Women in Science awards of 2012, University of Pretoria

Distinguished Women Scientists

Winners: Physical and Engineering Sciences

First runner-up: Prof. Riana Bornman
Prof. Riana Bornman completed her degree in medicine at the University of Pretoria (UP) in 1973, a DSc at UP in 1983 and an MD at the former University of the Orange Free State in 1987.

She is currently Extraordinary Professor in Andrology in the Department of Urology at the Faculty of Health Sciences at UP. From basic scientific research in human male reproductive health, her interest extended to animals and wildlife as biosentinel species to define the sequelae of environmental pollution and ultimately come up with strategies to mitigate human health problems.

Since 2002, her public health focus has been on health effects in malarial areas where insecticides, including DDT (a known endocrine disrupter and toxicant), are applied for mosquito vector control with inadvertent exposure of humans and the environment. She has done extensive research in communities of the Vhembe district of Limpopo, using local VhaVenda women for training, recruitment and data collection.

She is an NRF C1-rated researcher, a member of the UP Centre for Sustainable Malaria Vector Control and served on several World Health Organisation (WHO) committees. Findings on the various routes of DDT uptake after spraying were incorporated in the WHO DDT Health Risk Assessment (2011). She has compiled various reports for the Water Research Commission on endocrine disrupters, DDT and human and environmental health effects.

She has published in more than 114 local and international peer-reviewed journals and has presented her work at many local and international conferences.

For more information, see http://mg.co.za/article/2012-08-29-winners-physical-and-engineering-sciences

Distinguished Women Scientists

Winners: Social Sciences and Humanities

First runner-up: Prof. Liesel Ebersöhn
Prof. Liesel Ebersöhn obtained her PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Pretoria in 2000. She is director of the Unit for Education Research in Aids and professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Pretoria.

Prof. Ebersöhn is known for her work on resilience in scarce-resource and high-need education settings. She serves on the council of the World Education Research Association (WERA) and was nominated to co-chair the WERA Task Force on Poverty and Education.

Prof. Ebersöhn is the editor of the South African Journal of Education and a past president of the Education Association of South Africa. Prof. Ebersöhn has authored and co-authored 44 articles in various refereed journals. She has been co-author, editor or co-editor of five books and 11 book chapters. Of the 53 postgraduate students she has supervised to completion, many are now scholars at higher education institutions.

Her projects have led to an understanding of how resilience, as opposed to pathology, is an alternative social response to adversity. Her collaborative knowledge generation has had a decided impact on curricula for teacher training.

Since 2003, scores of in-service distance education students have, based on her doctoral research, gained knowledge to view children from a strengthsbased and coping perspective.

Based on research under her mentorship, pre-service teacher education students become equipped to understand their contribution to promoting kaleidoscopic wellness in resource-scarce and HIV-challenged schools, rather than being focused on the microscopic pathology of Aids, poverty and aligned adversities. Prof. Ebersöhn currently holds an NRF C-rating.

For more information, see http://mg.co.za/article/2012-08-29-distinguished-women-scientists

Women in Science: DST Fellowships

Master's Studies

Sindisiwe Nondaba
Sindisiwe Nondaba is a first year MSc student at the University of Pretoria, under the supervision of Professor Debra Meyer.

Her field of study is biotechnology with specialisation in biochemistry. She is conducting research in the area of HIV/Aids, mainly on HIV-1 subtype C because it is the dominant subtype in South Africa and accounts for most of the global HIV-1 epidemic. Her project entails investigating host and virus-derived synthetic peptides to ascertain their potential as therapeutic tools.

The HIV research group has a unique approach to HIV/Aids research and education; involving multidisciplinary collaborations and the use of a combination of biochemistry, analytical chemistry and physics to get more reproducible data.

Preliminary data produced by Nondaba suggests an association between disease progression and the presence of antibodies elicited to the aforementioned synthetic peptides, early in infection. Her work has also shown that the peptides are not toxic to cells.

Although it is still early, Nondaba has already made progress towards achieving the objectives of her study. It is possible that data from this project may necessitate that we consider re-evaluating and expanding current HIV diagnostic and prognostic technology in favour of methodologies that provide more information on disease status.

Following completion of an MSc, Nondaba wishes to pursue a doctorate in biotechnology and aspires to be one of the top female scientists in this country.

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