Success is the most important part of our life. This is true for Siyabulela Xuza, South Africa’s youngest innovator. Siyabulela (Siya) Xuza is an energy-engineering Harvard University graduate with a passion for harnessing the power of the sun for clean affordable energy. He conducted research geared towards 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.”
A born innovator, Siyabulela Xuza began experimenting with rocket fuels in his mother’s kitchen. This passion 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 an award for the most prestigious project in South Africa. This led to an invitation 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 1 500 students from 52 countries – the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in the US. He won the two grand awards. His credibility 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 found in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter.
In 2010, he was awarded a 2010 Fellowship to the African Leadership Network, the premier, invitation-only community of the most dynamic and influential leaders in Africa. In 2011, he served as the youngest member of the African Union-affiliated Africa 2.0 Energy Advisory Panel and was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Global Shaper.
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 was invited 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.
Siya has also conducted research at the Harvard Center for Nanoscale Systems and the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories on micro fuel cells – distributed energy that could be used to power remote and rural areas. In 2013, his ground-breaking work on micro fuel cells was published in the Journal of Electroceramics.
Xuza’s work has been also publicly recognized by the US First Lady Michelle Obama, who described Siya and President Barack Obama as “living proof of what the legendary President Nelson Mandela once said: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.