NAS Featured scientist: Prof Matthys Dippenaar
Associate Professor: Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology in the Department of Geology
#WorldWaterDay is celebrated annually on 22 March. This year's theme is "Groundwater, making the invisible visible" and the aim is to raise awareness about the importance of water and educate people to conserve it.
Q: Why did you choose to study Geology?
A: On my first day at UP I was going to Civil Engineering but (thank goodness) my marks weren’t good enough. I ended up joining the extended programme in NAS and picked the first option in the yearbook: Aardwetenskappe (Earth Sciences), but finishing in three. It’s wonderful to share this with students.
Q: Why is Geology important?
A: Everything starts with geology, the planet is built on geology and everything on the surface is due to geology. Everything we do - building, drinking water, eating food - requires an understanding of Earth. People should start to realise that Earth will long outlive us and that we are part of our self-induced Sixth Extinction.
Q: Highlights of your career so far?
A: I’ve established myself as an expert on variably saturated ground and the interface between solid, discontinuous, and fluid mechanics, which is a very hard topic.
I’m the creative content editor that creates visual content for all books that provide fully descriptive and explanatory images for all content. This is for a worldwide endeavour to provide free online hydrogeology textbooks Groundwater Project (do check this out: www.gw-project.org).
Science is the foundation of socioeconomic and environmental matters and I’ve moved very deep into this part of hydrogeology and engineering geology and we’ve established a Timbavati Water Forum at the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Station (UP’s campus) to implement groundwater monitoring into the area.
Q: Please give us a glimpse of your most recent research:
A: Our research link changing moisture due to natural and anthropogenic changes to the hydromechanical properties of complex ground. That means that we are busy removing the black box between the land surface and groundwater level (we call it the vadose zone) and understanding how moisture moves in between. We apply this to cemeteries, dewatering, contaminant transport, sinkhole prediction, project life implications, environmental consequence, groundwater protection… the list is endless. We are now getting a new toy (capillary pressure mercury system) that can determine openings in rock to 2.7 nanometers (yes, I’m writing it in words).
Q: Describe a day in the life of Prof Dippenaar.
A: I wake up with my wonderful wife, adopted dogs, and two daughters, after which I teach yoga three mornings per week. I’m productive so manage my work on various things related to my research, supervision, editing, and consulting work during my workday. I finish for my family and spend the rest of the day and weekends with them and their activities.
Q: What qualities does a good scientist need?
A: The first is that we should implement our science to all our stakeholders and we should link our science between them. We need to communicate.
Q: What words/beliefs do you live by?
A: If you are overthinking, write (I draw). If you are overwriting, read (I read every book that I do for the GW project and have never learned so much).
Q: Who is your role model/mentor?
A: My wife, two daughters, friends and family who have supported and carried me, led me to where are I am today.
Q: Do you have any advice for prospective geologists.
A: Like Earth. Drive past the third pack of lions in the road go up Mathekenyane, the granite inselberg. Teach your kids about the landscapes and why you appreciate them so much. That passion overflows in your studies and your work and you become sought after and listened to.