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Medals and fellowships from Royal Society of South Africa

- Wits University

Medals for established and emerging researchers, eminent scholars inducted as Fellows.

Professor Jonah Choiniere, Professor Peter Kamerman, and Professor Shabir Madhi were inducted as Fellows of the Royal Society of South Africa at a ceremony held in Pretoria on 4 November 2023.

The Society also awarded Professor Jennifer Fitchett its 2023 Meiring Naudé Medal, which recognises outstanding early career scientists (under 35-years-old) who have already made a mark in their field and who are poised to become scientific leaders.

Furthermore, Madhi will next year receive the 2024 John F.W. Herschel Medal, the Society’s senior award, while fellow Witsie, Dr Isaac Nape, will then receive the 2024 Meiring Naudé Medal for early career scientists.

The Royal Society of South Africa is the country’s premier multidisciplinary scientific organisation. Fellows are entitled to the post-nominal letters FRSSAf after their names.

L_R Wits Profs. Jonah Choiniere, Shabir Madhi, Jennifer Fitchett and Peter Kamerman at the Royal Society of SA Awards 600x300

Excavating dinosaurs

Jonah Choiniere is Professor of Comparative Palaeobiology at the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) at Wits. His area of expertise is dinosaurian evolution, and he is an expert on theropods (meat-eating dinosaurs), the evolutionary relationships of vertebrates (systematics) and in palaeontological fieldwork. 

Prof. Jonah Choiniere is a Royal Society of SA Fellow_Photo by Brett Eloff 600x300

His current fieldwork is in the South African Karoo basin, where his has been working on figuring out the age and distribution of the dinosaurs that used to live there.

Now a National Research Foundation (NRF) B-rated researcher, in 2019 Choiniere was then only the second NRF P-rated researcher in his field. An NRF P-rating is rare and prestigious, awarded to those under 35-years-old and considered future leaders in their fields, based on their published doctoral work and/or outputs.

In 2021, Choiniere led a research team that published a paper in Science showing that some dinosaurs evolved night vision and owl-like hearing. 

Understanding pain 

Peter Kamerman is a Professor in the School of Physiology at Wits. He undertook his PhD training in thermoregulation and fever, but soon after shifted his focus to studying pain in people living with HIV. Since then, he has led an active research programme in the field of pain.

Wits Prof Peter Kamerman is a fellow of the Royal Society of SA 600x300

The work of his laboratory currently focuses on the epidemiology of pain and the mechanisms underlying painful diabetic polyneuropathy.

Kamerman’s expertise has seen him make significant contributions to developing local and international guidelines for the management, diagnosis and grading, and phenotyping of neuropathic pain.

Climate impact curious

Jennifer Fitchett is Professor of Physical Geography in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies. She works in the field of biometeorology, researching climate change and its impacts on plants, animals and human communities.

Prof. Jennifer Fitchett is the recipient of the Royal Society of SA's 2023 Meiring Naudé Medal for early career scientists

Her research includes reconstructing long-term climatic change over tens of thousands of years, exploring trends in contemporary climate dynamics, and investigating the impacts on changing flowering dates in plants, impacts on the tourism sector, and threats to human thermal comfort and health.

Fitchett’s demonstrable scholastic excellence is evident in her research on the role of climate in Covid-19 transmission, for which she was a member of the Covid-19 Environmental Reference Group formed under the auspices of the Department of Science and Innovation. In 2019, she was a finalist for a TW Kambule-NSTF Emerging Researcher Award at the NSTF-South 32 Awards. In 2020, Fitchett became a member of the South African Young Academy of Science, which elects members who are young, emerging researchers and leaders in their fields. She currently serves as the President of the Society of South African Geographers.

Vaccinating a nation and saving babies

Professor of Vaccinology Shabir Madhi is a paediatrician, infectious disease epidemiologist, and expert in vaccines. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2016 when he was still the Director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. Since 2021, he has been the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, where he is also the founder and Executive Director of the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics (Wits VIDA) research unit, and Co-Director of African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise (ALIVE).

Prof. Shabir Madhi inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of SA and will receive the John F.W. Herschel Medal in 2024. 600x300

Madhi will receive the Society's John F.W. Herschel Medal in October 2024. This medal is awarded to those who are outstanding in either multidisciplinary fields of research, or in more than one unrelated field.

The Society’s senior medal recognises Madhi’s major contributions in the field of vaccinology and the related fields of epidemiology, immunology and infectious diseases, and in mother and child health, as well as in vaccination policy and public health.

A National Research Foundation A-rated scientist, Madhi is an internationally recognised expert on the causes, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases in children. As a paediatrician, he led the first African vaccine studies against the leading causes of death in children from pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease, and for research into vaccines to protect pregnant women, foetuses, and infants against vaccine-preventable diseases.

As a vaccinologist, he led South Africa (and Africa’s) first Covid-19 vaccine trails and was an ardent, influential and outspoken advocate for Covid-19 vaccine access and equity during the pandemic.

Quantum info processing

Dr Isaac Nape, a Lecturer in the School of Physics at Wits, will receive the Society’s junior award for young, emerging researchers, the John F.W. Herschel Medal, in 2024.

Dr Isaac Nape is the recipient of the Royal Society of SA 2024 Meiring Naudé Medal for early career scientists 600x300

Nape has made influential contributions to quantum and classical optics, which have garnered global acclaim. His research has featured prominently in journals like Nature Photonics, Science Advances, and Nature Communications.

Notable accolades include the 2023 Jubilee Silver Medal from the South African Institute of Physics and recognition as one of South Africa’s top 200 young innovators by M&G (2023).

Currently serving as the Wits-IBM liaison, Nape is actively engaged in advancing photonic computing technology and pioneering quantum computing algorithms for photonic information processing.