Ahead of the game

The National Research Foundation (NRF) Awards are handed out each year to recognise researchers whose research has put them at the top of their field. Those that attain an A rating have been awarded this after a process that includes peer review.

Professor Frank Brombacher

University of Cape Town

It is not often that one is given an opportunity to work with a Nobel laureate, but this was the case with Prof Brombacher. He received a PhD bursary from the late Prof Georges Köhler of the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology in Germany, who was a co-recipient of the 1984 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine. Prof Brombacher first continued his research at the institute under Prof Köhler as a postdoctoral fellow. After a second postdoctoral research time at Sandoz Pharma AG in Switzerland, he was called back to work with Prof Köhler as group leader in immunology. With a focus on areas such as immunology, infectious diseases, bio-engineering and health technology, Prof Brombacher has made a number of important contributions. In a joint venture with Prof Gottfried Alber and Hoffmann-LaRoche, he was granted a patent on the use of IL-12p40 as an immune-stimulant in 1999. He was also awarded a number of research bursaries from various sources, including the German/Israeli Foundation for Science and Development (for research into the regulation of induction and secretion of lymphokine-producing T-cells), Sandoz Pharma AG (for the generation and characterisation of transgenic reporter gene mice) and from Cancer Research South Africa.

He has published more than 140 peer-reviewed articles in international journals, including Nature, Nature Medicine, Nature Genetics, Science, Immunity and EMBO among other high impact publications. He has contributed to chapters in three books with a personal H factor above 40. He was editor of Microbes and Infection from 2008 to 2009, Associate Editor of the Journal of Immunology from 2002 to 2005, a member of the editorial board of Parasite Immunology and NCB Immunology journals, as well as a reviewer for leading medical publications, both internationally and in South Africa. He has organised the Royal Society/KISC UK/ZA workshop on new molecular and nano-technologies for analysing host/pathogen interactions and inflammatory processes in Cape Town, and the International Immunology of Health and Disease Conference, among others. Prof Brombacher has garnered a number of prestigious awards, including the General Award from the Medical Research Council (three times) and the Harry Oppenheimer Award. He was the Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Medical Science at UCT, Director of the university’s Medical Research Unit on immunology of infectious diseases, acting head of its Faculty of Health Sciences’ Immunology Division, acting director of UCT’s animal facility and was a guest professor at the Technical University ETH in Zurich. Prof Brombacher currently holds the DST-NRF Research Chair for Immunology of Infectious Diseases in Africa at UCT and is the scientific coordinator for the African International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology based in Cape Town. He is a visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, current president of the South African Immunology Society, and a member of various organisations such as the American Society for Microbiology, the German Society for Immunology and the South African Parasitology Society.

Professor David Glasser

University of the Witwatersrand

With a background in chemical engineering, Prof Glasser has conducted much of his research in the areas of kinetics, thermodynamics, modelling and optimisation. More specifically, his work has focused on using temperature to measure chemical kinetics, the development of homotopy, variational and optimisation problems, spontaneous combustion modelling and applying these ideas to industry in South Africa and Australia. With Prof Diane Hildebrandt, he helped develop a new method for optimising chemical reactors called the Attainable Region Method, and applied it to biomedical research such as interpreting imaging experiments, heparin removal in blood and the development of an artificial liver. They also worked on the development of the column profile map method for distillation design, described as “one of the three most important developments in distillation over the last decade”, and the kinetics of the Fischer-Tropsch reaction used in the oil-from-coal process. Most recently their work has been on process synthesis, using fundamental thermodynamics to design flow-sheets for chemical plants in order to minimise carbon dioxide emissions and improve the efficient use of raw materials. Invited articles on this topic appeared in Science and the American Institution of Chemical Engineers Journal in 2009.

