Two UP professors elected as fellows of the Royal Society of South Africa

Posted on November 22, 2023

Two distinguished researchers from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (NAS), Professor Jacek Banasiak (Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics) and Professor Jaco Greeff (Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology), have recently been inaugurated as fellows of the Royal Society of South Africa (RSSAf).

“Being elected a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa is a great honour. Granted the Royal Charter by King Edward VII in 1908, it was a direct descendant of the earlier South African Philosophical Society. It is the oldest learned society in the country, existing uninterrupted under its present name and structures. Independent societies of scientists are of immense value in any country as they provide the decision-makers with unbiased, informed opinions about issues of importance to the community. I will do my best to uphold the values of the Society and pursue the ends for which it was founded,” Prof Banasiak said, sharing his sentiments on being elected.

Prof Banasiak is an NRF B1-rated scientist holding the DSI/NRF SARChI Chair in Mathematical Models and Methods in Biosciences and Bioengineering in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. This appointment was renewed in 2023 for the third time. He is also an extraordinary research professor at the Łódź University of Technology (Poland) and a visiting professor at the Strathclyde University (Scotland). Prof Banasiak is an author or co-author of over 145 refereed publications, which received over 1 200 citations, giving him an h-index of 19. In the last years, he co-authored two monographs: Dynamical Systems in Modelling of Processes in Life, Social and Technological Sciences, Polish Scientific Publishers (PWN), 2023, (in Polish) and Analytic Methods for Coagulation-Fragmentation Models, Chapman & Hall/CRC Press, 2021. For his contribution to the theory of fragmentation-coagulation and, in particular, the latter monograph, he received the Minister of Education and Science of Poland Award for Significant Achievements in Science in 2022.

‘The pursuit of understanding life is fascinating’

Prof Greeff is equally delighted about being elected as a fellow of the RSSAf. “I am honoured to have been elected as a fellow. My work may not be applied, but this does not mean that it lacks relevance. My research aims to enhance our understanding of how we fit into the world. The pursuit of understanding life is fascinating, and I am grateful that my peers recognise its importance.”

He is a professor in genetics and a behavioural and evolutionary ecologist interested in determining how crucial natural selection has been in shaping organisms’ behaviour. He studies one of the most famous examples of adaptation – sex ratios. He uses models to predict optimal behaviour and genetics to identify offspring’s mothers and compare models’ abilities to explain the numbers of sons and daughters mother fig wasps have. Through experiments and thorough data analyses, he finds that natural selection is not as important as many claims. Simple behavioural patterns with some limited adaptive value seem more likely to have additional but coincidental fitness benefits. A sobering take-home message of the work is that even traits thought to be “designed” perfectly by Mother Nature appear to result from chance events. Prof Greeff has an h-index of 27, received a B3 rating from the NRF in 2023, a UP academic achiever award in 2021 and cherishes the ‘Best Dad’ award he received in 2023.

- Author Martie Meyer

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