Professor shares love of math and wine

By Chelsea Bailey, Staff Writer —

Heading for retirement in the next few years, Dr. Lucas Van der Merwe has accomplished quite a bit in his career both in mathematics and agriculture.

Dr. Van der Merwe called South Africa home until 1983 when he immigrated to the United States with his father.

“We had a great farm, so I went down to an agricultural college close to Cape Town, and  I got my degree in viticulture and pomology,” said Dr. Van der Merwe. “Viticulture is the study of grapes, and pomology is the study of stuff like apples and pears – those types of fruit. I studied some winemaking as well.”

He and his father held patents on some agricultural equipment which a company in the United States was interested in, so they brought them over to work.

As expecting for anyone entering into a new culture, the transition to another country was difficult at first for Dr. Van der Merwe.

“Well it was kind of a culture shock in the beginning,” said Dr. Van der Merwe. “This was when apartheid was still a part of the politics of South Africa. I grew up in that era. You know, if you grow up in a certain environment, you think that’s normal. You just accept things as being normal. That’s one thing I realized when I moved here – that that was not normal.”

Agriculture was not Dr. Van der Merwe’s only passion. He graduated from the University of South Africa with a Ph.D in Mathematics, which proved useful as he pursued a career as a mathematics professor.  

He started out at Northeast State Community College for a few years but wanted to move to a university where he could further his research. In his sixteen years at UTC, he has published approximately 40 papers and is currently working on a problem that has been open since the 1960s.

In his down time, Dr. Van der Merwe enjoys cooking for he and his wife of 26 years.

“Well I make a bread every week, and with my wife working, I make one pretty much one big cooked meal, and we eat on that forever. You know, like squash, rice, and mashed potatoes with a chicken in the oven.”

He also, of course, is a lover of wine. He recommends buying boxed wine, specifically Black Box, because of its cost efficiency and lasting freshness. He does, however, limit himself to two glasses a night.

“I don’t drink until seven o’clock at night. That’s my rule,” said Dr. Van der Merwe. “The thing is, usually I try not to drink more than two glasses of wine because if I drink three, I have a headache the next day, and I don’t like to have a headache, so I only drink two. If I start at six o’clock, then that glass is finished by seven, then I drink another one which will be finished by eight, and I feel like I have to have another one, so that’s why I wait until seven.”

While travel isn’t his first priority, Dr. Van der Merwe looks forward to visiting his son in Switzerland in June to spend time with his granddaughter, Vittoria, and daughter-in-law, who is currently expecting.

After retirement, he hopes to visit them much more often, as well as explore more of the United States.

“America is so big, and there are so many places to see here that you can get in your car and travel two or three weeks. Probably going to do that and drink a lot of wine.”

Dr. Van der Merwe is known for his humor and willingness to help students succeed in his classes. Math lovers are encouraged to take a class or two with him before he begins his life as a wine-sipping retiree.

Grace Stafford

Assistant Features Editor

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