UP researchers scoop category awards at prestigious NSTF-South32 awards

Posted on June 28, 2019

University of Pretoria (UP) researchers, Prof Robin Crewe and Dr Mardé Helbig won category awards at the 2018/2019 National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF-South32) Awards function, held yesterday at Emperors Palace, Johannesburg.

The NSTF-South32 Awards event is a flagship project of the National Science and Technology Forum, in partnership with global mining company South32. Popularly known as the “Science Oscars” in the science, engineering, technology (SET) and innovation community, the awards honour and recognise professional, innovative research that helps to provide solutions to the challenges of South Africa’s socioeconomic growth in a sustainable manner. This year’s theme was ‘Materials for inclusive economic development’, aligned with the UN ‘Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements’.

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Tawana Kupe said he is delighted with the performance of UP’s researchers. “Our researchers are highly productive. We are the biggest producer of research in the country. We produce 15% of PhDs in the country. The research we produce is world class and innovative.” He explained that UP produces research that has an impact on society and that transforms lives. “We will continue to demonstrate the quality of our research and to produce research that matters to changing African futures for the better.”

Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal of Research and Postgraduate Education said: “The University of Pretoria is proud of our colleagues who have received these awards. We see our research as the way we can transform the world. Through excellence in research, we can address the world’s greatest challenges and improve the quality of people’s lives. We congratulate Prof Robin Crewe and Dr Mardé Helbig on their fine achievements.”

Prof Crewe, Senior Research Fellow: Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship won the Contribution Over a Lifetime Award. He has been a research scientist, academic administrator and a participant in the global activities of Academies of Science. His research interests have been focused on understanding chemical communication and social organisation in a variety of social insects, with a particular focus on honeybees. He has published extensively in this field and supervised 35 postgraduate students and nine postdoctoral fellows. He has participated in administration of universities at the level of head of department, dean of faculties and as a Vice-Principal for Research and Postgraduate Studies.

Prof Crewe was responsible for the establishment of The Communication Biology Research Group (at the University of the Witwatersrand) and The Social Insects Research Group and the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at UP. He also served two terms as the President of the Academy of Science of South Africa and a term as President of the Network of African Science Academies. His contributions to the development of science and technology have been manifold over his lifetime and he is still active in research and postgraduate supervision.

Prof Crewe said, “To have had the opportunity to work at two of South Africa’s research intensive universities has enabled me to pursue my research interests with outstanding students and international collaborators, with the additional support of the National Research Foundation. This has led to unique insights into honeybee social behaviour. … In my role as administrator, I have had the chance to contribute to the development of a number of higher education institutions and statutory bodies.”

Dr Helbig, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, won the TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Emerging Researchers Award. She explained that many optimisation problems in real life have more than one objective, with at least two objectives in conflict with one another, and at least one objective or constraint changing over time. These problems are called dynamic multi-objective optimisation problems (DMOOPs).

This research can be applied to a vast range of areas, such as optimising the treatment of water based on what the water is going to be used for; scheduling of jobs at a production plant; and routing of vehicles. When Dr Helbig started working in this field, very few benchmarks were proposed and no standard set of benchmarks existed. “Benchmarks are artificial problems that test the ability of algorithms to solve optimisation problems with specific characteristics that represent typical real-world problems. In addition, no approach existed to efficiently compare the performance of algorithms when solving DMOOPs,” she said.

Dr Helbig recommended both a benchmark suite and an approach to effectively compare the performance of algorithms solving this type of optimisation problems.

She said, “It is wonderful to receive recognition for all of the hard work over the years. However, without the support of my husband, my mentor (Prof Andries Engelbrecht), the Computational Intelligence Research Group (CIRG), my students, friends and family, this would not have been possible.”

Other UP researchers who were category finalists are listed below:

Contribution over a lifetime finalist:

Prof Xiaohua Xia, Professor in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering

TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Researchers finalists:

Prof Serena Coetzee, Professor and Head of the Department of Geography, Geo-informatics and Meteorology and Director: Centre for Geo-Information Science

Prof André Ganswindt, Professor and Director: Mammal Research Institute in the Department of Zoology and Entomology

Dr Thomas Ebenhan, Research Fellow in the Department of Nuclear Medicine and Acting Manager of NuMeRI, Pre-clinical Imaging Facility

TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Emerging Researchers finalist:

Prof Eshchar Mizrachi, Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology and Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute

Contribution through management and related Science Engineering and Technology activities finalist:

Prof Robin Crewe, Senior Research Fellow: Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, UP

Corporate organisations finalist:

Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme led by Prof Nico de Bruyn: Associate Professor at the Department of Zoology and Entomology – ENDS.

- Author Prim Gower

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