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The Discipline of Mechanical Engineering has been boosted by the acquisition of alumnus and former research leader at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Professor Glen Snedden.

A specialist in gas turbines, Snedden is recognised nationally and internationally for his expertise, and joins not only the Discipline of Mechanical Engineering, but also the management team of UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG).

Inspired by aerospace and aeronautical engineering from boyhood, tales about World War 2 Spitfires led Snedden to investigate the work of Spitfire designer RJ Michell, inventor of the gas turbine engine Frank Whittle, and Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb and other innovations.

Matriculating from Westville Boys’ High School in Durban, Snedden enrolled at the then University of Natal to study Mechanical Engineering, getting involved in any course which would take him closer to aircraft even when a future in aeronautical engineering in South Africa seemed uncertain. He went on to complete his master’s degree at the University under the supervision of Professor Jeff Bindon and Professor Graham Smith.

Snedden was at the CSIR for almost 25 years working on a variety of South African Air Force aircraft engines and ran the transonic wind tunnel before managing his own research groups. He completed a PhD through Durham University in England while working.

At the CSIR, Snedden focused mainly on military projects, working with major programmes and companies that included the Société Nationale d’études et de Construction de Moteurs d’Aviation (SNECMA), Klimov and Rolls Royce, and served as the national representative on behalf of the local division of the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAS) to the International Society of Air Breathing Engines (ISABE). He also worked on major European Union-funded programmes on gas turbine technology, contributing to the development of modern airline engines.

Snedden is a past president and current member of the Council of the Aeronautical Society of South Africa, he serves on the committee of the International Society of Air Breathing Engines (ISABE), is a Fellow of the RAS and was recently appointed to the Editorial Board of the RAS’s Aeronautical Journal, the oldest aeronautical journal still in publication.

His work at the CSIR included developing research programmes with several universities on gas turbines, turbopumps, compressor design, heat transfer, materials and other turbomachinery-related topics. Snedden lectured and supervised students at the University of Johannesburg, the University of Pretoria and the Tshwane University of Technology.

When CSIR funding models for these research programmes tapered off, Snedden realised the value of his work with universities, and decided to join UKZN.

Grateful for the strengths of the Discipline and research group he has joined at UKZN, Snedden aims to work with colleagues to develop South Africa’s first liquid-fuelled rocket, and is channelling his turbomachinery knowledge into turbopumps. He is also working with local companies on developing more efficient mine ventilation fans.

Snedden is currently exploring opportunities to work on applications for the gas turbines he is passionate about, for example in military applications and for emergency power generation and recreational uses. Projects using micro gas turbines are, he says, an ideal vehicle to train students to contribute to innovations in major global companies.

‘The aerospace industry has been seen as a strong growth industry that spills technology over into other sectors, and while COVID-19 may have set this sector back, the space industry is currently going through a boom, led by Space X. It is my hope that it will be UKZN and the AsReG team that puts South Africa on the map in these areas,’ he added.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied