Young scientist gets a helping hand from Eskom


A little over a year ago Hearn Johnson travelled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to compete in the prestigious Intel ISEF science fair. He took along with him, the prosthetic hand he had entered into the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists and a determination to make it big at one of the most prestigious pre-college science fairs in the world.

young-scientist1Former Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor with Hearn Johnson and his award-winning prosthetic hand at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists National Finals in 2011Hearn didn’t disappoint, returning home with a much sought-after third place in the mechanical and electrical engineering category for his prosthetic hand that gives lower-arm amputees bilateral hand function.

Hearn has always dreamt of studying engineering like his father did, and can now pursue it, thanks to a full merit bursary from Eskom to study engineering at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.


Hearn first caught the attention of Eskom at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists National Finals in 2011. This remarkable young scientist spent eleven months to develop and build a functional and reliable prototype of a prosthetic hand that allows lower-arm amputees – especially those who can’t afford expensive prosthetics – to enjoy bilateral hand function.

This mechanical hand has four moveable fingers, an opposable thumb, a moveable wrist,and can pick up a weight of up to 40 kg. His project was exhibited at the Eskom Expo’s National Finals and won a gold medal, an overseas trip and a bursary.

“The Eskom Expo for Young Scientists continues to foster a love for science and technology among South African youth,” said Dr Steve Lennon, Eskom group executive and champion of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. “The competition provides the youth an opportunity to become original and innovative designers of scientific projects, and creates a platform for growth, and serves as a catchment for future scientists, researchers and engineers.”


young-scientist2Johnson spent eleven months to develop and build a functional and reliable prototype of a prosthetic hand (Images: Eskom Expo for Young Scientists)According to Hearn, in order to study further he would have had to get into serious debt, but with all his academic expenses covered by Eskom he can now focus on the job at hand, completing his degree.

Hearn, who matriculated from Hoerskool Drie Riviere in Vereeniging in 2012, is a big fan of the Eskom Expo and believes it is a great breeding ground for young talent in the science fields and that it exposes learners to the exciting opportunities available in the science, technology, engineering, maths and innovation (STEMI) fields.

“The science fair gives you the chance to take what you have learnt at school and apply it in the real world, which is really fun and can be that challenge you really need to inspire you to want to excel in maths, science, biology and other school subjects which will one day be necessary to enter the career of your dreams,” he said.


Hearn has learnt a lot through the Eskom Expo experience but the biggest lesson is the value of hard work, “if you work hard the reward at the end of the road is well worth it. I’ve also learnt to never give up because you can’t only win, there are going to be times when you think you have failed but really you have just found a way not to do something as Thomas Edison once said, and from my personal experience I have learnt a great deal from failure which has helped me to excel”.

Hearn is also honest about the challenges he faced in completing this Eskom Expo project and for him the most rewarding moment came when his project worked for the first time. “It was absolutely unbelievable,” he said. “Being able to sit back and just think that it was just an idea eleven months ago and here it is today working.”

Now Hearn will be applying that same determined attitude to his studies and hopefully he will be able to take his passion for making a difference to brand new heights with an engineering degree from Wits.