South African women are making waves in science and technology, and now Dr Catherine Luyt joins their ranks.
The 30-year-old Played her Part by developing a ground-breaking modification to a water-testing kit that detects contaminants such as faecal bacteria, all while still a student at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape, in 2013.
The idiot-proof kit, which cost the Rhodes University’s pharmacy department R5 to put together, is made from basic school science laboratory chemicals.
Luyt worked laboriously for several weeks to make changes to an existing water testing kit, developed by Dr Roman Tandlich, a senior lecturer in the university’s Faculty of Pharmacy.
She says, “It started out as an idea to develop or modify an existing test that helps the ordinary person to identify contaminated water,” adding that the kit will make it possible for local authorities and residents to gauge water quality and pinpoint problem supply areas once it is available on the market.
During modifications, Luyt added extra chemicals to the test to increase its selectivity and decrease the false positive results. False positives occur when testing methods are error-prone.
Once available on the market, Luyt believes the kit will make water testing possible, especially in rural and remote areas where there are no certified laboratories.
Testing water using the kit is straightforward; residents fill tap water in a container with the test chemicals and if the water contains bacteria it will turn black within three days.
However, the test will not identify specific bacteria in the water, but it will alert the local authorities to test the tap water in affected areas, isolate supply line breaks and measure the spread of contamination.
Rhodes University and some schools are using the test to raise awareness and understanding of hygiene and water.
Luyt, born on 20 December 1984 in East London, says her parents, who are teachers, urged her to follow her passion for science.
For young people, and especially women, she is an inspiration, showing how science affects day-to-day life. She says, “If you put your mind to it nothing is impossible to achieve. You just have to work hard and remember that you develop all the skills needed at school.”
She emphasised the importance of finding friends with similar interests and who would have a good influence on each other; “It’s always more fun to do things with others.”
She adds, “Science is very important in society, but not everyone needs to be a scientist to use it or see how things are improved by it.”
Luyt loves teaching school children maths and science in her spare time; she graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy in 2008 and a PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry from Rhodes University in 2013 after upgrading from a Masters.