Dr Madeleine Combrinck

Chief engineer: aerodynamics, Flamengro

Dr Madeleine Combrinck is an exceptional engineer who holds the position of chief engineer: aerodynamics at the Armscor research and development division, Flamengro. She has a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Pretoria, specialising in aerodynamics. Combrinck sits on the council of the Aeronautical Engineering Society of South Africa and is a member of the technical committee of the South African Ballistics Organisation.

“Most people who study mechanical engineering do it so they can learn how to put everything they’ve taken apart over the years back together again,” says Combrinck. “From an early age I loved mathematics, science and exploring the world around me. I liked to open things up and see how they worked. No lock or radio was safe!”

When she was at school she took a series of aptitude tests and they recommended she enter a career in the sciences, specifically mechanical engineering. She didn’t even know what that was back then and had no access to the internet, so she turned to Encarta Encyclopaedia. On the first page of an article about mechanical engineering was a photo of people standing around a missile.

“The picture sparked my previous desire to join the military, so I applied for a bursary to study mechanical engineering through the department of defence,” she says. “I then undertook my PhD to deal with the mathematics of objects that are accelerating or decelerating,”

Combrinck hopes to extend her work to applications in flow control research in the transport industry for increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of vehicles such as trains, cars and planes and saving resources.

“My single biggest challenge was mastering my own mind,” she says. “It was hard to stay focused on my PhD when I had so much going on in my life, and studies test your character on so many levels. You have to take control of every thought in your mind and take care of any negative thoughts so you can persevere through all challenges.”

Combrinck advises all youngsters with dreams of engineering in their souls to follow their dreams and not let anyone tell them what they can or cannot do. “If you dream it, you can become it,” she says.

— Tamsin Oxford

Website: http://www.up.ac.za/en/ aerospace-group/article/2119009/ research-students