UP’s Prof Brenda Wingfield awarded prestigious John FW Herschel Medal

Posted on November 20, 2023


Professor Brenda Wingfield, an A-rated scientist at the University of Pretoria (UP), was recently awarded the Royal Society of South Africa’s (RSSA) prestigious John FW Herschel Medal. She holds the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) – National Research Foundation (NRF) (SARChI) Chair in Fungal Genomics in the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology, and the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute.

The medal was presented by RSSA President Professor Stephanie Burton (also from UP), commemorating the achievements of the English polymath, mathematician, chemist and astronomer Sir John FW Herschel (1792-1871). The Herschel Medal of the Royal Society is specifically awarded to a South African scientist who has excelled in research across disciplines.

“This award symbolises recognition for my hard work, dedication and achievements. Receiving it feels like a validation of my efforts and a source of pride and motivation, encouraging me to continue striving for excellence. Of course, no woman is an island, and the award recognises the work of my colleagues, collaborators and graduate students,” Prof Wingfield responded when asked how she feels about this award.

In making the award, Prof Burton highlighted Prof Wingfield’s contributions across biochemistry, microbiology, genetics and plant health. In her acceptance speech, Brenda sketched the path of her research career, starting as a biochemist and now holding the DSI–NRF SARChI Chair in Fungal Genomics.

Prof Wingfield added, “Professionally, this award carries immense weight. It signifies that my work has made a meaningful impact in my field. It’s a testament to the quality and relevance of my research. It also recognises that the research I have done is multi-disciplinary. All awards bring recognition, allowing me to contribute more effectively to scientific discourse and truth. In an era often characterised as ‘post-truth’, the need for the public to have access to experts capable of accurately explaining scientific concepts is growing more critical.”

She concluded that this award reflects positively on the University. “It highlights UP’s commitment to fostering excellence and supporting ground-breaking research. As a researcher, I see this award as an honour and a responsibility. It inspires me to continue pushing boundaries, asking questions and seeking innovative solutions. This award combines personal fulfilment, professional validation and a catalyst for future endeavours.”

Prof Wingfield is no stranger to accolades, and some of the coveted awards she won in the past years include the UP-Chancellor’s Awards for Research and UP Exceptional Achievers’ Awards, American Phytopathological Society Fellow Award, Honorary Member of Mycological Society of America (highest honour for an international mycologist), South African Society of Microbiology Gold Medal (first female recipient) as well as the Hartig-Patterson Award for Achievement in Forest Pathology.

- Author Martie Meyer

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