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Wits celebrates its nationally rated researchers

- Wits University

The Wits Research Office has recognised scholars at the University whom the National Research Foundation has (re)rated and those awarded nationally and at Wits.

Dr Robin Drennan, Director: Research Development at Wits was the master of ceremonies at an event held at the Wits Art Museum in Braamfontein on Wednesday, 17 April 2019. Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs delivered the welcome address. View photographs of the event here.

Dr Robin Drennan is Director Research Development at Wits

“You are celebrating the occasion where we celebrate the unapologetic excellence in front of us … Any society that strives to better itself has to have an unlimited commitment to excellence. Mediocrity must be detested … We are failing our own people and society if we reward mediocrity,” said Vilakazi.

He congratulated Wits academics for increasing the number of research units, up by 400 since 2017. Originally placed fifth amongst the “Big Five” (Universities of Pretoria, KZN, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch), Wits’ contribution to research units now places the institution third after the Universities of Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal (“which are larger in scale than this institution”), said Vilakazi.

Each publication unit recognised by the Department of Higher Education and Training brings an income of R105. Wits University redistributes this revenue to advance its research agenda, said Vilakazi, and thanked the academics for generating this income.

He concluded, “South African should not be caught playing the 4IR game [Fourth Industrial Revolution] in the defensive half and Wits is therefore driving an agenda for the Global South in partnership with industry, government and the academy”.

National and local research excellence

The University paid tribute to Thokozani Majozi, Professor in the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering at Wits and the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Sustainable Process Engineering, who received the President’s Award of the Order of Mapungubwe (Bronze) for his outstanding contribution to science, on 25 April. Majozi’s research is concerned with the development of a novel mathematical technique for near-zero-effluent batch chemical facilities, which enables the reuse of wastewater.

Patrick Arbuthnot, director of the Wits/SAMRC Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit was lauded as the recipient of the 2019 Vice Chancellor’s Research Award. Arbuthnot’s research has focused on gene therapy for treating liver cancer and hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection.

The University acknowledged Prof. Aijaz Ahmad in the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases; Dr Pieter de Maayer in the School of Molecular and Cell Biology; and Dr Pradeep Kumar in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology all of whom received Friedell Sellschop Early Career Academic awards.

The Research Office also recognised the most highly cited Wits researchers worldwide and in faculties, the top supervisors in the five faculties at Wits, recipients of the 2019 NRF’s Thuthuka grants for emerging researchers, and awardees for research innovation and excellence.

Click on the link to download the List of names of Wits academics recognised in 2019.

Academic media engagement for increased impact

Caroline Southey, editor of The Conversation Africa highlighted how scholars can increase the impact of their research by communicating it through the media. The Conversation is an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. A team of professional editors works with academics to share their research across media and with the public. All articles are free to republish. 

“Increasingly people are asking: What’s true? What’s disinformation? How do I know if I’m fed lies or not? It’s clear to us that The Conversation can play a role. It’s a tiny role but it’s a very, very important one,” said Southey. She explained that The Conversation Africa (TCA) publishes five articles a day, which are written by academics who have to declare their interests, who have to be attached to a higher education institution, and need to be writing in their area of expertise. 

Ninety-two percent of articles published by TCA are republished by at least one other media outlet. Southey appealed to the academics present who had not written for TCA, to do so. She invited academics to see TCA as an “enabler” – the bridge between scholars’ academic output and the policymakers who need to know their work, as well as the wider public.

“There’s one cast-iron guarantee you’ll have, which is that you won’t be misquoted. And the reason for that is, the way that we work, is that you get the final sign-off. Although there’s a very tough editing process that we go through, nothing ever gets published under your name until you’ve literally given final approval – a physical act – that means you never lose control.”

New NRF-rated As, Bs, Cs and Ps

The University acknowledged Professor Andrew Forbes of the Structured Light Laboratory in the School of Physics who received a new NRF A-rating in 2018. Wits researchers who were A-rated in 2019 include Professor of Philosophy, Lucy Allais and Professor Maureen Coetzee, research director of the Wits Research Institute for Malaria.

Haemophilia expert, Professor Johnny Mahlangu, earned a new B-rating, which indicates that he is an internationally acclaimed researcher. Mahlangu is head of the School of Pathology at Wits and head of the Haematology Diagnostic Section in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology at the University. In 2018, Mahlangu was the lead author in research set to revolutionise the treatment of haemophilia, a genetic blood disorder.

Eleven Wits scholars received new C-ratings for the period 2019-2024, confirming that they are established researchers:

  1. Judith Bruce, Assistant Dean: Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Health Sciences who researches nursing in higher education
  2. Ntombizozuko Dyani-Mhango, Professor of Law, whose research interests are in the areas of international law, constitutional law and public power
  3. Dr Denise Evans, principal researcher at the Health Economics and Epidemiology Research Office researches interventions to improve antiretroviral therapy adherence and improving HIV and tuberculosis treatment outcomes in vulnerable populations 
  4. Dr Judah Makonye, senior lecturer in the Division of Mathematics Education researches epistemological obstacles in teaching and learning mathematics
  5. Dr Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher with the African Centre for Migration & Society researches the effects of migration and displacement on identity and belonging
  6. Rudrajit Mitra holds the Chair of Rock Engineering at the School of Mining Engineering at Wits and has expertise in rock engineering, virtual reality, mine ventilation and innovative learning and teaching
  7. Veronica Ntsiea in the physiotherapy department researches stroke prevention and rehabilitation as well as impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions caused by various forms of central nervous system lesions
  8. Dr Margot Rubin is a enior researcher in the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, currently engaged in work around mega housing projects and issues of gender and the city
  9. Dr M.H Alex Schoeman is head of the Division of Archaeology, whose research interests include archaeology of farming and farmer and hunter-gatherer interaction
  10. Dr Terence Van Zyl in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics is interested in data science research
  11. Dr Bertin Zinsou is a senior lecturer in the School of Mathematics.

