful for the opportunities. The way I grew up has a lot to do with the way I think and the way I process information. We grew up financially challenged and never had the opportunities other children had. Hence, we had to overcome quite some challenges.
You currently work at Siemens Medical Solutions in North Carolina, US. Tell us more about your job title and a typical day in your life? My primary responsibility is to train some of the brightest minds in the fields of Haematology, Haemostasis, Blood Gas, and seldom on kinetic polymerized chain reaction technology. I’m also given the freedom to submit any ideas for challenges we face, be it design changes or new developments, such as my latest invention.
Do you have family there? It’s only myself and my English Bulldog, Frank. I do have an uncle who lives in Houston, Texas.
Before relocating to the USA, you’ve also lived in Germany and Japan. What did you do there and what was the experience like? Living abroad is an opportunity for growth, especially with regards to expanding your knowledge in medical practices and engineering. I did what I do now in Germany, and in Japan, I was the engineering liaison between Sysmex R&D and Siemens R&D while working for the Sysmex Corporation. We developed a new device, called COBRA (Coagulation Breakthrough Analyzer), aka CS-2x00, for which I had several responsibilities to contribute to the success of the design. As an expert, I also contributed to future technology submissions which will hit the market in the next 20 years, or so.
Working abroad made me realise that my tertiary training (at TUT) was definitely an investment and of very high quality.
Has living and working abroad changed your perspective of life? Absolutely. The first time I set foot in a different country was the first time I understood that people could live and work together to achieve the same goals.
What do you miss most about South Africa, and do you plan to return one day? I miss my friends, family, and a proper braai where ambiance is the priority. I know it sounds silly, but I believe South Africa’s cultures, even though very different from one another, focus on quality time with friends and family. I miss sitting next to a fire waiting for the wood to become coals to start grilling.
What are your best memories of your days as a student at TUT? Just being able to study at TUT and having a balanced student life was by far the best. There are way too many to mention but, believe it or not, I don’t miss the examination times because that meant a good time was coming to an end . . . I’m not sure if you ever saw the movie Van Wilder or not, but that was pretty much my life.
What I miss most is the opportunities to “milk” the lecturers’ brains for information and experience. I was fortunate to be the chairperson of the house committee for Electrical Engineering which also gave me a better understanding of the challenges students and lecturers had to face, and the path we walked together to overcome these challenges. You build lifelong relationships which lead to great memories.
What advice do you have for current Engineering students who also aspire to reach the top? Former Springbok, Jannes Labuschagne, who went to the same school (Schweizer-Reneke) as I, told me this: “Live your dreams!”
My motto is “never say I am where I am because of my circumstances but rather say I am where I am regardless of my circumstances.” I grew up relatively poor and realised that the world doesn’t care. I had two choices: Complain or strive to be the best until you are better than you were yesterday. Yes, you will fail, and yes you may want to quit. I know because I was there, several times. But I tried and tried again until I succeeded.
How would you encourage a prospective student to opt for Engineering? Engineering is for problem-solvers, and if you are one, then it’s for you! You will push your brain to the maximum which will make you understand that you can do so much more. As an engineer, YOU get to be the change and lay the foundation for greater things.
The South African media regularly reports on the country’s lack of engineering skills and highlights the ongoing “brain drain” as a serious challenge. While engineering skills are in high demand locally, they are also one of the most exportable skills for those looking for employment in almost any country. Your views? The South African level of practical engineering education is very high, which makes South African engineers a sought-after commodity. I don’t foresee it to change soon, at least not in my lifetime, due to several reasons, such as political instability, the limitation for growth, and the financial opportunities. You can be the best of the best, but you need opportunities to grow.
As such a productive inventor, there are probably more Marthinus Bekker inventions on their way . . . Most definitely. I’m awaiting the finalisation of another patent application at the US Patent Office and am also working on four designs of which one is aimed to assist visually impaired people. Bringing a product to life does take some time and requires investors. Hence, an inventor must be patient, which is like trying to solve a mathematics equation while chewing bubble gum.