Professor Mike Wingfield and Professor Josua Meyer of the University of Pretoria (UP) won awards at this year’s National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-South32 Awards.
The awards ceremony was held online last night due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Known as the “Science Oscars” of South Africa, these awards are the most comprehensive and sought-after national awards of their kind in the country. They recognise outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology (SET), as well as innovation by SET-related professionals and organisations. The theme for this year’s awards was Plant Health, in recognition of the 2020 International Year of Plant Health as declared by the United Nations.
Prof Wingfield, founding Director of UP’s Forestry, Agriculture and Biotechnology Institute (FABI) from 1998-2017 and advisor to the UP Executive, won the Special Annual Theme Award: Plant Health. He has spent 35 years doing research on plant health. His focus is on disease and insect pest problems affecting the health of trees and woody plants. “My research has mostly been conducted in a university environment and is therefore closely linked to postgraduate student education, where I have advised or co-advised some 100 PhD students on projects pertaining to plant health,” he said.
Professor Mike Wingfield.
“Receiving the award in the United Nations International Year of Plant Health (IYPH-2020) is particularly gratifying. I have spent my entire career working as a plant pathologist/entomologist and am increasingly concerned about the health of plants globally. The world’s plants are deeply threatened by pests and pathogens and also by human activities, including those that are leading to climate change.”
Prof Wingfield added, “We easily forget that we depend deeply on plants, not only for the food that we eat but for our water supplies and the air that we breathe. The SARS CoV-2 pandemic that is ravaging our world provides us with a vivid example of the havoc that an invasive alien pathogen can create, and how plants can be affected in a similar way.”
Prof Meyer, Head of the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, and Chair of UP’s School of Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, won the male category of the Engineering Research Capacity Development Award. His research is on the technical aspects of clean energy, which includes renewable energy and the associated efficiency of heat transfer in heat exchangers. He is involved in the development of students towards their master’s and PhD degrees in engineering. “That is what my nomination is about. During this process I do not only have to develop their technical scholarship abilities, including their writing skills, which are narrowly aligned to their specific topics, but also the development of their ‘non-technical scholarship’ abilities,” he said.
Professor Josua Meyer.
Prof Meyer thanked the UP management for their support and said he is “pleased and humbled to receive the award. I am blessed with brilliant students. I have the biggest respect for my students. I thank them for their patience in putting up with my nonsense and my demanding questions. The award would not be possible without them.”
He says he enjoys facilitating opportunities for his students and graduates to continue with studies at international leading universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford Universities. “My goal is not only to develop my students on a narrow technical level but also on a broader level.” He is happiest when his students graduate, write an excellent article, update him “on how they are progressing at some of the above-mentioned universities, when they give me feedback of how they are doing in industry, or just send me an email updating me on where they are and what they are doing.”
UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe congratulated the winners. “UP is proud of you. Thank you for your hard work and commitment to making a tangible difference in the world. Your work helps us to be the leading producer of research in the country. Thank you for producing cutting-edge research that matters nationally and internationally.”