Chatting to Dr Robin Kirkpatrick is a revelation – he is that rare breed of scientist with a practical idea of just how easy and cost-effective solutions should be. He has a thorough understanding of the kinds of preventable illnesses that afflict animals and humans from contaminated water, food and preparation facilities.
Robin’s invention – CarboTect – is deceptively simple and something he refers to as “kitchen chemistry”. Place 100ml of water to be tested in a sample bottle; add a sachet of CarboTect powder; shake to dissolve; wait a few minutes for colour change to occur; and check colour against colour chart to determine level of contamination. The degree of colour change and speed at which this occurs indicates how contaminated the water is, or the extent of contamination from the bacteria-rich biofilm footprint. All the ingredients are conventionally used in the water treatment and food processing industry so, once tested, the water can simply be disposed of down the drain. CarboTect is positioned as your quality assurance laboratory in a box: each one contains 10 sample bottles, sachets of reagent (powdered chemicals used for the water analysis) in a resealable, impervious pouch and a reference colour chart. And with instant results comes the ability to make immediate decisions about what to do next: send product out with confidence or hold it back as you check the system and consumer product for contamination. The time it would take for a similar test to be conducted in a laboratory by experts is either significant time lost in production or, worse, product sent out and operations continued on a wing and a prayer.
THE EXPENSIVE AND POTENTIALLY DEVASTATING FALLOUT FROM COMPROMISED FOOD SAFETY WILL RESULT IN PREMATURE PRODUCT SPOILAGE, AND POSES A THREAT TO CONSUMER HEALTH AND BRAND REPUTATION - DR ROBIN KIRKPATRICK
Let’s backtrack to how Robin went from being a vet to becoming an entrepreneur, by way of a career as a scientist. Johannesburg-born and raised, he attended Parktown Boys’ High School. He had a yen to get into veterinary school but his marks weren’t high enough initially, so he studied life sciences at Wits University. Armed with an honours degree in zoology, Robin was accepted at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort, graduating in 1986. Compulsory military service followed and during his stint in the army he completed honours and masters degrees. Oncedemobbed, he started in a small animal practice, but soon went overseas with many of his colleagues to work as a vet locum to pay off his student loans.
When Robin returned to SA in 1990, he joined the Faculty of Veterinary Science within the then-named Medical University of Southern Africa (Medunsa), now called Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU).
There, Robin was involved in the outpatients’ clinics and assisted with introducing primary healthcare to the rural community, doing the basics to maintain animal health. This was an entirely new approach to preventative health, dealing with straightforward challenges like worms and blood diseases.
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