Science award winners aim to compete in international arena

The two South African scientists, who were awarded 2013 L'oréal-Unesco regional fellowships for women in science, said on Wednesday that they would use the money to compete in the international arena, through attending conferences and publishing papers.

Adriana Marias (University of KwaZulu-Natal) is conducting research into quantum biology and Mpho Ivy Raborife (University of Witwatersrand) focuses on computer science.

Marias and Raborife received €15 000 each towards their doctoral research. Of the 10 fellows from sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of the winners are based at South African universities. The programme is aimed at encouraging women to conduct and complete doctoral research in the male-dominated field of science.

A problem often experienced by South African postgraduates and postdocs is that the cost of publishing papers and attending international conferences showcasing research in their fields is prohibitively expensive.

"To get the best out of [your research, you need] to publish internationally," said Raborife. "It gives you the widest scope. It is expensive to go to conferences and publish. It is $1 100 for one of the journals. Without award, my research would have had to go to the other less ranked journals – but the [higher] the ranking, the more citations, the more your material gets noticed."

Her research involves developing computer models to optimise group purchasing power for small- and medium-sized enterprises. She likes to focus on applied science. "You need research for everything, [natural] science, social science. We might not get half the glory of being a medical doctor. We work in the background, predicting trends and patterns," she said.

Quantum physics
Marais's research is very theoretical, but is helping the world to understand quantum physics, specifically quantum mechanics on biological systems. "So far, my research has focused on the theoretical modelling of energy and charge transfer in photosynthesis [the process by which plants convert solar energy in food], both processes where quantum effects have been shown to play a role. We have proposed open quantum systems models showing how certain features of an environment can assist energy transfer within parameter regimes relevant for photosynthesis," she explained.

Marais is based at KwaZulu-Natal's quantum research group, the only one of its kind of the continent.

"Talking to these [international experts] is the best thing to [do to] understand their research, and spending time in their labs. With the [fellowship] money, I will be able to spend months at a time working with the people [whose work] I'm basing my modelling on," Marais said.

Both women are planning to become research scientists. "As you do research, a lot of open questions come up," Raborife said, adding that academia offers her an opportunity to answer these questions.

Agreeing with Raborife, Marais said: "There are open questions that present themselves to you [while you're doing research]. I have a lot of other projects that I haven't been able to squeeze into [my] PhD."

'Male-dominated sector'
The fellowship programme is open to women scientists under the age of 40 in sub-Saharan Africa who are reading for a doctoral science degree. It was first piloted in 2010.

L'oréal South Africa managing director Bertrand de Laleu said: "Women face a number of challenges in this still heavily male-dominated sector. L'oréal seeks to assist by removing one of these hurdles, which is access to finance.

"Not only is it anticipated that this will increase their active involvement and contribution to the sciences, but it will also enable women to positively impact social and economic progress in various ways, such as through addressing climate change and public health issues, for example.

"We believe the women we assist have the potential to make great strides in the field of science; in fact, two of the beneficiaries of our global programme have gone on to win Nobel prizes," he said.

He said that the programme received 158 applications from sub-Saharan Africa.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

It’s time to reimagine adult literacy in a post-Covid-19 world

As we celebrate International Literacy Day, it’s important that adult learners aren’t left left behind. The lockdown has curtailed face-to-face lessons, but companies in the adult literacy space are pivoting to online learning

We need more women in STEM careers

Local solutions are needed to get more women into science, technology, engineering and maths

Covid-19 deepens the educational divide

With the closure of schools, learning has moved to online platforms across the world, but a UNESCO report said only 12% of households in the least-developed countries have internet access at home

‘Covid-19 to deepen inequalities in education’ — report

A report from Unesco highlights a lack of access to online learning: only 12% of learners in sub-Saharan Africa can connect to the internet at home

Investing in education as a global common good

High-stakes choices today, transforming education for tomorrow. Covid-19 must be used as a catalyst to strengthen health and education

Human lives matter more than education, but humans can still learn

The lockdown has exposed gross inequalities in education and society, but also gives us the opportunity to find new solutions

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January

Andile Lungisa: Early parole for the house of truth

Disgraced Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa calls for a change of leadership in the ANC immediately after being released on parole

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…