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Wits researcher receives $150 000 Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer grant

- Wits University

Wits conservation scientist, Dr Bernard Coetzee received the prestigious Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer grant for his work on light pollution.

Dr Bernard Coetzee receives the Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer grant.

Selected from a record entry of 217 applications from 26 different countries in Africa, Coetzee, from the University of Witwatersrand’s Global Change Institute, has been announced as the winner of the second, annual $150,000 Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer (JWO) grant, at an event hosted by Oppenheimer Generations at Circa Gallery, Rosebank, Johannesburg.

The aim of the JWO grant, is to support an African-led research programme that has the potential to significantly contribute to the advancement of environmental and allied sciences ‒ specifically to identify and address real-world issues that affect Africa.

Coetzee’s research aims to understand the impact of the use of artificial light in Africa and how it may increase vector disease transmission (malaria, zika virus, dengue fever). Mosquitos for example, cause an estimated 700,000 deaths globally per annum, and affect millions of people in Africa annually. His research also investigates the impact of artificial light on biodiversity.

This understanding will ensure the promotion of affordable and energy efficient artificial lighting technologies at the household scale that do not increase human health risks or compromise the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity I have been given to undertake this important research. I look forward to expanding the network across Africa and collaborating in a way that makes our proposed solutions to the benefit not only for development and growth on the continent but also for the good health and wellbeing of our people,” said Coetzee, an Honorary Research Fellow at University of the Witwatersrand, based at Skukuza in the Kruger National Park.

The JWO Grant provides funding to allow researchers to investigate options and provide evidence to assist with decision making with regards to natural resources and encourages practical action to implement innovative solutions at local, regional, and national levels for the benefit of their populations.

“We congratulate Dr Coetzee on his superb proposal, and we are excited about what his research will tell us about this important, understudied topic. We also want to thank all 217 participants this year. It was a tough decision due to the exceptionally high quality of the submissions.

“Whilst there can be only one winner, we would encourage all those who applied to the JWO grant   to continue pursuing their work to propose solutions that develop Africa in a sustainable way,” says Bridget Fury, Head, Oppenheimer Generations Philanthropies and Chair of the JWO grant expert panel.

Under normal circumstances the announcement of the JWO Grant 2020 winner would have been made at the Oppenheimer Research Conference (ORC) which takes place annually. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the conference which would have taken place this week, has had to been postponed to the 10th -12th May 2021.

“We are very happy to continue to honour the late Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer and continue to preserve her legacy and promote her lifelong vision of seeing research being at forefront of developing solutions in preserving our beautiful wildlife and nature,’’ said Jonathan Oppenheimer.