School of Engineering


Rocket man, Mr Jordan Silver.

Summa Cum Laude Rocket Man is Well Grounded

Knowing how things work and what makes them work has fascinated BSc Mechanical Engineering summa cum laude graduate, Mr Jordan Silver from a young age.

From getting into trouble for disassembling and not really getting the reassembly of precious birthday and Christmas gifts right during his younger years, to spending endless enjoyable hours lending his dad and grandad a hand in the mechanical workshop learning how to work with different types of machinery on the farm, a degree in Mechanical Engineering was his obvious career path.

The second graduate in his family, following in his brother’s footsteps, Silver appreciates the huge achievement this is for himself and his family and is eternally grateful for the sacrifices they made.

‘Getting to where I am now has not been easy,’ said the ex-Westville Boys’ High School learner. Before choosing UKZN, Silver did extensive research on the options at other universities across South Africa and solicited the opinions of friends who were already enrolled on the courses, departments, costs and campus life at the various institutions. His final choice was between the University of Cape Town and UKZN and because of the excellent global rating of the Mechanical Engineering Department at UKZN, value for money and proximity to home, it was his first choice.

Silver remembers the Dean of Engineering, Professor Glen Bright’s welcome address in his first year: ‘Look at the four people around you, because there is a 90% chance that only one out of the five of you will be left at the end of the four years,’ he had said. ‘To think that I am one out of five is indescribable and it is an incredible honour to say that I am not only a graduate and have earned my degree but a graduate Engineering student who completed my studies within the prescribed time.

‘I clearly remember in first year walking out of our exam venue feeling mentally and physically depleted, with an “all I need is 50%’ mindset.”’ Silver describes that test as a humbling experience that gave him a rude awaking that undergrad was no longer high school and that university was a completely different playing field. With some changes in habits and learning patterns he quickly adapted. ‘I worked night and day, often working seven days a week with few hours to spare since the workload was so intense throughout the degree,’ he said. A summa cum laude final pass was his reward.

Silver said the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that his study methodology had to change completely. ‘I am a social and auditory learner. I was fortunate to be able to adapt my learning style but it took months to get used to, resulting in my marks fluctuating across the board and causing some stressful moments,’ he said. Nonetheless, he describes his undergraduate journey as memorable and enjoyable with numerous friendships and extensive knowledge being acquired.

‘For my postgraduate studies, it was again a simple choice of choosing UKZN as not only had I grown roots within the Mechanical Engineering Department, forming relationships with the staff, students, and my future colleagues, but the project I will work on is one-of-a-kind and something that truly intrigues me,’ he said.

For his MSc, Silver will complete a performance analysis simulation for the Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI) SAFFIRE rocket engine to determine the best method of supplying the rocket propellants to the combustion chamber as well as the most appropriate cooling method for the nozzle and combustion chamber.

‘One of the deciding factors for my master’s was the opportunity to improve my existing skills and knowledge while learning an array of new ones, which will increase my competency, making me a better and more complete engineer as there is always something new to learn,’ he said. ‘Furthermore, the project I will be working on will be part of the SAFFIRE project, an original, prestigious and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I could not pass up.’

With the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution, there has been a dramatic rise in micro and nanosatellite deployment by countries around the globe. South Africa has a well-developed satellite industry but depends on other countries to launch them, which can be costly and is often met with delays. Against this backdrop, the ASRI is pursuing the development of a small satellite launch vehicle (CLV) to provide South Africa with sovereign launch capability. The current focus is CLV’s booster engine – the South African First Integrated Rocket Engine (SAFFIRE). CLV will provide South Africa with an economically sustainable launch service, promoting economic growth and stimulating the local aerospace industry. Silver hopes that his master’s work will impact society directly or indirectly as it will allow ASRI to verify existing SAFFIRE design parameters and findings efficiently and quickly, without extensive manufacturing and testing costs and with a significantly reduced lead time.

‘After completing my master’s, I would love to stay on at the ASRI and hopefully explore becoming a research scientist/engineer,’ he said.

He also has an avid passion for motorsports and Plan B would be to explore a career as an engineer with a motorsports team. Not completely ruling out the possibility of a PhD, he would like to gain some industry experience first.

Academic Leader for Mechanical Engineering, Professor Glen Sneddon said: ‘I’d like to congratulate Jordan on an excellent set of results and narrowly achieving the status of best student in Mechanical Engineering in the face of some tough competition from his peers. Summa cum laude is no mean achievement in Engineering and his success is made sweeter by his decision to stay on and do postgraduate research in the Aerospace Systems Research Institute where we have assembled some of the best young minds in Mechanical Engineering in the country.’

Words: Swastika Maney

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan