A Year of Knee Research and Social Outreach in the Rainbow Nation

By Mathieu S. Davis, 2013-2014, South Africa

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Mathieu S. Davis, 2013-2014, South Africa (center), with his Grade R class at Ikaya Primary School in the township of Kayamandi, just outside of Stellenbosch. Every Friday, he would meet with these children to teach them English and play games in collaboration with their classroom teacher. In return, they taught Mathieu Xhosa. Whether it was ‘1-2-3 Red Light’, ‘Duck-Duck-Goose’ or a chaotic game of football (soccer), a great time learning and playing together was had by all.

My Fulbright in Stellenbosch, South Africa, was divided into two primary areas: research and community outreach. The research portion of my fellowship focused on knee replacement implants and the different tribological properties of current materials used in these devices. For this project, I had to build a device that functioned as a pin-on-plate wear tester, which would generate particles over the course of time that could be measured using simple distillation techniques to determine the degree of wear particles produced. My research aimed to determine the most effective combination of materials to limit debris and particle accumulation during extensive wear testing. I also performed additional research in gait analysis as a means of biometric identification. For this project, I had to come up with a novel statistical and repeatable method that could determine through statistical principles, the likelihood that two gait profiles are similar or different. This expertise was utilized by the South African Police Department as a potential identification tool of a crime suspect.

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Mathieu S. Davis, 2013-2014, South Africa (eighth from right, back row), implementing a LEGO Mindstorm after-school program that brought primary school children from around the Stellenbosch area to learn STEM principles, while also engaging with fellow South Africans from various socio-economic backgrounds. Mathieu’s colleagues from his research group served as instructors for the more than 40 children selected from five different schools to participate.

The outreach aspect of my Fulbright U.S. Student grant centered on areas that I have been passionate about over my life: mentorship and teaching. I developed a Lego Mindstorms STEM outreach program for high school students who could utilize it as a means to not only expose them to robotics and other scientific principles, but to also bring together students from different socio-economic backgrounds in the Stellenbosch community to foster understanding. Many of these students are normally limited in their interactions with students from other races or ethnicities. This program will continue to bring together students two to three times a year to help break many of the inhibiting mental bonds that still exist in South Africa. Every week I went to the Lynedoch Elementary school to mentor seventh grade boys on manhood and responsibility, as well as math and science principles. I also went to the Kayamandi Elementary school once a week where I interacted with six- and seven-year-old kindergarteners. I played with the children and also did exercises in English to teach them different principles such as about the weather, foods and animals.

Using my Fulbright in these ways made my experiences fulfilling and worthwhile. Not only was I able to further my research acumen, but I was also able to pursue my passion for mentoring. This led to an overall unforgettable experience. Thank you, Fulbright!

Have questions for Mathieu about his Fulbright experiences in South Africa and as a Fulbright Alumni Ambassador? You can reach him at [email protected].

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