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Twelve Witsies in the running for Science Oscars

- Wits University

Twelve Wits researchers are contenders for the prestigious NSTF-South32 Awards for 2021/2022, four of whom were nominated in two categories each.

The so-called ‘Science Oscars’ recognise outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation by individuals, teams and organisations in South Africa.

Vying for awards across 10 of the 13 categories are both established and emerging researchers at Wits, across faculties and disciplines. In the Faculty of Health Sciences, researchers in the fields of vaccinology and malaria are nominees, while in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, scientists in the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering and the School of Electrical and Information Engineering are in the running.

In the Faculty of Science, researchers in the School of Geosciences, the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI), and the Global Change Institute (GCI) are nominated, while the Faculty of Humanities has contenders from the Centre of Excellence in Human Development and the Wits School of Education.

Lifetime Achievement

Nominated in the Lifetime Achievement category are Professor Shabir Madhi and Professor Sehliselo ‘Selo’ Ndlovu.

  • Shabir Madhi is the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor of Vaccinology at Wits as well as Director of the SA Medical Research Council Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (Wits-VIDA), and Co-Director of African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise (ALIVE) at Wits.

Prof. Shabir Madhi leads the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine trial in SA which published results showing efficacy against the B 1.351 variant, in the NEJM in May 2021

A National Research Foundation A-rated scientist and a paediatrician, Madhi’s research has focused on the epidemiology and clinical development of vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease. These studies have informed World Health Organization recommendations on the use of the lifesaving pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and rotavirus vaccine in children, and flu vaccination of pregnant women. Madhi led South Africa and Africa’s first Covid-19 vaccine trials (Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax Covid-19 vaccine).

  • Selo Ndlovu is Professor of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering in the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering and the DSI/ NRF SARChI Chair: Hydrometallurgy Sustainable Development at Wits. DSI/NRF SARChI refers to the Department of Science and Innovation/National Research Foundation South African Research Chairs Initiative.

Prof Selo Ndlovu

Ndlovu was the only black woman in Engineering Sciences to hold a research chair when it was awarded in 2015. Her research interests are extractive metallurgy in general, and hydrometallurgy and bio hydrometallurgy in particular. She is interested in metal extraction from traditional sources and the treatment of secondary metal-bearing components, such as process waste streams, for metal recovery.

Ndlovu is also nominated in the Engineering Research Capacity Development Award category.

TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Researcher

Nominated in the TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Research category are Professor Tamiru Abiye, Dr Givemore Munhenga and Dr Cameron Penn-Clarke.

  • Tamiru Abiye is Professor in the Hydrogeology Programme in the School of Geosciences at Wits. He is an NRF-rated researcher and registered Professional Natural Scientist in South Africa with some 30 years of experience in the field. Due to the fact that Africa has massive groundwater reserves which are resilient to climate change, Abiye’s research interests are to advance the sustainable use of groundwater to alleviate poverty and enhance economic development.

Prof. Tamiru Abiye is an NSTF-South32 Award finalist in 2022

Abiye is also nominated in the NSTF-Water Research Commission Award category.

Prof Givemore Munhenga of the Wits Research Institute for Malaria

Munhenga is an NRF-rated scientist with over ten years’ experience in providing expertise and overseeing research in both agriculture and public health. Research projects have included the development of the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for Anopheles arabiensis control in South Africa, and evaluation valuation and optimization of mosquito surveillance systems under low malaria transmission settings.

  • Dr Cameron Penn-Clarke is an Honorary Research Associate in the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) at Wits and a geo-mapping, minerals and energy scientist at the Council for Geoscience. He has expertise in sedimentology, stratigraphy, basin analysis, sequence stratigraphy and palaeontology (with special focus on invertebrate palaeontology and evolution). His research interests are focused on biological and geological events of the Devonian Period of South Africa and abroad.

Dr Cameron Penn Clarke of the Evolutionary Studies Institute

Penn-Clarke is also nominated in the TW Kambule-NSTF: Emerging Researcher category.

TW Kambule-NSTF Award: Emerging Researcher

Including Penn-Clarke above, Wits has four contenders in the Emerging Researcher category. They are Dr Saeideh Babaee, Dr Roisin E Drysdale, and Dr Simone Richardson.

  • Dr Saeideh Babaee is a Lecturer in the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering at Wits. A chemical engineer, her research interests include thermodynamics and energy; process design; C02 capture and storage; gas hydrates; and gas separation.

Dr Saeideh Babaee School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering

Babaee is also nominated in the Special Annual Theme (Basic sciences for sustainable development) category.

  • Dr Roisin E Drysdale is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the DSI/NRF Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Human Development at Wits. Her research and publications primarily assess the complex and dynamic relationships between geography, social development and child health. In particular, she is interested in how household factors such as poverty and food insecurity affect individual health, growth and development.

Roisin E Drysdale is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the CoE in Human Development

Dr Simone Richardson Antibody Immunity Research Unit

Her research focuses on the role of Fc effector function in HIV, COVID-19 and Influenza infection and vaccination. She previously held two Collaboration for Vaccine Discovery (CAVD) fellowships and is currently the scientific lead for all Fc effector function work at the unit. A passionate science communicator, Richardson has also blogged for the South African Young Academy of Sciences (SAYAS), is a current blogger and cartoonist, and was a FameLab semi-finalist in 2013.

Data for Research Award

Associate Professor and Director of the Legitimation Code Theory Hub in the Wits School of Education, Lee Rusznyak is nominated in the Data for Research Award category.

Prof. Lee Rusznyak, Wits School of Education

Rusznyak is the Principal Investigator in the Teacher Choice in Action Project at Wits. Her research focuses on knowledge-building and the development of expertise through initial teacher education.

She has led research on several national projects, including the Initial Teacher Education Research Project (ITERP); the South African Professional Teaching Standards (with the South African Council for Educators) and the Teacher Choices in Action project.

Innovation Award: Corporate Organisation

Mr Abdul-Khaaliq ‘AK’ Mohamed is nominated in the Innovation Award: Corporate Organisation category. Mohamed is a Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits.

AK Mohamed School of Electrical and Information Engineering

As an information/electrical engineer with a master’s in biomedical and control engineering, he is interested in creative designs, research and development of green technologies, software, electronic or biomedical systems.

In 2019, the NRF awarded Mohamed a grant for research ‘towards control of a prosthetic or orthotic hand using neural signals’. This research explores how brainwaves can be used to control a robotic prosthetic hand, an innovation which may benefit stroke victims in particular.

Communication Award

Professor Francois A Engelbrecht and Professor Coleen H Vogel in the Global Change Institute (GCI) are nominated for the Communication Award. Engelbrecht is the Director of the GCI and Vogel is Professor of Sustainability.

  • Professor Francois Engelbrecht specializes in numerical climate model development and the simulation of African climate variability and change, in particular, he currently leads the development of an African-based Earth System Model towards participation in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase Six (CMIP6) of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

Professor Francois Engelbrecht

  • Professor Coleen Vogel is a climatologist by training and has undertaken research in climate change, climate vulnerability and adaptation, with a particular focus on disaster risk reduction and climate variability. She was one of the Chapter Lead Authors of the Africa Chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC 4th Assessment Report and was also an author of the Synthesis Report for Policy Makers of the 4th IPCC Assessment Report.

Professor Coleen Vogel

Finalists in the 2022 NSTF-South32 Awards will be announced in May and the winners at an event in July.