Kamau Gachigi – The Engineer

Dr. Kamau Gachigi by Jerry Riley

Dr. Kamau Gachigi by Jerry Riley

Dr. Kamau Gachigi’s desk is littered with little objects that light up, bounce away or chirp loudly when you touch them, but rather than a scene from Animal Planet this is the Nairobi FabLab base on the ground floor of the University of Nairobi’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Gachigi is the Chairman and Coordinator of the University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park. Since 1999 he has been a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the University of Nairobi, where he teaches Materials Science, an interdisciplinary field applying the properties of matter to various areas of science and engineering, to both mechanical and electrical engineering students.

FabLab Nairobi by Jerry Riley

FabLab Nairobi by Jerry Riley

Like many good things, Dr. Gachigi’s interest in matter and all things scientific started in childhood. Helping his father cast moulds of conventional hot combs he found the white hot liquid coming out of the furnace excited him and thus his interest metals was ignited.

They then went on to extract silver from x-ray films. By the time he graduated the sixth form he was sure he wanted to do Chemical Engineering but looking through university catalogues he stumbled across Material Science which seemed, and it evidently is, a perfect fit. In 1996 Dr. Gachigi was awarded a Ph.D. in Solid State Science from Penn State. His doctoral thesis was on antiferroelectric ceramics for electrical energy storage and delivery for capacitor applications, which were subsequently used in the manufacture of a cardiac defibrillator for which he obtained a US patent. His current research interests include: the production of activated carbon from agricultural wastes for use in affordable portable-water filtration systems; the processing of titanium bearing heavy mineral sands; the recycling of waste plastics (in collaboration with the University of Kassel, Germany); and ferroelectric and antiferroelectric materials (in collaboration with Penn State researchers).

FabLab Nairobi by Jerry Riley

FabLab Nairobi by Jerry Riley

FabLabs are a global network of local labs. The Nairobi FabLab serves as a rapid prototyping centre within the Science and Technology Park. A FabLab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop with an array of flexible computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make ‘almost anything’. After ‘almost anything’ has been made, the FabLab provides the tools and skills to ‘make the machines that make almost anything’. Dr. Gachigi hopes that the Nairobi FabLab will serve as “an infrastructure of high-tech business incubators can provide localized manufacturing capacity. . . (with) the potential to release technology-based economic growth for any developing nation or region.” He is optimistic that the FabLab will promote the creation of an atmosphere and culture of innovation and encourage venture incubation in the region. From his base at the University of Nairobi he has founded a student group which is designed to encourage entrepreneurship based on engineering and scientific knowledge among scholars of science and other innovators alike, and to serve as an outreach to high schools and the community, which he intends to develop into a business incubator. Of this he says “new vistas for the future require that taught curricula at schools and universities cease to remain in silos and become far more integrated, in order that future generations are equipped for the type of world we all desire. After all, everything about pedagogy points at people having fun in order to learn.”

Dr. Kamau Gachigi by Daudi Were

Dr. Kamau Gachigi by Daudi Were

Dr. Gachigi’s path however, notwithstanding his broad portfolio of achievements, was not always smooth. His first experience of Kenya upon returning from over ten years living and studying abroad is something he describes as a ‘crash landing’. After waiting a year and a half for a teaching position at JKUAT, which he had been promised, he was then refused the job due to the fact that Materials Science is not considered a distinct discipline among institutions in the region. This let down contributed to the unfortunate breakup of his marriage. The FabLab itself, though blossoming now, was birthed in a process eight years long. All the same Dr. Gachigi considers success to be spiritual and spiritual fulfilment to be the primary indicator of individual accomplishment despite the fact that for a lot of people, money is the apex of success. His commitment to spirituality is evident in his work, especially through his particular interest in the linkages between science and spirituality which he says are evident in our daily experience of matter and its properties. He says, “Matters of spirituality will need to be addressed more boldly by academia, so as to meet the deep yearning evident especially amongst today’s youth everywhere. Materialism does not lead to fulfilment.”

Dr. Kamau Gachigi by Daudi Were

Dr. Kamau Gachigi by Daudi Were

An individual of growing esteem, in 2002 Dr. Gachigi was selected to represent Civil Society as technical expert on national investigative team on titanium mining in South Africa, led by Assistant Minister for Environment and Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai. In the same year he was appointed to Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee a position which he maintains. He is also the patron of the Students Association of Mechanical Engineers (SAME). When asked what he considered to the key markers of a successful life he said,‘It’s like the frogs in the little pond who cannot believe there is a world beyond them . . . what we are created to be, what we are in terms of our total anatomy, and I don’t mean our physical anatomy alone, but especially our spiritual anatomy depending on how we might define that is so phenomenally higher than what we see. That to me is the pinnacle of success.’

About Renee Mboya

Comments

  1. A wonderful artcile on Dr Kamau Gachigi portraying a brilliant mind combined with hiigh integrity and great moral character!

