Scientific careers in the energy and water sectors.

Celebrating STEM Careers: National Science Week 2021

National Science Week is an annual celebration of science, engineering and technology and is led by the Department of Science and Innovation Various stakeholders, role players and interest groups conduct activities that promote awareness of the value of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in people’s daily lives.

Science, through research, has a crucial role to play in the growth of South Africa’s economy. Active dialogue and engagement between science and society ensures that scientific research findings are easily translated into relevant, appropriate and beneficial innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities. Research findings should also have an impact on policy and social conditions in a country. This can only be achieved when science becomes a daily dialogue and discourse.

The South Africa Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) is a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF) with the mandate to advance public awareness, appreciation and engagement of science, engineering, innovation and technology in South Africa.

Mzansi for Science is a movement to get all South Africans to use Science, Technology and Innovation

The energy and water sectors rely heavily on a wide variety of careers where maths and science are required. To celebrate National Science Week, the EWSETA is placing focus on a couple of key careers in the sectors we serve.

Science Career: Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is an engineering discipline concerned with the study, design and application of equipment, devices and systems which use electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. It emerged as an identifiable occupation in the latter half of the 19th century after commercialisation of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electrical power generation, distribution and use.

Electrical engineering is now divided into a wide range of different fields, including computer engineeringsystems engineeringpower engineeringtelecommunicationsradio-frequency engineeringsignal processinginstrumentationelectronics, and optics and photonics. Many of these disciplines overlap with other engineering branches, spanning a huge number of specialisations including hardware engineering, power electronics, electromagnetics and waves, microwave engineeringnanotechnologyelectrochemistry, renewable energies, mechatronics, and electrical materials science.

Electrical engineers typically hold a degree in electrical engineering or electronic engineering. Practising engineers may have professional certification and be members of a professional body or an international standards organisation.

Electrical engineers work in a wide range of industries and the skills required are likewise variable. These range from circuit theory to the management skills of a project manager. The tools and equipment that an individual engineer may need are similarly variable, ranging from a simple voltmeter to sophisticated design and manufacturing software.

Science Career: Water Treatment Professional

It takes a lot of work to get water from natural sources (reservoirs, streams, and groundwater) into our taps. Similarly, it is a complicated process to convert the wastewater in our drains and sewers into a form that is safe to release into the environment. A water treatment plant operator runs the equipment, controls the processes, and monitors the plants that treat the water.

The specific duties of water treatment plant operators depend on the type and size of the plant. Water treatment plant operators typically do the following:

  • Add chemicals, such as ammonia, chlorine, or lime, to disinfect water or other liquids
  • Inspect equipment on a regular basis
  • Monitor operating conditions, meters, and gauges
  • Collect and test water and sewage samples
  • Record meter and gauge readings, and operational data
  • Operate equipment to purify and clarify water, or to process or dispose of sewage
  • Clean and maintain equipment, tanks, filter beds, and other work areas
  • Stay current on environmental laws and regulations
  • Ensure safety standards are met

Science Career: Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including public works such as roads, bridges, canals, dams, airports, sewerage systems, pipelines, structural components of buildings, and railways.

Civil engineering is the application of physical and scientific principles for solving the problems of society, and its history is intricately linked to advances in the understanding  of physics and mathematics throughout history. Because civil engineering is a broad profession, including several specialized sub-disciplines, its history is linked to knowledge of structures, materials science, geography, geologysoilshydrologyenvironmental sciencemechanicsproject management, and other fields.

On a ‘day-to-day’ basis, a Civil Engineer would ‘typically’ be responsible for the following functions:

  • Analyse landscape, potential risks, opportunities, and barriers
  • Draft blueprints and possible alternatives to reduce risk
  • Evaluate timeline, budget, resources, and labour needed
  • Test the soil, materials, and land for stable foundations
  • Develop blueprints and prototype models for the project or building
  • Manage repairs and maintenance for damage and aging structures
  • Utilise software to model possibilities and dimensions
  • Calculate resource needs, size, and length for maximum structural security
  • Brainstorm regional challenges that could damage the structure and how to avoid them
  • Propose plans to client and management, then adjust them based on their feedback
  • Manage teams that build the structure to make sure all skill sets are available

Science Career: Hydrogeology

Hydrogeology (hydro- meaning water, and -geology meaning the study of the Earth) is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth’s crust (commonly in aquifers). The terms groundwater hydrology, geohydrology, and hydrogeology are often used interchangeably.

Groundwater engineering, another name for hydrogeology, is a branch of engineering which is concerned with groundwater movement and design of wells, pumps, and drains. The main concerns in groundwater engineering include groundwater contamination, conservation of supplies, and water quality.

Wells are constructed for use in developing nations, as well as for use in developed nations in places which are not connected to a city water system. Wells must be designed and maintained to uphold the integrity of the aquifer, and to prevent contaminants from reaching the groundwater.

Hydrogeology is an interdisciplinary subject; it can be difficult to account fully for the chemicalphysicalbiological and even legal interactions between soilwaternature and society. The study of the interaction between groundwater movement and geology can be quite complex.

Groundwater does not always follow the surface topography; groundwater follows pressure gradients (flow from high pressure to low), often through fractures and conduits in circuitous paths. Taking into account the interplay of the different facets of a multi-component system often requires knowledge in several diverse fields at both the experimental and theoretical levels.

Science Career: Hydrobiology

Hydrobiology is the science of life and life processes in water. Much of modern hydrobiology can be viewed as a sub-discipline of ecology but the sphere of hydrobiology includes taxonomy, economic biology, industrial biology, morphologyphysiology etc. The one distinguishing aspect is that all relate to aquatic organisms. Much work is closely related to limnology and can be divided into lotic system ecology (flowing waters) and lentic system ecology (still waters).

Much of the early work of hydrobiologists concentrated on the biological processes utilised in sewage treatment and water purification especially slow sand filters. Other historically important work sought to provide biotic indices for classifying waters according to the biotic communities that they supported.

A hydrobiologist conducts field analysis; identifies, locates and studies plants and living species that affect water; identifies pollutants and nuisances that can affect aquatic fauna and flora. In this role, one would propose solutions to improve the biological quality of water within the framework of the regulations in force and the available means. In the case of complex programs, the hydrobiologist can work in a multidisciplinary team with botanists and zoologists.

A hydrobiologist generally works on behalf of large public institutions of a scientific and technological nature.