“The world needs science, and science needs women.”

Gugu Kubheka



Organisation / Company

South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa)


Gugu Kubheka, 35, is a postdoctoral researcher at the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). She conducts research on renewable energy sources, in particular solar energy. Her research focuses mainly on the design and development of low-cost and efficient energy materials to help lower clean energy costs. The intention is to commercialise or patent the product. Gugu’s work also entails the publication of research, mentoring and co-supervising postgraduate students in collaboration with other institutions and is currently working with a PhD candidate at the University of Pretoria and an MSc candidate at Rhodes University. Gugu was one of seven women out of 600 selected for the 2023 L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Award national programme, which funds the research projects of young women scientists. She says being selected among these brilliant scientists was one achievement she is proud of. Gugu is motivated by the knowledge that research can find clean low-carbon solutions for the energy crisis. One challenge that she and other scientists face is that there are few opportunities for long-term contracts that will enable them to see a project through from research to the development of products.


BSc in Chemistry, Geology and Mathematics
BSc (honours)
MSc (distinction)
PhD in Chemistry, Rhodes University


I was one of the recipients of the 2023 L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Award national programme. This award funds promising research projects by emerging young women scientists pursuing their PhDs or conducting postdoctoral research to advance their careers in that specific field. From more than 600 applicants, only seven women are selected. The purpose of this award is to help empower more women scientists to achieve scientific excellence and participate equally in solving the great challenges facing humanity. I have learnt that even though there are many initiatives intended to recognise women’s excellence, such as the African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum, Women of Stature and South African Women in Science, there is still a shortage of women in leadership positions. But we are moving closer to recognising true gender equality and the work done by such initiatives is commendable.


Yes, I am privileged to have been supervised and mentored by some of the greatest scientists in the world. I had considerable support and funding throughout my studies. Witnessing Professor Tebello Nyokong winning prestigious international awards and her being based in my department at Rhodes University was an inspiration that sparked my passion for science. After I completed my PhD, my path crossed with other great women in science commencing with the first postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pretoria under Professor Patricia Forbes, who skilled me with independent research management. Her belief in my abilities boosted my confidence as a scientist. During the course of my fellowship, I got to connect with Dr Nolwazi Nombona, who became a remarkable mentor and a source of great support.