South Africa has some of the sharpest minds in the world so it’s no surprise that some inventions used across the globe were invented by South Africans, forever changing the face of medicine, technology, and…pool cleaning?
Sources: MyBroadband.co.za, TheSouthAfrican.com, SouthAfrica.info, LocalisLekker.tv, and PopularMechanics.co.za, Southafrica.net, Youve-earned-it.co.za, Bbc.co.uk, En.wikipedia.org, Thesouthafrican.com, News24.com.
This article was first published Dec. 25, 2013.
Unless you’re an avid scuba diver, it’s unlikely that you wanted to clean the bottom of your pool by hand. Enter the Kreepy Krauly. Invented by South African Ferdinand Chauvier in 1974, it collects dirt from the bottom of the pool automatically as it creeps and crawls its way around. So you can hang up your oxygen tank, Ferdinand’s got you covered on this one.
CT and CAT scans are incredibly important medical imaging processes that use X-rays to take detailed pictures of the body, aiding doctors enormously in diagnosing and treating patients. This technology was invented by Godfrey Hounsfield and Allan McLeod Cormack, South African physicists working at Tufts University in the U.K., in the late 1970s.
Heart transplants were just a far-fetched Frankenstein idea until Dr. Chris Barnard performed the first procedure on Dec. 3, 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa. After receiving a heart-lung machine to work with, he figured that if the body was able to transplant kidneys, the heart would be plausible as well. The recipient? Louis Washkansky, a man suffering from heart failure and willing to take the risk to save his own life and make history. Though the operation was considered a success, Washkansky died from complications following surgery.
Pain relief has been studied for centuries, and many people developed their own methods of alleviating it. But Gervan Lubbe was the first to develop the technology to electronically stimulate the body’s natural nerve impulses to relieve pain with quick pulses. He created Tech Pulse in 1993, and the devices are sold all over the world. They are used by hundreds of thousands of people to relieve pain every day.
Doctors and nurses constantly face hazards in the workplace, but one is more common than others: needle sticks. Being pricked by a stray needle is extremely dangerous, and can lead to the transmission of a multitude of diseases including eepatitis, the Ebola virus, HIV, and more. Perhaps inspired by the prevalence of transmittable diseases in South Africa, the Smartlock safety syringe has made it nearly impossible for medical practitioners to be stuck by needles.
The self-named Pratley Putty was invented by South African engineer George Pratley while looking for a type of glue that could hold together the parts in an electrical box. His special putty technology has been used all over the world, even playing important roles in space travel and the first moon landing.
South African Eric Merrifield created dolosse as a way to protect harbor walls from the erosive crash of the ocean. Thanks to him, almost any waterfront you visit will have these large concrete blocks, each weighing up to 20 tons, lining the shoreline. Their complex geometric shapes help break up wave action and slow erosion.
Solar power used to be attainable only for those with resources, but that changed when Prof. Vivian Alberts created a micro-thin metallic film at the University of Johannesburg. This technology has made solar electricity five times cheaper than the previously used solar photovoltaic cells, making solar power a more affordable and infinitely more environmentally-friendly option than coal.
Biologists everywhere rejoiced when physicist Louis Liebenberg and computer scientist Lindsay Steventon created the Cybertracker in 1996. Used to track animals of all shapes and sizes, it uses a satellite navigational system similar to GPS that allows scientists in the comfort of their labs to keep tabs on tagged animals.
At the Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, Dr. Selig Percy Amolis introduced his masterwork, the retinal cryoprobe. Used to reattach retinas and for advanced cataract surgery, the model soon became widely used, and Amolis received the 1975 Queen’s Award for Technological Innovation. Margaret Thatcher’s cataracts were treated with the cryoprobe, as were Nelson Mandela’s eyes the day after he became president.
Invented in 1992 for a sports-crazy nation by innovator and engineer Henri Johnson, the speed gun was unveiled in 1999 at the Cricket World Cup. Commonly called the EDH Speed Ball, it is used to measure the speed and angle of fast-flying balls, especially those thrown from the bowler’s hand in cricket, or served in tennis matches.
This special lubricant apparently has 20 answers to 20 problems. The old model Volkswagen Beetles had chronic stalling issues in wet weather, and Mr. Robertson (he apparently has no first name) of KwaZulu-Natal, came to save the day with his magical water-repelling liquid. It also prevents rust, lubricates squeaky door hinges, and makes removing stubborn nuts and bolts easier. It’s a South African WD40, if you will.
OK, this is a fun one. In 2001, engineer and avid guitarist Graeme Wells of Cape Town wanted to make silly tin guitars to sell for cheap souvenirs. Using mostly five-liter oil cans and bottle tops, he created guitars that can actually play, unlike most other scrap-metal instruments. Their popularity rose, and top South African jazz musician Jimmy Dludlu incorporated them into his concerts. Even UB40 has bought and used some! Call it the “Afri-can guitar!”
Especially in the developing world, many water-fetchers — often women and children — are forced to struggle lugging giant buckets over their heads or by hand. The Hippo Water Roller was invented by Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, and they won the 1997 South Africa Design for Development Award for their work. The Hippo Water Roller reduces physical effort and increases the amount of transportable water. The 90-liter drum can carry 90 kilograms (198.4 pounds) of water. It has a steel handle that controls the rolling when the drum is pushed or pulled across rough terrain.
Known as a microwave distance-measuring device, the Tellurometer was invented by Durban’s own Dr. Trevor Lloyd Wadley in 1959. Here’s how it works: the Tellurometer spits out an electronic wave, a remote station absorbs and re-sends the wave back in a more complex form, and the distance the waves traveled is measured. It is mostly used to survey rough terrain, especially between mountain tops.
Kimberley, South Africa, was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to integrate electric street lights into its infrastructure on Sept. 2, 1882. Philadelphia was No. 1 in the world, and the only city before Kimberley to employ this new lighting system technology. Kimberley also hosted the first-ever stock exchange for the continent of Africa.
Thankful that you don’t have to worry about losing those paper tickets to the next Arcade Fire concert? Give props to Percy Tucker of Benoni. His Computicket is the world’s first complex computerized reservation system for ticket holders. He wanted to find a way to make theater-going easier for fellow South Africans but had never seen a computer in his life. Minor problem. Tucker’s vision went national in 1971, then soon after international. Who knew?