News Column

Top city brains in line for awards

July 3, 2014



Professor Don Cowan (UP)

1. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology over a lifetime. |2. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research and outputs over the last five to 10 years. |3. For outstanding contribution to SET through research capacity development over the last five to 10 years.

Cowan, originally from New Zealand, is the director UP's Genomic Research Institute and the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics. He is a global researcher of environmental extremes and has found there is rich microbial life hidden in the soil of some of earth's most extreme desert landscapes such as the Namib Desert and the ice continent Antartica. Cowan has spent his 30-year academic career researching micro-organisms that thrive in extreme environments called extremophiles.

The study of these micro-organisms can help unlock knowledge about their biology, their genetic make-up and their impact on the microbial landscape.

Prof Namrita Lall (UP)

1. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research and outputs over the last five to 10 years.

Lall, a medicinal plant scientist at UP, is in the top 1 percent of influential academics who write about pharmacology and toxicology in the world.

She is convinced one can find solutions to problems, including treatment of diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis (TB), in local indigenous plants.

Lall also received the Order of Mapungubwe from President Jacob Zuma in recognition of her research on Freedom Day.

One of her interests include finding skincare solutions from locally grown plants.

Prof Saloshna Vandeyar (UP)

1. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research and outputs over the last five to 10 years.

Vandeyar is an education specialist with almost 30 years teaching experience from UP's department of humanities education.

Her research includes studying the divide between indigenous and immigrant pupils in class.

She focuses on the pupils' sense of belonging in Gauteng schools if they are labelled as "the other".

She found that racism was "alive and kicking" in the education system and teachers were instrumental in overcoming the divide.

Dr Anish Kurien (TUT)

1. Emerging researcher for outstanding contribution to SET through research and its outputs over a period of up to six years after award of a PhD in research

Kurien is an electrical engineer, specialising in cellular mobile networks. He is the acting associate dean for the faculty of engineering and the built environment at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Prof Wanda Markotter (UP)

1. Emerging researcher for outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research and its outputs over a period of up to six years after award of a PhD in research.

Markotter is "mesmerised" by bats. While most of us would be terrified when a bat swooshes past our heads, it's all in a day's work for this associate professor in UP's department of microbiology and plant pathology.

Markotter says bats play a key role in healthy ecosystems and deserve to be protected. She says research is needed to understand their role in the transmission of diseases to protect people.

Markotter researches lyssa viruses carried by bats' saliva that can cause rabies.

She also serves on the SA National Rabies Advisory Group.

Prof Brenda Wingfield (UP)

1. For an outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research capacity development over the last five to 10 years.

For the past 30 years, Wingfield has researched how to deal with|devastating fungal tree diseases such as pine pitch canker.

"If these diseases go untreated, all the susceptible pine species die and we would not have pine plantations - meaning less wood and paper," she said.

Last year, she led the first African project to map the genome of an entire fungus.

Wingfield is the deputy dean of the faculty of natural and agricultural sciences at UP and has written more than 300 articles about her work on fungi.

Prof Michael Pepper (UP)

1. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation through communication for outreachand creating awareness over the last five years.

Pepper is the director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine at UP, a state-of-the-art facility where researchers carry out cutting-edge work focused on harnessing stem cells to combat cancer, heart failure and even HIV.

Pepper, a world renowned researcher, is developing novel stem cell therapies and preparing for clinical trials for key diseases.

Along with a global research team, Pepper is working on ways to help the human immune system become HIV-resistant.

"By applying a specific kind of gene therapy to blood-forming stem cells, we can make them HIV-resistant and transplant them into people who would become HIV-resistant," he said.

Prof Andrew Forbes (CSIR)

1. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research leading to innovation in a corporate organisation or institution.

Forbes studied physics and worked as an applied laser physicist, helping a laser company develop from a small start-up to a medium size enterprise. In 2005, he joined the CSIR National Laser Centre where he is chief researcher and leader of the mathematical optics group.

He has published more than 200 technical papers, most of them in the past five years.

Prof De Wet Swanepoel (UP)

1. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research leading to innovation in a corporate organisation or institution.

Thanks to the work of Swanepoel and his team at UP's department of speech-language pathology and audiology, almost anyone can now test their hearing by using the hearScreen application.

Since 2012, it has been a requirement that all Grade 1 pupils' hearing be tested at school.

This is quite a challenge because 1.1 million new pupils enter Grade 1 each year.

The conventional piece of equipment - an audiometer - costs nearly R20 000, weighs a couple of kilograms, needs electricity to run and requires a trained professional to use it.

The machine cannot detect environmental noises and this can lead to inaccurate results.

The end result was an application, designed in collaboration with Dr Herman Myburgh, an engineering colleague, that can run on a Samsung Pocket Plus smartphone costing R800 and a headset costing R500.

The application has been tested on more than 800 pupils by comparing the results from the smartphone test with those of a conventional audiometer.

Swanepoel and his team cut the costs of screening tests by 300 percent and provided solutions that conventional equipment could not.

Prof Kenneth Ozoemena (CSIR)

1.For outstanding contribution to SET through research leading to innovation in a corporate organisation or institution.|2. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research and outputs over the last five to 10 years.

Ozoemena leads the research group on electrochemical energy technologies at the CSIR and serves as an extraordinary professor of chemistry at UP and University of the Western Cape.

He joined the CSIR in 2009 and his research is founded on electrochemical science.

He studies the relationship between chemical reactions and electricity, how chemical reactions generate electricity and how electricity generates chemical reactions.

Electrochemistry is one of the least developed subjects in South Africa.

Emeritus Professor Piet Jooste (TUT)

1. For outstanding contribution to SET through research leading to innovation in a corporate organisation or institution.

Jooste specialises in the microbiological quality and safety of foods.

The focus of his work, together with postgraduate and team member Dr Richard Nyanzi, has been to transform a popular fermented maize beverage (mageu/mahewu) into a health-promoting probiotic beverage.

A range of potentially probiotic bacteria were selected and identified using modern molecular techniques.

These organisms were used to produce an acceptable non-alcoholic fermented maize beverage.

Prof Johannes Maree (TUT)

1. For outstanding contribution to science, engineering and technology through research leading to innovation in a small, medium or micro-organisation.

Maree is a specialist researcher in water technology and is the current team leader of TUT's Treatment Group.

He is also the Rand Water chairman in water utilisation.

Dr Makobetsa Khati (CSIR)

1. For outstanding contribution to SET through research capacity development over the last five to 10 years.

Khati is an aptamer (oligonucleic acid or peptide molecule that binds to a specific target molecule) technology principal researcher in the CSIR biosciences drug discovery and development competence area.

His research interests are HIV-host interaction, exploitation of the aptamer technology to analyse and inhibit HIV entry, development of simple, rapid and reliable aptamer-based TB point of care diagnostics and targeted TB drug delivery using aptamers and nanotechnology.

The focus of Khati's work is to share information on this new technology platform for discovery of drugs.

He is a member of the International Aids Society.

Pretoria News


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Source: Pretoria News (South Africa)


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