Veronica Ntsiela and Rudrajit Mitra recognised as NRF C-rated researchers by DVC Research Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi on right

Wits acknowledged the P-rating awarded in 2018 to postdoctoral fellow, Dr Gareth Hempson in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences. Hempson is one of only 16 researchers in the country to be awarded the Prestige ratings, which recognises emerging (usually under 35-years-old) scholars who are likely to become future international leaders in their respective fields. 

“P-ratings really are like hen’s teeth,” said Drennan. “Gareth is a postdoc with us and submitted his rating while he was not with us [at Wits].” 

Hempson’s research focuses on Lowveld ecosystems and aims to understand how different groups of animals respond to drought.

The University congratulated 11 Wits scholars for their NRF Y-ratings, which indicate that they are promising young researchers: 

  1. Dr Julien Benoit is a vertebrate palaeontologist in the Evolutionary Studies Institute whose research interest is the evolution of endocrinal structures and sense organs in extinct mammals and therapsids
  2. Dr Bernard Coetzee, an honorary research fellow in the Global Change Institute, researches conservation evidence, ornithology, biogeography and protected areas
  3. Dr Emma Coleman lectures Information Systems in the School of Economic and Business Sciences
  4. Dr Jennifer Fitchett is a senior lecturer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies whose research is situated within the discipline biometeorology, exploring the impacts of climate change on both the natural environment and human populations
  5. Dr Sumaya Mall is a senior lecturer in the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Her research areas are nested in psychiatric and life-course epidemiology and broadly the social and biological determinants of mental illness
  6. Dr Thashree Marimuthu, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy, researches biomaterials, metal coordinated pharmaceuticals, and drug delivery systems
  7. Dr Xifeng Ruan, a lecturer in the High Energy Physics Group at Wits, focuses on Higgs physics
  8. Dr Franziska Sucker in the School of Law teaches postgraduate courses in International Trade Law, Public International Law and Moot
  9. Dr Antonia Wadley is a lecturer in Physiology and a researcher in the Pain Lab, which undertakes research on the epidemiology, pathophysiology, genetics and psychosocial aspects of pain, focusing on pain in HIV and diabetes
  10. Dr Ryan Wagner, a research fellow with the MRC/WitsRural Public Health & Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) researches epilepsy in populations
  11. Dr Christopher Wareham, senior lecturer in the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, researches ageing, life extension, African ethics, African meta-ethics, and bioethics.

Wits NRF Y-rated researchers are rated as promising young researchers 600x300.j

Most Highly Cited in Faculties

The Research Office acknowledged the most highly cited researchers in each of the five faculties at Wits. Professor of Control Theory, Bao-Zhu Guo in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and Distinguished Professor of Biocatalysis Engineering, Roger Sheldon in the School of Chemistry are the most highly cited researchers in the Faculty of Science in 2019 (and the most highly cited globally from Wits University).

In the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, Professor of Finance, Paul Alagidede at the Wits Business School; Professor Chimwemwe Chipeta in the School of Economic and Business Sciences; and Professor Warren Maroun in the School of Accountancy are the most highly cited in the Faculty in 2019.

Mitchell Cox in the High Energy Physics Group and Professor Craig Sheridan in the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering were the most highly cited in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment.

In the Faculty of Health Sciences, Profs. Alex C. Ezeh in Public Health and Max Petzold were the most highly cited.

In the Faculty of Humanities, and Profs. Gillian Hart in the Humanities Graduate Centre and Loren Landau in the African Centre for Migration and Society were the most highly cited.

Postgraduate Supervision Stars

Professor Robert Muponde, Director: Postgraduate Affairs congratulated academics recognised for their outstanding contribution to postgraduate supervision in each faculty for 2019. They are Dr Kambidima Wotela in the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management; Prof. Ling Cheng in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment; and Dr Judah P Makonye and Prof. Katijah Khoza-Shangase in the Faculty of Humanities; and Prof. Shabir Madhi in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

VC Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi with top postgraduate supervisor in the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Managment, Prof. Kambidima Wotela, and Prof. Robert Muponde, left, Director Postgraduate Affairs 600x300

Advancing innovation – translational research 

Ela Romanowska, Director: Technology Transfer at Wits Enterprise presented the 2019 Innovators Awards, awarded to Wits scholars in five categories:

  1. Sixteen Wits scientists received awards in Category 1: For obtaining a granted patent in an examining country (for a particular patent family). These included patents for technology produced by the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform such as ‘vagitab’ and ultrafast wafer drug delivery tech. 
  2. Five academics – Ionel Botef, Ling Cheng, Mitchell Cox, Mandeep Kaur and Claudia Polese – were awarded in Category 2: For being awarded a Wits-Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) seed fund project during 2018. Projects included breast cancer therapeutics, and shock peeling and aluminium mouldings in engineering. Projects for 3D printed prosthetics, quantum imaging, age-related drugs, nanocrystals, and bio-refinery, amongst others, await funding.
  3. Thirteen academics were congratulated for Category 3: Wits-Technology Innovation Award seed fund application being recommended for funding
  4. For their work in the field of tuberculosis detection, Category 5: Recipient of financial benefits from commercialisation were awarded to Prof. Bavesh Kana and Prof. Lesley Scott.
  5. Viness Pillay and Yahya Choonara of the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform received the Department of Science and Technology-National Intellectual Property Management Office Top Intellectual Property Creator awards valued at R605 000.

Prof. Yayha Choonara, left, wins the DST NIPMO Top Intellectural Property Creator in 2018, with DVC Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi