UP researcher awarded Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future fellowship

Posted on June 21, 2024

Chemical engineering PhD candidate Hilda Dinah Kyomuhimbo has received the Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future fellowship for her research which seeks to reduce pollution related to industrial effluents.

Hilda Dinah Kyomuhimbo, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, has been awarded the Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future award for her doctoral research.

The Faculty for the Future fellowship is awarded to women from developing and emerging economies to pursue PhD or postdoctoral research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields at leading universities worldwide. Eligibility criteria include the candidate holding an excellent academic record, demonstrating leadership skills, being involved in community outreach activities, and having a track record in encouraging girls and women into STEM fields.

Kyomuhimbo’s research project, which is under the supervision of Professor Hendrik Brink, incorporates nanocomposites with desirable properties to enhance the applicability of the laccase enzyme to treat effluents from industries – especially the textile, pharmaceutical and paper industries – to reduce pollution. Her research will focus on the immobilisation of the laccase enzyme on metal and metal oxide nanoparticle polymer composite beads for its application in biosensors and pollutant remediation.

“My study aims to improve the lifespan and reusability of the laccase enzyme by attaching it to composites of metal and metal oxide nanoparticles and polymers,” she explains.

Laccase is a popular enzyme in degrading organic pollutants, Kyomuhimbo says, but it is limited by its poor stability and non-reusability. Incorporating nanocomposites with desirable properties will enhance the applicability of the enzyme in environmentally relevant conditions. The improved enzyme can then be used to treat effluents in industrial wastewater, thereby minimising pollution.

“It will also be incorporated on a biosensor electrode to detect organic pollutants in freshwater systems such as rivers,” she adds.

Kyomuhimbo describes receiving this fellowship as a great delight as it alleviated the financial burden on her education and allowed her to focus more on her studies.

“It also means my hard work has not gone unnoticed,” she says. “The fellowship comes with mentorship and networking opportunities through conferences and with other fellows, which are invaluable opportunities for collaboration and my career growth.”

Kyomuhimbo, who completed her undergraduate studies at Makerere University in Uganda and her master’s at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, chose to pursue her doctoral studies at UP because the Department of Chemical Engineering is ranked among the best in Africa, with notable researchers of profound expertise.

“They have well-equipped laboratories that provide a conducive research environment,” she says.

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