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Invest in education, says NASA scientist

- Buhle Zuma

Dr Meyya Meyyappan, Chief Scientist for Exploration Technology NASA receives honorary Doctor of Science.

A NASA scientist has emphasised the role of education and the development of people as being key to growing South Africa. Dr Meyya Meyyappan has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Wits University

Some of the world’s most successful countries have built their economies with fewer resources compared to South Africa, says Dr Meyya Meyyappan, Chief Scientist for Exploration Technology at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Centre.

Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea are among the world’s leading economies despite having limited natural resources. This growth has largely been fuelled by the investment in education made by the respective countries, thus unlocking their most valuable assets. 

“South Africa is blessed with natural resources, imagine combining the talents of the people and the natural resources – only the sky is the limit. The natural resources are already here, what is required is to develop the talent through education.”

Meyyappan was speaking at Wits shortly after receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University during the graduation ceremony of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. The ceremony was held on Thursaday, 02 April 2015.

Addressing a hall full of graduates and guests, Meyyappan urged the students to study further and urged them to keep in mind their families, communities and South Africa throughout their careers.

Meyyappan is an internationally recognised researcher and pioneer in the field of nanotechnology. He was responsible for the first and only nanotechnology product to be flown to outer space aboard a satellite when the Navy tested the nanochemical sensors from his group in 2007. Later this sensor was used for crew cabin air quality monitoring in the International Space Station.

The honorary Doctor of Science degree bestowed upon him by the University recognises his technical excellence, leadership in this area and educational contributions.

In his acceptance speech, the multiple awarded scientist who has received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal and the Engineer of the Year Award by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has described the Wits recognition as an “extraordinary honour. I am really humbled and delighted to be joining the Wits family today.”

To listen to his speech click here.

Although many graduates are eager to land a career in big businesses, Meyyappan called on the Witsies to be entrepreneurial in their thinking and emulate the likes of Elon Musk, a successful South African-born entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor, whom he credited for his efforts in revolutionising access to space