Prof Glasser obtained his BSc degree in chemical engineering from the University of Cape Town and his PhD from the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London. His work has led to him being co-granted three important patents for improving chemical plant efficiency, improving carbon efficiencies in hydrocarbon production and the production of synthesis gas. He has received a number of awards for his work, including the Bill Neale-May Gold Medal from the South African Institution of Chemical Engineering in 2000, the Harry Oppenheimer Memorial Gold Medal and Fellowship in 2002 and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Science-for-Society Gold Medal in 2006. He has published more than 130 articles in peer-reviewed and refereed publications such as Fuel, the AIChE Journal, Chemical Engineering Science, Industrial and Engineering Research, Topics in Catalysis and Water SA. He served as Associate Editor of the Chemical Engineering Journal from 1980 to 2002, as editor of the Kluwer international book series on chemical engineering from 1998 to 2003 and as a reviewer for various international journals including those mentioned above. As an invited conference presenter, he has presented his work at the Dutch Chemical Engineering Congress, World Coal-To-Oil Conference, FOCAPD and the Process Development Symposium. He co-authored Membrane Process Design Using Residue Curve Maps, published by Wiley USA in 2011. Prof Glasser is a fellow of the South African Institute of Chemical Engineering, the Royal Society of South Africa and the South African Academy of Engineering. He is a member of the ASSAf and the American Institution of Chemical Engineering. He has been a visiting professor at City College in New York, the University of Houston, the University of Waterloo in Canada, a Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor at McMaster University Canada, a Fulbright Scholar at Princeton University in the USA, a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney, Australia, and President of the South African Institute of Chemical Engineering.

Professor Shabir Madhi

University of the Witwatersrand

Professor Shabir Madhi received his Master’s Degree in Paediatrics and his PhD in Health Sciences from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). He is a certified infectious disease specialist and currently holds the positions of DST/NRF Research Chair for Vaccine-Preventable Disease, Executive Director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases at NHLS, and Professor of Vaccinology at Wits. Prof Madhi is also President of the World Society of Paediatric Infectious Diseases and founding member of the Southern African Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases. He currently heads a team of 120 grantfunded staff researching vaccines for preventable diseases. The focus of his work is on identifying potential vaccine candidate antigens, epidemiological studies on preventable diseases and clinical evaluation of vaccines. Prof Madhi has built an international reputation in the fields of vaccination against pathogens which cause pneumonia and the effectiveness of vaccines in HIV-positive children. His research over the last decade played an important role in assisting the World Health Organisation’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts in making recommendations on potentially life-saving childhood vaccines, such as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the rotavirus vaccine. The latter garnered specific mention by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in its commitment of $10-billion over the next 10 years for deploying vaccines to the world’s poorest children.

Prof Madhi has contributed nine book chapters and over 110 peer-reviewed articles in various high-ranking journals including The New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet and Nature Medicine. He is a part-time consultant to the World Health Organisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has served on a number of advisory committees for pharmaceutical companies and the WHO African Task Force on Immunisation and SIVAC (Supporting National Independent Immunisation and Vaccine Advisory Committees). He has garnered a number of awards for his work, including the NRF Transformation of the Science Cohort Award, the Watkins-Pitchford prize from the SA Institute for Medical Research, the Wits Vice Chancellors Award for research, the Wits Faculty Research prize, the Young Investigators Award from the European Society for Infectious Diseases, and the National Science and Technology Forum’s TW Kambule Senior Black Researcher Award. His international standing is underscored by his status as an invited speaker at many International Scientific Meeting symposia and sessions.

Professor John Pettifor

University of the Witwatersrand

On completion of his medical training, Professor John Pettifor specialised in paediatric medicine. He has, for the last 35 years, been active in research in the broad areas of rickets and calcium homeostasis in children. He completed his PhD in medicine in 1981, having spent a year as a Clinical Research Fellow in paediatric bone diseases with Prof F H Glorieux at the Shriners Hospital and McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Prof Pettifor has spent 20 years as Head of the Department of Paediatrics at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, 25 years as Director of the Mineral Metabolism Research Unit at the SA Medical Research Council (MRC) and 15 years as Director of the Birth to Twenty Research Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where he was also a professor and chief paediatrician, until his formal retirement in 2010. He is now Honorary Professorial Researcher and Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits. His research on children’s bones, bone diseases and nutrition has garnered him considerable international recognition, including the Charles Slemenda Award by the International Children’s Bone Health Conference in 2002, the MRC Silver Medal in 1997 and the South African Nutrition Society Award in 1992 for his longstanding contribution to nutrition research in South Africa. In addition, he received an NRF President’s Award in 2006 and the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2007.

