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Wits Professor Lee Berger wins Science for Society Gold Medal

- Wits University

The Academy for Science SA (ASSAf) awarded Berger its Gold Medal for excellence in the application of outstanding scientific thinking in service to society.

He received the award at a ceremony held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria on Wednesday, 10 October 2018.

At this ceremony, five other Wits scientists were inaugurated as members of ASSAf.

Science for society

A renowned paleoanthropologist, Professor Lee Berger is amongst the most highly cited scholars in the world.  He is the PV Tobias Chair in Palaeoanthropology and Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society.

His work in the area of palaeoanthropology has gained world renown, particularly with his team’s work on the hominid fossil discoveries of Australopithecus sediba, Homo naledi, and the Rising Star Expedition.

The discovery of Homo naledi provided him with the opportunity to push the boundaries of open access of fossil materials, improve the visibility of women in palaeoanthropology and push the technological boundaries of 3D printing by making fossil data printable. 3D printing has made the teaching and research of palaeoanthropology immediately accessible to universities across the world.

“Prof. Berger’s commitment to making his work accessible to ordinary people, particularly in encouraging girls to take up STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] subjects at school and at tertiary level has helped to lift the veil of mystery around science and its impact on society,” says Professor Ebrahim Momoniat, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Wits.

Berger was the 2016 Rolex Explorer of the Year and, in 2015, TIME named him as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Recognition of scholarly achievement

The core function of ASSAf is to honour the country’s most outstanding scholars by electing them as members. Membership of the Academy is recognition of scholarly achievement and is very prestigious.

The Academy elects new members every year across the spectrum of disciplines. Members are the core asset of the Academy and volunteer their time and expertise in the service of society.

Five scholars from Wits were inaugurated as members:

  1.  Montaz Ali is Professor in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, Faculty of Science at Wits.
  2. Basil Brooke is Professor in the Wits Research Institute for Malaria and in the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, School of Pathology, and Head of the Vector Control Reference Laboratory at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases
  3. João Rodrigues is Head of School of Physics and Director of the Centre for Theoretical Physics at Wits
  4. Marissa Rollnick is Professor Emeritus in the Wits School of Education.

Excellence under 40

In addition, Dr. Pradeep Kumar was inaugurated into the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS), which recognises scholars under the age of 40 who hold PhDs and who are deemed excellent in their fields.

Kumar is a Senior Lecturer of Pharmaceutics the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology in the Sciences, and a Senior Researcher at the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform.

SAYAS provides a national platform where leading young scientists from all disciplines in the country can interact, and access international networking and career development opportunities. It enables South Africa’s young scientists to participate fully in local and internationally relevant research and development agendas.