Siyabulela Xuza: Celebrating Black Excellence In Science And Innovation

by Duke Magazine

Siyabulela Xuza is South Africa’s youngest innovator. He is an energy-engineering Harvard University graduate with an avid passion for harnessing the power of the sun for clean affordable energy. He conducted research aimed at making cheaper solar cells and assesses the commercial viability of solar technologies.

Siya says: “I was chasing the roar of a Cessna plane dropping election pamphlets over Mthatha, my South African township. It was 1994, the first year of a new democracy in my country and the sight of that technological marvel ignited in me a curiosity for science and a passion for using technology to engineer an African renaissance.”

The young innovator began experimenting with rocket fuels in his mother’s kitchen. This burning passion later turned into a serious science project that culminated in him developing a cheaper and safer rocket fuel.

Siya’s science project won gold at the National Science Expo and the Dr DerekGray Memorial award for the most prestigious project in South Africa. He was also invited to the International Youth Science Fair in Sweden in 2006, where he presented his project to the King and Queen of Sweden and attended the Nobel prize ceremony in Stockholm. 

His project was then entered into the world’s biggest student science event, attracting about over a thousand students from 52 countries – the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in the US. He won the two grand awards.

Having had much credence, he was further endorsed by the Nasa-affiliated Lincoln Laboratory,which was so impressed by the young engineer’s achievement that it named a minor planet after him. Planet 23182, discovered in 2000, is now known as Siyaxuza and is to found in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter.

In 2010, Siya was elected as a fellow of the African Leadership Network, a premier network of those individuals charged to shape Africa’s future over the next two decades, consisting of the most dynamic, influential and successful leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa and its Diaspora. 

In 2011 he became a fellow of the Kairos Society, a global network of top student and global leaders using entrepreneurship and innovation to solve the world’s greatest challenges. He also got an invitation to the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange in recognition for being one of the world’s emerging business leaders and to offer strategies for solving the world’s energy crisis.

In his statement, the 31-year-old scientist says: “I may not be able to predict what the future holds. But I am excited at how my engineering education will enable me to achieve my aspirations for Africa. My Mother told me that even if a planet is named after you…You should always remain down to earth.”

In recognition of his works, Siya was in 2017 conferred with the Order of Mapungubwe in Silver by President Jacob Zuma. 

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