In June 27 2019, the 21st annual National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-South32 Awards were hosted in a glittering display of black ties, bright minds and scientific innovation. These awards are known as the Science Oscars for good reason: they celebrate excellence across various fields of expertise related to science, engineering, technology and innovation. The awardees should make all South Africans proud. They show that “South Africa’s got talent”, to such an extent that those who win can and do compete at international level.
“These awards have always meant a great deal to the scientific community and we have seen participation increase incrementally year on year,” says Jansie Niehaus, executive director, National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF). “This year we had a record number of nominations, up 20% from last year, and the standard of the work submitted was incredibly high. I can honestly say that the competition for 2019 has been the toughest we’ve ever had.”
The NSTF is a non-profit stakeholder body for all science, engineering and technology (SET) and innovation organisations in South Africa. It represents the SET community and provides its members with an independent collaborative platform that energises and inspires conversations. The NSTF discussion forums entail policy engagement, and the sharing of relevant South African research to inform the solutions that we must find for our most pressing problems. The awards were introduced in 1998 as a way of honouring and celebrating outstanding contributions to SET, rewarding excellence across numerous categories that include: scientific research, data for research, innovations, communication and awareness, and more.
“The awards are relevant to the academic community,” says Niehaus, “but there are now a number of categories that do not focus on research only. The innovation awards for example, focus on the innovation side of the value chain from research to innovation. The NGO award is defined very broadly, recognising any contribution to SET and innovation, not only research. This year we have two new sponsors as well. Nipmo (National Intellectual Property Management Office) is sponsoring the Innovation Award through an SMME and that includes prize money. The other new sponsor is the Tony and Lisette Lewis Foundation, sponsoring the Green Economy Award.”
This year, according to Niehaus, it has been incredibly hard for the judges to whittle the finalists down to 60. The level of talent and the quality of work have been so high that competition was fierce and the final achievements hard won.
The NSTF-South32 2018/2019 Winners
The winners of the prestigious NSTF-South32 awards for this year are listed below. Each one deservedly walked away with an award that recognised their outstanding contributions to SET and innovation.
The Lifetime Achievement Award
The winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award is Professor Robin Crewe, an internationally renowned researcher, educator and innovator. This award recognises the incredible work he has done on social insects, particularly honeybees, and the extensive work he has put into uplifting the scientific community. Crewe has taught and mentored students, lead two research groups, been the dean of natural science at two different universities, and the vice-principal for research and postgraduate studies at the University of Pretoria.
Special Annual Theme Award: Materials for Inclusive Economic Development
Professor Alexander Quandt is the acting chair of the Materials for Energy Research Group, a Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, and the focus area co-ordinator at the Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials. His work on the theoretical foundations, numerical implementations and practical applications of state-of-the-art materials simulations has furthered significant achievements in the development of cheaper and better energy technologies.
The TW Kambule-NSTF Researcher Award
The TW Kambule-NSTF Researcher Award recognises a contribution through research and its outputs over a period from six to 15 years of research work. The winner for 2018/2019 is Professor Lindiwe Zungu, the executive dean of graduate studies at Unisa. She was shortlisted as a finalist for this award in 2013 and 2016, has played a significant role in crafting health and safety guidelines for the Mining & Health Safety Council, and designed women-specific safety gear for mining conditions.
The TW Kambule-NSTF Emerging Researcher Award
This award recognises a contribution through research and its outputs over a period of up to six years of research and has two clear winners this year — Dr Hlumani Ndlovu and Dr Mardé Helbig. Ndlovu is a lecturer at the University of Cape Town and is focused on investigating the immunobiology of schistosomiasis using animal models to mimic infection in humans. Dr Mardé Helbig is a senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria and is working on the evaluation of dynamic multi-objective optimisation algorithms’ performance.
The Management Award
Dr Happy Sithole, a director at the Centre for High Performance Computing, is this year’s recipient of the Management Award. He spearheaded the development of the Centre for High Performance Computing from scratch, taking it to the level of a world-class entity.
The Engineering Research Capacity Development Awards
This category has two award winners: Dr Fosso-Kankeu is an associate professor at North-West University and his research focuses on the prediction of the dispersion of inorganic and organic pollutants from industrial areas into surface water sources, the monitoring of water quality and the development of sustainable treatment methods. Professor Alison Lewis is the dean of the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Cape Town and has been recognised for her work in training, nurturing and mentoring students in the Crystallisation and Precipitation Research Unit at UCT.
The NSTF-Lewis Foundation Green Economy Award
The Process, Energy & Environmental Technology Station took the win on this award for its contribution to enabling transfer and interaction between academia and small businesses to stimulate and support technology innovation in the green economy.
The NSTF-Water Research Commission Award
Professor Martine Visser, the director of Environmental Policy Unit in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town won the award for her body of work in collaboration with the City of Cape Town to successfully conserve water during the city’s water crisis.
The Data for Research Award
Professor Tandi Matsha, SARChi Chair in Cardiometabolic Health, received this award for her work in the genomics of cardiometabolic diseases. She employed a holistic approach in genomics research by studying both genetics and epigenetic factors for diabetes and hypertension.
The Innovations Award: Corporate Organisation
The Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing at the Central University for Technology achieved this award for using 3D printing to rebuild deformed faces of South Africans from poor backgrounds pro bono. The centre uses the state-of-the-art technology of additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, to repair the faces and lives of poor South Africans with facial deformities — people who have often become outcasts in their communities.
The Innovations Award: Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise
Hydrox Holdings walked away with this prestigious award thanks to its Nanomaterials Industrial Development Programme designed to support research and industry in South Africa. The programme consists of a set of skills and equipment that provide this ability in supporting industry through innovation and scale-up activities.
The Communication Award
The Wits Communications Services team, headed by Shirona Patel, took the award this year thanks to their exceptional work in furthering awareness of science and research. Many of the campaigns undertaken by the team, such as the Homo Naledi fossil find and research, achieved global coverage and awareness.
The Non-Governmental Organisation Award
The Eskom Expo for Young Scientists walked away with the award this year, thanks to their skills in creating excitement for science through research-based projects and encouraging more learners to take up science-oriented subjects and careers.