As a mechanical engineer specialising in vehicle dynamics (how vehicles move) at the CSIR, Clarke retrofits existing vehicles with weapon systems and mounts that they were not originally designed for, but in a way that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the vehicle.
Anria Clarke has had a glimpse of the grueling life that South African National Defence Force (SANDF) foot soldiers face in the theatre of war. During a visit to a training camp at the South African Army Infantry in Oudtshoorn in 2018, she witnessed the toll that training takes on their bodies, and developed a deep sense of empathy for the people who put their lives on the line to protect South Africa.
“It is a difficult life. I think that we would all be shocked if we knew the sacrifices that our foot soldiers have to make to defend our country.” She says budget cuts at the SANDF mean that foot soldiers increasingly have to make the most of what they have, including weaponised vehicles.
She’s always loved mathematics, physics and design, and the retrofits she undertakes on existing vehicles used by the SANDF, satisfy her curious and creative sides. Before university, she considered a career in astrophysics because of her fascination with the night sky, and she even looked into becoming an interior designer.
“Something that put me off that path was that interior design has a lot to do with taste. And I thought I may end up working on something, and not believing in the project because it’s not to my taste.”
Her father, an electronics engineer, had always encouraged her curious young mind and was always able to explain how things work. So she settled on engineering, graduating from the University of Pretoria in 2009.
She has since further specialised in vehicle suspension. She looks specifically at the physics of additional weight on military vehicles, and also at the comfort and safety of the soldiers who use the system.
“We need to consider the trade-offs in crew capacity and the inclusion of sacrificial components, meaning the parts of the vehicle that will not last as long as originally designed,” she says. “These soldiers keep us safe and I enjoy the opportunity to help them do their jobs and improve their quality of life.”
Clarke’s career highlights include graduating with a distinction for her Master’s in Engineering, and winning the best student paper award at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Advanced Vehicle Technologies conference in 2014.
She says other young women planning a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics should leverage their interest in science and their creativity to take up this rewarding career because they will always be intellectually stimulated in mechanical engineering.
“Don’t let people discourage you by telling you that it is a male-dominated field. It is your life and you have to do what makes you happy!
Current position: CSIR engineer
Career type: Mechanical engineer
Education: Master’s (Engineering), University of Pretoria, 2013.