​UFS celebrates excellence through its research hubs

The university considers its research chairs and the possibility of future chairs as an integral and strategic initiative to increase its national and international standing through excellent academic and research leadership

The university considers its research chairs and the possibility of future chairs as an integral and strategic initiative to increase its national and international standing through excellent academic and research leadership

The University of the Free State (UFS) is proud of its research leaders. As of 2018 the UFS has 156 NRF-rated researchers and five Sarchi Research Chairs. These chairs are designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities.

Getting the better of vector-borne and zoonotic viruses

Prof Felicity Burt leads the Vector Borne and Zoonotic Virus Research Group in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Virology at the UFS. She was awarded a Research Chair to, among others, investigate medically significant vector-borne and zoonotic viruses currently circulating — mainly viruses transmitted by mosquitos and ticks, and viruses transmitted from animals to humans.

“Years ago, no one knew what Ebola was. One outbreak later, backed by many media reports, and it is almost a household name. The same goes for the recent Zika virus outbreak in South America,” she says, explaining the public’s interest and fears. To prevent the spread of vector-borne viruses to new areas, surveillance and awareness is important. Here in Bloemfontein, Professor Burt and her team are establishing surveillance programmes.

Why research on fungal infections?

“Many diseases no longer pose a threat to humans and life expectancy is prolonged. However, this has also caused an increase in various opportunistic infections, and most of all, fungal infections,” says Prof Carlien Pohl-Albertyn, who is heading the Research Chair for Pathogenic Yeasts in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology. And the rise in resistance to antifungal treatments requires research into pathobiology, including new drug and treatment options.

Activities of the Research Chair in Pathogenic Yeasts builds on existing research strengths and will contribute towards understanding the pathobiology of medically significant pathogenic yeasts belonging to the genera Candida and Cryptococcus.

Understanding higher education for more equality and justice

Prof Melanie Walker, from the Centre for Research on Higher Education and Development (CRHED) does research on higher education, inequalities and social justice, and how, or if, universities foster the human capabilities and aspirations of students. Does higher education make a difference to the lives of students, their families and communities?

Professor Walker says the Research Chair on Higher Education and Human Development looks at issues of access, participation and transitions into work, as well as gender, race and social class. They use both quantitative and qualitative methods and include a strand of participatory research projects with students. Ultimately, the research must contribute to debates, policy and practices in higher education, and a scholarly knowledge base.

Reduced emissions make for a better world

Prof Hendrik Swart chairs the research project that looks into low-energy lighting, using phosphor materials for light emitting diodes (LEDs). The Research Chair on Solid State Luminescent and Advanced Materials is situated at the Department of Physics.

The research mainly focuses on better light emission of phosphor powers in LEDs.  According to Swart, the long-term benefit of the research will result in more environmentally friendly devices that use less energy, are brighter and give a wider viewing field. Over the next five years they will develop and produce devices that emit better light using the substances already developed. “We need to make small devices to see if they are better than those we already have,” he says.

Solutions to food insecurity

The Department of Plant Sciences’s research project dives into disease resistance and quality in field crops. Heading this Research Chair is Prof Maryke Labuschagne who focuses on crop quality breeding and disease resistance in field crops.

Her, and her students’ research focuses on the genetic improvement of food security crops in Africa, including such staples as maize and cassava. “These crops are genetically improved for yield, drought tolerance, disease, and insect resistance, as well nutritional value,” she says. Her disease resistance research will focus on crop protein quantity and quality as well as iron, zinc, and beta-carotene biofortification of staple crops. The disease resistance-breeding project will be a continuation of the internationally acclaimed wheat rust research.

The university considers the research chairs and the possibility of future chairs as an integral and strategic initiative to increase its national and international standing through excellent academic and research leadership.

The rise in resistance to antifungal treatments requires more research on drug and treatment options. Watch this interview with Prof Carlien Pohl-Albertyn, head of the Research Chair for Pathogenic Yeasts in the UFS Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology

Read the article here