Re.Search Matters launch gives guests a taste of the future of research

Posted on July 01, 2022

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Tawana Kupe, invited a few key stakeholders to the official launch of Research Matters, the institution’s dedicated science communication platform, and Re.Search, the digital magazine which features some of the University’s most innovative research. The event was a conceptual, sensory experience in which various aspects of UP’s research were made tangible and linked to the themes of the first two editions of the magazine, sustainability and innovation. The aim of the event was to show how our science communication storytelling could be made into the physical. Researchers and students brought together their expertise to bring these touchpoints to the fore in every aspect of the event – the first of its kind hosted by UP.

Present at the launch were guests from academia and research institutions, together with current UP researchers who contributed to the past two editions of the Re.Search digital platform and Research Matters.

“With these two platforms, we tell the story of our research and its transformative impact on our lives. We use multimedia-rich formats to be able to translate complex issues into easily understandable stories, and in so doing we educate the public through these platforms and the media. It is our ability to translate research into stories that resonate with people that we are able to transform lives and society through making knowledge accessible,” said Prof Kupe in his opening remarks.

Prof Nelishia Pillay, SARChI Chair in Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development, University of Pretoria, presented on the important role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays in attaining sustainability. She spoke about how AI has been embedded in future technologies by assessing current challenges and offering easily implementable solutions that can be utilised by everyone to resolve them. “Our research group, NICOG, has used machine learning to diagnose COVID-19 with a 98% accuracy and, together with the Department of Chemical Pathology at UP, to emulate chemical pathology diagnoses for multiple myeloma. AI has also had an impact in education,” explained Prof Pillay.She called on everyone to assist with building infrastructure and creating the conducive environment needed to enhance AI tools and machinery.

The guests were treated to a menu showcasing UP’s passion for a sustainable world, with fresh produce sourced from the Future Africa gardens and prepared by the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences under the leadership of Dr Hennie Fisher at the Department of Food and Consumer Sciences. Some of the ingredients served to guests were a combination of indigenous African cuisine from the north to the south of the continent, including spekboom African eggplant, Garri, water chestnut, Jerusalem artichoke and Zulu oregano leaf, palak style morogo, okra, Venda kale, amadumbe and fermented pap cube “paneer” served with sorghum and tef ‘risotto’, Marula and quince chutney, Plantain chips and cowpea Amagwinya, Carob, Lowveld chestnut, naartjie and Mondia whitei ice cream, gingko biloba, Cape gooseberries and prickly pear.

Prof De Wet Swanepoel from the Faculty of Humanities presented on a new technology to mitigate early hearing loss, with the potential to also combat dementia through the smartphone device. In 2013, this innovative technology culminated in a digital health start-up, called the hearX group, which started as a UP spin-out with a vision to see healthy hearing for everyone everywhere. hearX makes this service possible through smart digital technologies that anyone can use anywhere.

By 2022, hearX’s growth was exponential and was identified as one of South Africa’s fastest-growing companies. To date, more than 1.5 million people in over 190 countries have been touched by these technologies.

“Recently, we incorporated hearing aids into this digital platform which, for the first time, allows for an end-to-end hearing health care service. Now, using a mobile phone or tablet we can test and directly program a hearing aid to clinical standards, opening access like never before,” added Swanepoel.

This project has been very successful, resulting in the scaling-up of about five pilot clinics in Kenya.  The technology requires a low-cost mobile money subscription to ensure a sustainable service that enables local people to offer hearing services as micro-entrepreneurs.

Swanepoel attributed the success of this project to matching cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, rapid advancement in technologies and entrepreneurial partnership with the University to enable this new way to address hearing loss globally.

Guests were treated to a goodie bag where various research and thematic touchpoints came together. As a leading African university, UP’s research is focused on finding African solutions to global concerns. Problems do not exist in silos, which is why our focus on transdisciplinary research is key to finding broad solutions.

Some of the items sponsored in the packs were the product of public-private partnerships between UP, its Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and industry partners who benefit from our research. Their research feeds the future by allowing commercial entities the opportunity to use cutting-edge science to provide optimal-quality products to the public. It is vital that we use our resources and research to preserve and sustain our food systems.

Applying modern scientific methods to traditional African knowledge and wisdom has resulted in a range of research projects, proving the efficacy of several plant-based compounds used in remedies formulated by the Medicinal Plant Science Research Group.

We would not have a continuous supply of fruit and vegetables were it not for bees, which are essential for the sustainability of our food systems. The Social Insects Research Group in the Department of Zoology and Entomology provided honey from UP’s own hives. Honeybees also feature on UP’s logo as a symbol of our industriousness.

The honey was contained in a honeypot designed and 3D-printed by the Department of Library Service’s MakerSpace. The materials used to make these containers are biodegradable, recyclable and sustainable, and coated with a food-safe glaze. When stacked, the containers form the characteristic cells of a beehive, which is symbolic of the research conducted by different departments across our nine faculties.

For millennia, humans have told stories through embroidery and tapestry. The Department of Clothing Retail Management and Mapula Embroideries provided embroidered works of art on the table and for aprons. Mapula Embroideries are a collective based in Winterveld. Their works have been presented to Queen Elizabeth. They help to generate an income for over 150 disadvantaged women who tell their story and history through embroidery. UP has a longstanding relationship with the collective and students incorporate this embroidery into fashionable, sustainable garments. This project is one of many community engagement projects in which students are exposed to real world work by using their skills and knowledge to have a positive impact on communities around South Africa, and in so doing become active, socially conscious citizens.

- Author Shakira
Published by Jimmy Masombuka

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