PhD graduate Dr Frazer Smith’s thesis, Building the African City of the Future Using More Ecologically Sustainable Materials, with a Focus on the use of Recycled Tyre Fibre to “Toughen” Concrete, is the product of a lifelong fascination with materials and a commitment to sustainable innovation.
Smith followed a non-linear path to academia. After completing his National Diploma in Engineering Technology in the United Kingdom, he was sponsored by an engineering plastic injection moulding company and pursued a higher degree in Plastics Technology. In 1980, at just 21 years old, he ventured to South Africa. This marked the beginning of a new chapter filled with adventure and change.
Throughout his career Smith sought new challenges, switching roles every six years from plastics technology to automotive production and even becoming head of automotive anti-corrosion design for Europe for a renowned vehicle manufacturer in the UK. His career path took a significant turn when he entered the sub-sea oil and gas field as a Materials Engineer and later as a Senior Coating Engineer. It was during this period that he pursued his MSc in Advanced Materials at Cranfield University, known for its expertise in aerospace, automotive and sub-sea engineering.
In 2016, Smith returned to South Africa with his wife, Dr Cilel Smith. With the aim of remaining engaged and continuing to contribute to the academic world, he contacted UKZN to explore part-time teaching or student supervision opportunities. Professor Cristina Trois, South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Waste and Climate Change, invited him to join her team as a PhD candidate. This new challenge aligned with Smith’s passion for environmental stewardship and materials science and so the doctoral marathon began.
Reflecting on his research journey, Smith acknowledged the central role played by Trois who was the catalyst for his topic. She challenged his ingenuity and asked him to make a house out of recycled plastic; that adventure eventually led him to focus on modifying concrete using recycled tyre fibre as a performance enhancer. His PhD study provides valuable test data and lays the foundation for future engineering graduates to build on his research, ultimately contributing to the quest for affordable housing in South Africa.
Smith also paid tribute to his co-supervisor Dr Vittorio Tramontin who, in collaboration with Trois, guided him through the transition from the corporate world to academia and helped him navigate the unfamiliar terrain of academic writing.
Finding ways to unwind and replenish one’s energy is an important part of any academic’s journey. With this in mind, Smith started a pottery studio at his home during his PhD studies. This enabled him to share his love of ceramics with others while continuing to explore materials and develop new skills.
Smith’s journey is a testament to the power of curiosity and the pursuit of meaningful change. His research offers a glimpse into a greener, more sustainable future for the African city of tomorrow.
Words: Cikizwa Gwambe
Photograph: Sethu Dlamini