    We need more teachers and examples like him to speak to our young and upcoming generations on learning and idenitfying what really matters in this life!

  2. Kuria Githiora says:

    This is very encouraging to all of us Kenyans and others, at home and abroad who sometimes forget how talented many Kenyans are and how well-respected and most accomplished they continue to be around the world and often much more appreciated/recognized for such brilliance out there than at home. Oh, how times never change in that, a prophet is often never honored at home!

    Daktari Gachigi could by now be making millions elsewhere. Instead, he returned home after his training in the US. Also, informed by his spiritual humility and brilliance along with evidently a very clear vision and well-informed ideas regarding what future he envisions for his motherland, he did a very brilliant thing by securing his globally competitive invention and now his very own Intellectual Property/Patent.

    His wise decision to thereafter invest his talent to train future Kenyan engineers at the University of Nairobi is most laudable.

    Hopefully, many future Kenyan engineers and industrialists from Kenya and beyond will continue learn from Daktari Gachigi’s vision while also benefiting greatly from both his inventions, keen spirituality and engineering ideas to be well-trained, informed and properly balanced global citizens.

    Wishing Daktari Gachigi, an unsung Kenyan hero in my humble view, the very best in his very prestigious yet extremely humble vocation as a teacher!

    Kuria Githiora,
    Seattle, Washington

  3. this is sooooo cool.
    the laboratory has a lot of good stuff!!!

  4. Gituto Chris Ngare says:

    This country needs leaders who focus on the well being of the community/citizens more than their own. This will only be possible through being guided by spirituality and sincere respect for human dignity. Dr Kamau, Continue serving your country through the good work you are doing in research and imparting knowledge to the young.
    The various appointments you have had at your tender age indicates you are doing the right things. Use your humble nature to serve humanity and you shall be raised by the most high.

    Chris Ngare
    Nairobi

  5. I have the privilege of working directly under & with Dr. Kamau Gachigi. He has an infectious positive energy and attitude. He has a strategic vision, deep appreciation for talent and strong advocate for integrity.
    Our company[Fabcom Limited] is a direct result of his effort of linking stakeholders in the ‘tripple helix’.
    As a champion of a national innovation system bringing together government, industry and the learning institutions, he will definitely edge this country closer to Vision 2030.
    Working with him is an awesome experience

    Hats off!

  6. virginia njeru says:

    Dr.Kamau doing an awesome job in mentoring the next generation.his humility is infectious.

  7. Nyakoe George says:

    I had the privilege of listening to Dr Kamau talk on Science Technology and Innovation. It was spellbinding, indeed outstanding. It is one thing to know a topic so well, it is another to explain the topic well enough.
    He is so keen on innovation to such levels that you feel you got to be innovative in your unique field.With engineers like him, Kenya can realize its vision 2030!

  8. Peter Masubo says:

    Dr Gachigi Kamau, I real need to meet with you in personal. I admire your work md ambition. My ne is Peter Masubo a Tanzanian

  9. Kamau Wa Gacheru says:

    Dr Kamau Gachigi you are a Brilliant and Inspirational Teacher, a man of high Intelligence, Vision and Spiritual Awakening. I Wish you and your Students all the very best in your endeavour’s.

    I hope anyone that’s out there, will be able to See, Visualize, and Act with urgency, on these brilliant, life changing and revolutionary ideas that you have Intelligently laid out, Let this be the generation that awakens the sleeping giant, and reaches out to the stars, you have built the pyramids of ideas, information, we can now ascend to the mountain top….. Thank you !

    I truly hope that in a few years time, we will be able to watch and marvel at the dividends of your work, your humility will pay off in gazillion ways!

    Asante Sana !
    Kamau wa Gacheru
    Melbourne, Australia.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daudi Were, Generation Kenya, Godfrey Alindi, Skunkworks Kenya, Generation Kenya and others. Generation Kenya said: Meet Dr. Kamau Gachigi – The Engineer http://fb.me/RcRNm1c0 [...]

  2. [...] Kamau Gachigi believes that it is doable. The coordinator of the University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park says that Kenya can develop economically if a coordinated effort unites government ministries and six national laboratories, seven national universities and the business-industrial sector. The Penn State Ph.D. in solid-state science wrote in an email that such an effort would construct a “triple helix [of interests], the ‘DNA’ for the successful creation of a National Innovation System anywhere in the world.” [...]

  3. [...] Kamau Gachigi believes that it is doable. The coordinator of the University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park says that Kenya can develop economically if a coordinated effort unites government ministries and six national laboratories, seven national universities and the business-industrial sector. The Penn State Ph.D. in solid-state science wrote in an email that such an effort would construct a “triple helix [of interests], the ‘DNA’ for the successful creation of a National Innovation System anywhere in the world.” [...]

  4. […] is the University of Nairobi’s Fab Lab, brainchild and baby of Professor Kamau Gachigi, http://generationkenya.co.ke/kamau-gachigi-the-engineer/ We were lucky enough to get a guided tour of the lab and all the different machines as well as […]

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