2015 Academic Achievers Awards

Posted on April 06, 2016

Each year the University of Pretoria (UP) hosts a gala occasion to pay tribute to academics who have shown exceptional achievement in the preceding year. The 2015 Academic Achievers Awards function took place in the Rautenbach Hall on UP’s Hatfield Campus last night (Tuesday, 5 April 2016) and was attended by about 260 guests. The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, Prof Cheryl de la Rey, said that the event is one of the highlights on the University’s calendar ‘where we celebrate excellence in the core functions of the University and pay tribute to our academic stars and NRF-rated researchers’. She added that despite the turbulent times experienced recently by higher education in South Africa, a key success factor to survival and growth is dedicated staff who are committed to excellence in research and teaching and learning. She congratulated all who featured in this year’s Academic Achievers publication, saying that they light the way on the institution’s path of progress to its vision of becoming a leading research-intensive university in Africa, recognised for developing people, creating knowledge and making a difference both locally and globally.

Awards are made in several categories at the prestigious event:

The Chancellor’s Award is made in recognition of exceptional achievement in research aimed at advancing science and the associated promotion of UP’s interests. This year, it was awarded to Prof Bernard Slippers of the Department of Genetics in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. He is a research leader in the Tree Protection Co-operative Programme and Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology in the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI).

Prof Slippers’ research focuses on the ecology, evolution and management of insects and fungi that affect tree health. He uses genetic, genomic and chemical tools to characterise global patterns of spread of invasive tree pests and pathogens, as well as their population dynamics, communication systems and mating strategies. He has made critical contributions to understanding structure and diversity in plant-associated fungal and insect communities, from population level to species and communities. This work has led to the discovery of numerous new pathogen and pest species, some of which threaten forestry world-wide. Prof Slippers has contributed to the development of biological control programmes for plantation pests, and also to the establishment of a major Biocontrol Research Centre at the University. Among the awards Prof Slippers has received are the Southern African Association for the Advancement of Science, British Association Medal (Silver) and the JE Vanderplank Award from the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology. He holds a B1 rating from the NRF and has published more than 180 papers, including in high-profile journals such as Science, Trends in Ecology and Evolution and Trends in Plant Science. Prof Slippers also currently leads the Future Africa project at UP, which focuses on developing excellence in transdisciplinary science leadership in Africa.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Book Awards are made once a year in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and in the Natural and Applied Sciences in recognition of and to reward authors of scholarly books, monographs and collections. Two awards are bestowed each year provided that books of sufficient merit have been nominated. Nominated books can be written in any of South Africa’s official languages and have to bring credit to UP in their fields.

Prof Corinne Sandwith was this year’s recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Book Award for her book, A world of letters: Reading communities and cultural debates in early apartheid South Africa. In her pioneering study she recovers a rich historical tradition of public debate about literature and culture in South Africa for our troubled times. Prof Sandwith is an associate professor in the Department of English and joined UP in June 2014. Her research interests include the history of reading, criticism and public debate in early apartheid South Africa focusing on marginal print cultures and the dissident press, with a special interest in questions of violence, crime and the body.

Prof Pedro Crous was the recipient of this year’s only NRF A1 Researcher Award. He is the Director of the Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (CBS) (Fungal Biodiversity Centre), an institute of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and professor at the universities of Stellenbosch and Pretoria, and Utrecht and Wageningen in the Netherlands. At UP he is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology in the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. Prof Crous received his DSc from UP in 2009. As a phytomycologist his main interest lies in the evolution and phylogeny of plant pathogenic fungi, especially Dothideomycetes, Diaporthales and Hypocreales. A main aim of Prof Crous’s research group is to determine genetic variation in species and populations, and to develop molecular tools that will enable rapid detection of such pathogens because of their consequences for quarantine and trade. His research group consists of postdoctoral researchers and students in several countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Over the past six years he was elected as corresponding member of the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences (2010), received the Founders’ Award from the European Mycological Association (2011), was awarded honorary membership of the Mycological Society of America (2012) and became an elected fellow of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology (2013).


- Author Department of University Relations

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