Charl van Heerden

PhD student

Charl van Heerden is a computer geek, mountain climber and sportsman. Just call him a multi- talented young South African. Van Heerden was lucky to have three stints as a summer intern at Google. Now 27, he is studying for his PhD in computer engineering at the University of the North West. His first term at Google was in 2007. The following year he was given the chance to work on one of the search engine's most innovative projects � Voice Search in English. But it was only fitting that, as a South African, he also worked on the Afrikaans and isiZulu versions of the application, which is available on smart mobile phones. The application enables users to search for information using speech, instead of typing in their questions. Now back in South Africa, he says the only downside of working in New York was not being able to speak Afrikaans, his home language. Van Heerden has a black belt in karate to prove he is not just another geek. At school he was a chess player, trumpeter and debater. He also achieved excellent academic results � six matric distinctions and an overall average of 97% � an early sign of his brilliance. Now, under the inspiring guidance of his supervisor, Etienne Barnard, at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the organisation that has employed him while funding his PhD, he plans more ambitious projects. He wants to work on developing speech recognition across all 11 South African languages. "People can use their cell-phones, and it would be a great way to give access to information to rural areas,� he says. Despite his office-bound career Van Heerden is a big outdoors fan. He loves road cycling, scuba diving, canoeing and mountain hiking. He's also taken the plunge 16 times � as a skydiver. � Aphiwe Deklerk

Twitter: @cvheerden