Approximately 24 000 people are killed by lightning strikes every year, a Wits University research project wants to reduce that number.

The Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering (EIE) has received R500 000 from Dehn Africa to spearhead a lightning protection research project. 

Dehn Africa is a South African company that produces and installs electrical and lightning protection systems.  

Senior lecturer at EIE, Dr Hugh Hunt, told Wits Vuvuzela that: “More than 250 people are killed by lightning in South Africa per year and thousands injured. This number is at 24 000 people worldwide every year.” Places that are more susceptible to lightning are Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal because of their high ground flash density.  

Hunt says, “Improved lightning research means improving lightning protection and this is good economically and improves human safety. 

According to Dr Carina Schumann, lecturer at EIE and part of the team to lead the project, Johannesburg is ideal for the project due to its high ground flash density and tall towers. Two of those tall towers are the Sentech and the Telkom towers. 

The money will be used for developing the Johannesburg Lightning Research Laboratory (JLRL) capabilities at Wits, by installing a second Dehn-detect on the Telkom tower and will award bursaries to masters and PhD students to work in lightning protection research and human development.

Jason Smit (26) a master’s student in EIE told Wits Vuvuzela that: It is quite exciting being part of this renewed interest in the lightning field. This is work that will have a direct impact on lightning protection standards. The work is also very hands on which has been a blessing during covid-19. I have been to Sentech tower and during the thunderstorm season, I was manning highspeed cameras. 

Hunt says JLRL is working on a research collaboration with Dr Marcelo Saba to install a lightning measurement at the Senate House building at Wits. This is to investigate the attachment process of lightning, which will give insight into why lightning strikes in one place but not others. 


FEATURED IMAGE: Two Wits students walking into the Chamber of Mines building at Wits University. Photo: File.