Posted on June 04, 2013
Prof Cowan was educated in New Zealand, at the University of Waikato and completed a period of postdoctoral study there before moving to University College, London as a lecturer in 1985. After 16 years in London, he accepted the position as Professor of Microbiology in the Department of Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, where he was a senior Professor and Director of the 60-person strong Institute of Microbial Biotechnology and Metagenomics. Prof Cowan joined UP in May 2012 as the the Director of both the Institutional Research Theme in Genomics and the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics (CMEG).
He has published over 220 research papers, review articles and book chapters, and sits on the editorial boards of ten international journals.
Some of the achievements on Prof Cowan’s impressive CV include the post of Adjunct Professor at the University of Waikato (NZ), being elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2007, as a Member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa in 2008, and as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2009. He was awarded the University of the Western Cape Vice-Rector’s Award for Research Excellence in 2008 and the South African Society for Microbiology Silver Medal in 2009. Currently he is President of the Royal Society of South Africa.
Prof Cowan’s research activities are linked by the theme of environmental extremes. Since his PhD studies, he has retained an interest in the ecology and enzymology of extreme thermophiles, organisms living at the temperature of boiling water. For the past decade he has worked at the other end of the temperature scale with New Zealand, Chinese and American scientists, studying the microbial ecology and metagenomics of the Dry Valleys of Eastern Antarctica. He collaborates with Ethiopian and Norwegian researchers to study organisms in the alkaline Rift Valley lakes, with South African and Spanish researchers on bacteria in high salt environments and with a network of local and international researchers on the microbial ecology of hot deserts.
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