UP scores 14 nominations in prestigious ‘Science Oscars’

Posted on May 11, 2020

The University of Pretoria (UP) has received 14 nominations in the 2019/2020 National Science and Technology Forum’s (NSTF) prestigious NSTF-South32 Awards.

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 and recognise outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology (SET) as well as innovation by SET-related professionals and organisations. The theme for the 22nd year of the awards is Plant Health, in recognition of the 2020 International Year of Plant Health as declared by the United Nations.

The UP nominees are:

Lifetime Achievement Award

Professor Donald Cowan – Director: Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics Research Institute, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Science.

Through his 35-year academic career, Prof Cowan has worked extensively on the microbiology and microbial ecology of hot and cold desert soil ecosystems and has become a world leader in this field. His work has done much to expand our understanding of the diversity of microbes in desert environments, how they function in these habitats and how they have adapted to extreme environmental conditions. “This work has particular importance in the context of climate change, where the warming trends of both hot and cold deserts are expected to have a global impact,” he says.

Prof Cowan holds a National Research Foundation (NRF) A1 rating.

Professor Kobus Eloff, Founder of the interdisciplinary Phytomedicine Programme at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, which concentrates on using plants to protect production animals, humans and plants against infections/infestations by microorganisms and parasites.

He was Executive Director of the National Botanic Gardens (NGB) and Research Director of the National Botanical Institute. Under his leadership, the NBG and Botanical Research Institute were amalgamated to form the National Botanical Institute. He was professor at the universities of Free State, Cape Town and Pretoria, and Extraordinary Professor at the universities of Stellenbosch, Johannesburg, Pretoria and South Africa. He supervised 49 MSc and 50 PhD students who have completed their studies. Furthermore, he has had more than 330 peer-evaluated scientific publications > 14900 citations, h factor 57, and 215 publications cited > 10 times.

He has featured in the top three single author publications on methods in medicinal plant research, which were cited > 3660 times. This highly decorated scientist has had several patents registered and products licensed to industrial companies based on his group’s research.

Prof Mike Wingfield – see profile under Special Theme Award


TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher

Professor Wanda Markotter – Department of Science and Innovation/NRF SARChI Chair: Infectious Diseases in Animals (Zoonoses); Director: Centre for Viral Zoonoses, Department of Medical Virology, Faculty of Health Sciences.

The current COVID-19 outbreak highlighted the spillover of novel viruses from an animal source into the human population, and scientific evidence points to a link to bats. Bats are known to host a diversity of viruses, and Prof Markotter’s research investigates this diversity in regions in Africa. “Being able to identify what viruses circulate in wildlife populations and building in country diagnostic capacity are the important first steps, and our programme has done this. This research programme has enhanced our knowledge and understanding of zoonotic infectious diseases, with a specific focus on South African bat populations,” she explained. This has resulted in preventative measures being considered and initiated, and this has enhanced general public awareness of bats and related diseases with a specific focus on South Africa and the African region.


NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Research and Innovation Award

Professor Kerstin Krüger – Associate Professor: Department of Zoology and Entomology and from the Forestry, Agriculture and Biotechnology Institute (FABI) and the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being at the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

Her research programme focuses on the management of agriculturally important insect vectors of plant diseases and other pest insects on crops. Prof Krüger’s studies have led to advanced knowledge on the relationship between plant diseases, insect herbivores and their host plants, as well as climate change. She has developed novel, environmentally friendly options for the sustainable management of insect-transmitted plant diseases and insect pests on crops to improve food security and the livelihood of farmers.

She is also nominated for the 2020 Special Annual Theme Award: Plant Health.


Data for Research Award

Chipa Thomas Maimela – Senior Coordinator: Training, Online Science for learners, Department of Library Services

Maimela has a science blog, Physical Sciences Break 1.O dedicated to the teaching and communication of Science Education to senior phase high school learners, teachers and the science community since 2013. “The idea behind the Blog is motivated by the Open Science approach and the need to promote access to science knowledge and a collaborative sharing of Science content to the marginalised learners in rural communities,” he explained. The Blog is available free on the Vodacom digital classroom.  He has also been nominated for the Special Annual Theme Award: Plant Health and the Communication Award.


Special Annual Theme Award: Plant Health

Professor Michael Wingfield – Professor: Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI); and Adviser to the Executive.

“Having spent all of the past 35 years doing research specifically focused on plant health, I was honoured to be considered worthy by my colleagues and agreed to the nomination,” he says. The work he does is focused 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 post graduate student education where I have advised or co-advised some 100 PhD students on projects pertaining to plant health.”

Prof Wingfield has also been nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award. Other nominees for the Special Annual Theme Award: Plant Health are Prof Kerstin Krüger (see profile under NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy category) and Chipa Thomas Maimela (See profile under Data for Research Award).


Communication Award

Sieraaj Ahmed, Content Hub Editor at UP’s Department of Institutional Advancement, for his team’s (Jimmy Masombuka, Xolani Mathibela and Liesel Swart) work on publicising the pioneering surgical procedure using 3D-printed middle-ear bones, developed by Professor Mashudu Tshifularo and his team.

Primarashni Gower, a media relations specialist at UP’s Department of Institutional Advancement who, with Campaign Strategist and Senior Copywriter Shakira Hoosain, worked on a communications plan on the capture of the first image of a black hole.

Chipa Thomas Maimela – Senior Co-ordinator: Training (Online science for learners), Department of Library Services. (see profile under Data for Research Award).


Engineering Research Capacity Development Award

Professor Josua Meyer – Professor and Head of Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering; and Chair: School of Engineering, in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology.

Prof Meyer’s research is on the technical aspects of clean energy, which includes renewable energy and the associated efficiency of heat transfer in heat exchangers. “The generation of clean energy and the consumption of it without contributing to environmental damage are some of the biggest challenges in South Africa, and this is an international grand challenge. Efficient heat exchangers directly influence the efficiency and energy consumption of electrical power plants and the efficiency on the consumption side of industrial processes such as chemical process plants, manufacturing, transport, heating and the ventilation of buildings, refrigeration, and electrical household items,” explains Prof Meyer.

Prof Meyer has an A-rating from the NRF.

Professor Walter Focke – Director: Institute of Applied Materials, Department of Chemical Engineering.

- Author Primarashni Gower

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