School of Engineering


Engineer Dreams of Improving Perceptions and Use of Water

To commemorate National Science Week and National Women’s Month, UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science is honouring its female scientists through a Wonder Women in Science campaign, highlighting women who are passionate about their fields, pioneering innovative research and development, and being examples to colleagues following in their footsteps on the road towards careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

This week in UKZNdaba Online the spotlight falls on Dr Joy Tuoyo Adu, a lecturer in Civil Engineering and an expert in water quality modelling and wastewater engineering, who dreams of changing the way water is used and preserved for present and future generations.

Adu – a recipient of a Nuffic Award to study at the UNESCO-Institute of Water Education in The Netherlands – focuses her work on water, an essential resource for life and sustenance. Her most recent work is on non-point source pollution in streams and rivers which directly impacts water quality, safety, and availability. Through mathematical modelling and simulations, the movement of this pollution along a natural watercourse is monitored for effective pollution control, treatment, and management.

Adu’s interest in science was sparked by experimenting in the kitchen when she was a child. She tried different combinations of food and realised the reason certain ingredients complemented each other in calculated proportions while others did not, was simply because of the principles of science and mathematics.

‘Everything we do in life is science-based,’ she said.

As a young girl, Adu was inspired by the strength, work ethic, and determination of her mother and grandmother, which encouraged her to aim for a career in engineering to prove the capability of women in a male-dominated field.

Her fascination for buildings, roads and waterworks led her specifically towards civil engineering. On her study journey she learned that mathematics and science were straightforward routes to solving real-world problems.

From a humble background, she hopes to inspire other women in similar positions to beat the odds to achieve their goals – just as she did.

Adu said being a woman in Engineering still had its challenges as women often had to go the extra mile and work harder than their male counterparts to prove their worth. However, acceptance of women in Civil Engineering had improved tremendously.

‘Women generally have unparalleled inner strength,’ said Adu. ‘They are problem-solvers and are passionate about what they set their hearts on. These qualities influence how they tackle and approach issues in science and life.’

She advised aspiring female scientists to persevere and believe in themselves while pursuing their goals through hard work and discipline. Asking questions, she says, is the surest way to gain knowledge.

Adu feels more attention should be given to science education and the training of teachers in mathematics and science in South Africa because of the shortage of educators in these subjects. She suggested introducing incentives for talented young people to pursue careers in these fields.

Adu runs a small tutorial group for budding scientists in the townships during her free time – however, this is temporarily on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She says balancing life and work is exhausting but she manages it through prioritising her commitments, creating a “will do” list to focus her energies on and help her attend to little things that would otherwise perhaps get overlooked.

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting a lot of her field and laboratory work currently, Adu has had to adjust her approach to her research and teaching.

UKZNdaba Online had some fun and laughter with Adu asking her to imagine she was a Civil Engineering Superhero!! These were some of her responses – ‘If I was a superhero:

•    My chosen special power would be the ability to regenerate – not only my cells to help me do more work but also the instant regeneration of water resources and the environment

•    My theme songs would be Way Maker by Sinach and I Look to You by Whitney Houston, songs that reflect my journey in life

•    My go-to gadget would be the Word of God, which has been a source of strength in my life

•    My Avengers team to take on the world would include my twin daughters Moyin and Mosope – both determined goal-getters; my son Mofehinti, who is calm, focused, and intuitive, and also UKZN’s Professor Muthukrishna Kumarasamy – a forceful person who believes nothing is impossible!’

‘In superhero down time you would find me under a tree beside a gently flowing river, working on my “kryptonite” inability to say no!’

See Adu take on the #quarantinemoves challenge, view the striking photos from her photoshoot and discover other Wonder Women In Science on our website:

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Sashlin Girraj