In 2008 he was elected to membership of the Academy of Science for South Africa and awarded the Dr C Gopalan Oration Gold Medal by the Nutrition Society of India. He has published 35 book chapters and 180 peer-reviewed articles. He is on the editorial boards of a number of international journals, including the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, Calcified Tissue International, Bone, the European Journal of Paediatrics and the South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition. He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa. For the Wellcome Trust, International Atomic Energy Commission, Thrasher Fund and the Canadian Medical Research Council, he has worked as a programme and fellowship grant reviewer. He has a Hirsh-Index of 23 with a total of 2024 citations. Prof Pettifor was the British Medical Research Council’s distinguished visiting fellow to Gambia in 2002, and the Ray A Kroc visiting professor to the George Washington Medical School in the USA in 2004. For 20 years he was variously member, treasurer and president of the council of the South African Nutrition Society and has served on the board of the MRC. He is currently on the boards of the National Osteoporosis Foundation of SA and Joburg Child Welfare.

Professor Lyn Wadleyr

University of the Witwatersrand

Hailing from Zimbabwe, where she originally worked as a teacher in Harare, Prof Wadley completed her Master’s in Archaeology at the University of Cape Town in 1976 and later her PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her focus of study is the holistic relationship between cognition, social behaviour, subsistence patterns, spatial activities and environments in the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of 25 000 to 100 000 years ago. Her original MSA research took place at Rose Cottage Cave in the eastern Free State, until large excavations stopped in 1998. This site produced a volume of projects, some of which are still ongoing, including stone tools and a dating project published in Science. In addition, a long sequence of MSA and Later Stone Age (LSA) occupations were recovered from the site. Prof Wadley is currently researching the Sibudu Cave site in KwaZulu-Natal, where a long and archaeologically-significant MSA sequence with good organic preservation has enabled her to publish a number of papers and engage in numerous projects with both local and international collaborators. Some of these include bone, stone and shell technology; geomorphology and geomagnetism; botanical remains; spatial patterning; residue and use wear analysis as well as faunal analysis, providing an exciting glimpse into the country’s prehistoric past.

True to her roots in teaching, Prof Wadley maintains a strong mentoring ethic. Nine PhD students have already graduated under her auspices over the last five years and she currently supervises four PhD students. Of the 17 Master’s students she has supervised, 12 have achieved distinctions. She has received the Mellon Foundation Mentoring Award for 2005-2007 and was a nominee for the Nature Mentoring Award in 2007. She also places a strong emphasis on community empowerment, teaching adult literacy classes twice a week and computer literacy classes to disadvantaged youth. In the last seven years, Prof Wadley has published 22 peer-reviewed papers in international journals including Science, Current Anthropology, the Journal of Human Evolution, and the Journal of Archaeological Science, as well as 14 papers in local journals and eight book chapters. She has contributed keynote addresses to a number of prestigious conferences such as the Wenner-Gren Working Memory Conference in Portugal and the Homo Symbolicus John Templeton Foundation Conference in Cape Town. She has a Hirsh-Index of 14 with 443 citations, one of the highest among South African archaeologists. She is an active reviewer for a number of journals and of Leakey Grant and British Research Foundation applications, and a member of organisations such as the Society of Africanist Archaeologists.

