11 UP academics and science communicators are finalists for SA’s ‘Science Oscars’

Posted on June 27, 2023

Eleven University of Pretoria (UP) academics and science communicators have been announced as finalists for the National Science and Technology Forum/South32 Awards – popularly known as the “Science Oscars” of South Africa.

The NSTF-South32 Awards honour outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology (SET), and innovation, and are supported and endorsed by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) as the largest and most prestigious public SET and innovation accolades in the country.

The annual awards ceremony will be held on 13 July 2023 under the theme ‘Ocean science for sustainable development,’ in response to the United Nations (UN) proclamation of the decadal theme of ‘Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’ for 2021-2030.

“Awards are always good recognition, but they are more important with regards to recognising the university that I work at than necessarily for recognising me,” said Professor Brenda Wingfield, who is a finalist for the Lifetime Award. “This is especially the case in that a research award recognises teamwork, and behind all awards is a team of people who have been an essential part in the research that has been done.”

Prof Wingfield is a geneticist globally recognised for her research in fungal genetics and genomics. She has published more than 450 scientific articles covering topics including population genetics, identification, and genomics of fungal plant pathogens. She is one of South Africa’s most highly cited researchers, and was one of a small team of researchers who established the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at UP in 1998 and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology in 2014. She has spearheaded fungal genomics research in South Africa, and her team was responsible for sequencing the first fungal genome (and thus the first eukaryotic organism) in Africa. She was awarded the DSI-NRF SARChI chair in 2016, which covers the field of fungal genomics. She has advised more than 100 master’s and PhD students, and is passionate about education and public understanding of science. She has also been an active proponent of the role and importance of women in science.

Professor Nigel Bennett is also a finalist in the Lifetime Award category. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Zoology, which he obtained at Bristol University in the UK, and undertook his PhD studies at the University of Cape Town. His research focus is animal physiology and behaviour using the African mole rat as his model animal. His work is directed primarily at studying the social regulation of reproduction in mole rats. Prof Bennett is now the world leader in African mole rat biology, particularly in reproductive physiology.

“To be considered for this nomination is a real honour for me, and I feel very humbled to be selected by the university to have put me forward,” Prof Bennett said. “I think the work of the last 39 years unravelling the social structure, reproductive biology, and mechanisms of reproductive suppression in non-breeders of the social mole rats have been instrumental in this nomination.”

FULL LIST OF FINALISTS

Lifetime Award

Professor Brenda Wingfield (DSI-National Research Foundation [NRF] South African Research Chairs Initiative [SARChI] Chair: Fungal Genomics

Professor Brenda Wingfield

Professor Brenda Wingfield (DSI-National Research Foundation [NRF] South African Research Chairs Initiative [SARChI] Chair: Fungal Genomics

Professor Nigel Bennett 

Researcher Award

Professor Ryan Blumenthal 

is a senior Specialist Forensic Pathologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Pretoria (UP). Also a finalist for the Communication Award.

Emerging Researcher Award

Dr Daniel William Hart 

is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pretoria in the Department of Zoology and Entomology. His interest lies in understanding the biology, ecology, and behaviour of African vertebrates, in particular mammals, with the African mole rat as his main study animal. He investigates the ecological and physiological factors that affect the control of reproduction and sociality of these animals.

 

Management Award

Professor Paxie Wanangwa Chirwa 

is the South African Forestry Company Limited (SAFCOL) Forest Chair and Director of the Forest Science postgraduate programme in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Pretoria. He is a forest scientist and specialises in socio-ecological systems in forests; agroforestry; and social or community forestry. His research group works on a range of projects in remote regions of South Africa and other forest ecosystems in Africa, including the miombo dry forest and woodlands of southern Africa.

 

Water Research Commission Award

Professor John George Annandale

from UP’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, was announced as a finalist for research that focused on mine water irrigation. 

 

Professor Patricia Forbes 

is a Professor of Environmental Chemistry. Her research focuses on analytical chemistry involving the development of novel sampling and analytical methods for environmental pollutants, including denuder-based sampling techniques, biomonitors, and quantum dot-based fluorescence sensors.

 

Green Economy Award

 

Dr Els Vermeulen

Senior Lecturer and Research Manager for the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit at the University of Pretoria. Also a finalist for the Special Theme Award.

 

Data for Research Award

Professor Vukosi Marivate 

is the leader of the Coronavirus COVID-19 (2019-nCoV) Data Repository for South Africa. He is also the ABSA UP Chair of Data Science at UP and works on developing machine learning/ artificial intelligence methods to extract insights from data.

 

Communication Award

Professor Ryan Blumenthal 

is a senior Specialist Forensic Pathologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Pretoria (UP). Also a finalist for the Researcher Award.

Dr Martina Jordaan

is the Head: Community Engagement Research and Postgraduate Students at UP’s Mamelodi Campus. She was previously a senior lecturer at UP’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and IT, responsible for the compulsory Community Engagement module. Previously she was head of the Education Museum in Pretoria. Thereafter she was responsible for the development of pre-schools in the informal settlements next to Pretoria and the skills development of staff of various schools in Pretoria under the Gauteng Department of Education.

 

Shakira Hoosain

is a campaign strategist and senior copywriter in UP’s Department of Institutional Advancement. She holds a research master’s degree in English literature from UP, giving her a very good understanding of the research process and what is required to undertake large research projects. She has previously lectured undergraduate students on how to write for their fields both in business and their academic life. She has been part of UP’s Research Matters team from its inception in around 2015 when UP’s brand line, “Make today matter”, was launched. She also manages UP’s Re.Search magazine, which summarises the university’s most important research to key stakeholders including media, donors, and funders.

Special Theme Award

Dr Els Vermeulen

Senior Lecturer and Research Manager for the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit at the University of Pretoria. Also a finalist for the Green Economy Award.

 
- Author James Mahlokwane

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