IN CONVERSATION WITH Prof Edson Leroy Meyer – C-Rated Researcher

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Innovation manifests where excellence, commitment and opportunity converge!

Professor Edson Leroy Meyer is the Director of the Fort Hare Institute of Technology (FHIT) and a Full Professor in the Faculty of Science and Agriculture.

He began his academic career at a farm school in Pearston, Eastern Cape and obtained his PhD in Physics at the then University of Port Elizabeth, now Nelson Mandela University (NMU). With a second major in Applied Mathematics and postgraduate research in semiconductor physics, he has placed himself strategically to access the sphere of research and development in renewable energy.

Prof Meyer joined the University of Fort Hare in 2002 as a Senior Lecturer in the Physics Department, where he would later become the Head of the Department.  Since his appointment as the FHIT Director 15 years ago, he has managed to turn the Institute into an entity with a vibrant research culture of new knowledge creation in energy-related fields.

As a C-rated researcher, Prof Meyer is actively conducting research into solar energy, bio energy and smart energy systems, culminating in sustainable development in real life.

This Week @FortHare asked some questions to find out more about Prof Meyer, his innovative research and remarkable career that spans over two decades.

What are your research interests?

My research interest has always been guided by real global, grand challenges of which, water, energy and food (WEF) take centre stage.  With my particular skill set, energy in general and renewable energy in particular, constitute my focus where I believe I can make a useful contribution.  That being said, energy is not isolated from the WEF-nexus.  Our collaborative research initiatives with the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR), Water Research Commission (WRC) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) emphasize the necessary link between these challenges in order to reach sustainable development.

What are your most significant research accomplishments?

When I assumed the role of Director - FHIT in 2005, research and development were non-existent.  Currently, every year we consistently have around 20 vibrant postgraduate students with a healthy graduation rate.  At the beginning, the Institute’s facilities were scarce and students had to be sent to national laboratories to conduct measurements.  To date, we have established indoor facilities, most notably, our R7.7 million confocal Raman and Atomic Force Microscope and a SolarWatt Park outdoor test site.

What have been your main achievements?

Through my research activities I have received technology awards from the Department of Trade and Industry in the categories of Social Development (2007) and Technology Transfer (2012). 

I have also received the University of Fort Hare Vice Chancellor’s Medal for Emerging Researcher (2006) and Medal for Senior Researcher (2016), in recognition of sustained research and scholarly achievements that reflect quality and excellence.

I started off as a Y-rated researcher by the NRF (2009) and upgraded to C-rated scientist, effective January 2012 to December 2024. 

My research networks are through various national and international forums and I have also served as non-executive director on the Boards of the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), and the Digitization and Refurbishment Institute of South Africa (DRISA).

How do you ensure that innovative research remains core to your activities?

Establishing an enabling environment through state-of-the-art facilities, excellent researchers, postgraduate students and technical staff, is the first step in ensuring that innovation is even possible.  The support of the UFH management is obviously crucial to this. 

The second step is to approach any challenge or research question through a multi -and- interdisciplinary approach. For instance, using biochemistry to solve an age-old physics problem is where I want our researchers and students to dwell.  After all, innovation manifests where excellence, commitment and opportunity converge. 

What advice would you give young researchers out there?

Always listen to the opinion, views and suggestions of others: Without prejudice and with respect.  If you are not willing to do so, you have sufficient knowledge and are in the wrong environment.

Respect is earned, but so is disrespect.

As intellectuals, it is our individual and collective duty to improve the quality of lives of all.  Neglecting this is tantamount to dereliction of duty.  Once you see this duty as an honour, you are well on your way to contributing meaningfully and successfully in life.