Professor George Janelidze

University of Cape Town

Professor Janelidze obtained his PhD degree in mathematics at the Tbilisi State University in Georgia and his DSc (the first DSc in category theory in the former USSR) at the St Petersburg State University in Russia. In 1984, he developed a unified purely-categorical version of Galois theory and explained it to Saunders Mac Lane, who was one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century and, together with Samuel Eilenberg, the founder of category theory. Two years later Mac Lane visited him and his young colleagues in Tbilisi, and in the same year presented his work at the International Conference for Category Theory in Belgium. During the following years, Prof Janelidze was invited as a visiting professor to a number of institutions in Europe, North America, and Australia, where he collaborated with GM Kelly and RH Street (Australia); R Paré, D Schumacher and W Tholen (Canada); F Borceux, S Caenepeel and M Gran (Belgium); D Bourn (France); V Laan (Estonia); L Márki (Hungary); A Carboni, M Grandis, MC Pedicchio and A Ursini (Italy); MM Clementino, D Hofmann and M Sobral (Portugal); R Brown (UK) and AR Magid (US).

He was appointed as Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in 2004, and became an honorary member of the A. Razmadze Mathematical Institute of the Georgian Academy of Science, where he had a permanent position as leading research scientist before. According to the American Mathematical Society’s Mathematical Reviews Database, Prof Janelidze has 83 publications, which include a book (with F Borceux) published by Cambridge University Press, chapters in books and articles, many of which are in leading algebraic journals and in the three main journals in category theory. He is a member of the editorial boards of Applied Categorical Structures, Homology Homotopy and Applications, Journal of Homotopy and Related Structures, Proceedings of A Razmadze Mathematical Institute, and Tbilisi Mathematical Journal, and he was a guest editor of several special volumes of Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra, Theory and Applications of Categories, and Cahiers de Topologie et Géométrie Différentielles Catégoriques. He has organised and worked as a committee member for various international conferences, including the Annual Category Theory Conference CT2009 in Cape Town, and conferences at Oberwolfach (Germany) and Fields Institute (Toronto, Canada).

Professor Alan Weinberg

University of South Africa

Professor Weinberg is an emeritus professor at the University of South Africa and is at present contracted to the Research Directorate and to Unisa Press to assist with research and publication initiatives. He has been a lecturer in the Department of English Studies at the University of South Africa (Unisa) since 1970, holding the position of Full Professor since 1996. Drawn to Romantic studies, he obtained his MA on the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and completed his PhD on English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Italian experience. His thesis was published in 1991 by MacMillan, London, after his work was described as “truly excellent” by one of America’s most distinguished Shelleyans, the late Prof Stuart Sperry of the University of Indiana. He has since committed himself to a thorough study of Shelley’s work including ideology, subversion and textual scholarship. His objective is to “alert the literary community to the exceptional diversity, pertinence and cultural significance of Shelley’s writing and to the underestimation of crucial areas of his work.” Prof Weinberg was commissioned to research two groups of original Shelley manuscripts at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The result was the publication of Volume 22 (Pt 1 and 2) of the Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts which included transcripts of Shelley’s A Philosophical View of Reform with substantial introductions and commentary contextualising the work. This work was described variously by reviewers as an “expertly produced collection” and “meticulous and accurate [in] detail”, culminating in his nomination for the Bill Venter and Chancellor’s Prize in 1998.

Prof Weinberg also collaborated with leading UK scholar Timothy Webb of the University of Bristol on a collection of essays on unfamiliar aspects of Shelley’s writing in an effort to correct the marginalisation of many of the poet’s significant work. Entitled The Unfamiliar Shelley (Ashgate, 2009), the work garnered favourable reviews. He is currently working on a second volume with Timothy Webb, focusing on a wider representation of European scholars, and a further group of marginalised or neglected texts. Prof Weinberg has a record of many articles and essays on Shelley and has a strong international profile. Prof Weinberg has served on the NRF panel for literature, language and linguistics from 2005, chairing it in 2007. He has also served on the UNISA Press Senate Committee as literary and cultural representative. He has been an active member of the Keats-Shelley Society in the United States and Rome, the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism and the Associazione Professionisti Italiani. He co-convened the International Bicentenary Shelley Conference in 1992, and the 3rd Wole Soyinka International Conference in 2005, both hosted in the Department of English at Unisa. He was awarded a special Chancellor’s Prize at Unisa in 2011, in honour of his NRF A-rating.

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial supplement

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