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New study reveals unexpected diversity of South Africa’s ecologically important long-tongued flies study reveals unexpected diversity of South Africa’s ecologically important long-tongued fliesWiida Fourie-Basson (Faculty of Science)<p></p><p>A detailed study of over 50 long-tongued fly species endemic to Southern Africa has shown that species known to science only account for about half of the diversity of this ecologically important pollinator group.</p><p>Southern Africa's long-tongued flies (Nemestrinidae) are unique for their exceptionally long proboscises. The most well-known is <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6593"><em>Moegistorhynchus longirostris</em> </a>with a proboscis that reaches a remarkable 90 to 100mm in length – with a body length of 15 mm, the proboscis is more than five times the length of its body. These long-tongued flies are the only pollinators of many long-tubed flowers such as the critically endangered <em>Hesperantha oligantha</em>,<em> </em>endangered species such as <em>Disa scullyi</em> and the dwarf nerine (<em>Nerine humillis</em>), as well as various <em>Pelargonium</em>, <em>Plectranthus</em>, <em>Gladiolus</em>, <em>Watsonia</em> and <em>Lapeirousia</em> species. </p><p>Yet, despite being so charismatic, the family has received little taxonomic attention. The last revision of known southern African nemistrinid species was published more than 90 years ago, and included 44 named species.</p><p>In a recent paper, published in the journal <em>Invertebrate Systematics</em>, <a href="">Dr Genevieve Theron</a> and colleagues estimates that more than half of the South African species in the Nemestrinidae family are currently undescribed. The work formed part of her doctoral research at the Centre for Functional Biodiversity at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and included contributions from scientists at UKZN, Stellenbosch University and Rhodes University.<br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/edits_Genevieve%20Theron_Photocredit_Wiida%20Fourie-Basson%20(10).jpg" alt="edits_Genevieve Theron_Photocredit_Wiida Fourie-Basson (10).jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:216px;" /></p><p>Population ecologists use mark-recapture techniques to estimate the population sizes of animals like rhinos. Here, they have a known number of marked animals in a population and by using the ratio of marked to unmarked animals observed during surveys, it is possible to estimate the total population size. Dr Theron used a similar technique to estimate long-tongued fly diversity. </p><p>The research team collected 136 specimens from their known range in South Africa, Eswatini and Lesotho. Dr Theron then used DNA sequencing and morphological analysis to show that there were actually at least 58 distinct species, of which only 29 were currently recognised species. The remaining 29 could not be identified and therefore probably represent species that have not yet been described, suggesting that actual fly diversity is double the described diversity.</p><p>“We estimate that the total nemestrinid diversity in southern Africa may eventually add up to more than 80 species," she explains.</p><p>According to <a href="">Prof Timo van der Niet</a>, associate professor at the Centre for Functional Biodiversity at UKZN and senior author on the paper, the paper challenges the common perception among the public that most species are known to science.</p><p>“This study shows that even in a country like South Africa, with a strong tradition of natural history, much of the invertebrate diversity is likely undescribed. If this is the case for a charismatic group like long-tongued flies, it is likely even more the case for smaller insects," he warns.<br></p><p><a href="">Prof Bruce Anderson</a>, an evolutionary biologist in the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University (SU) and co-author, says studies such as this one contribute significantly towards improved estimates of global insect diversity and are important for a better understanding of local ecology and conservation.</p><p>“We used to think that there were about 150 plant species that were completely reliant on about nine long-tongue fly species for pollination. If these flies were to disappear, many rare and endangered South African plants would probably go extinct," he explains.</p><p>But this study suggests that the ecologically important long-tongue fly species may represent more than nine distinct taxa. Furthermore, many of the undescribed fly species are likely to be involved in intricate plant interactions of their own, expanding their importance well beyond what is currently thought, he adds.</p><p>Dr Theron's task for the next three years, as a postdoctoral fellow at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, will be to identify and describe those 29 unknown species (and many others held in collections all over the world). </p><p>The researchers hope that the findings from the study will provide a valuable basis for future conservation strategies for this important pollinator group.</p><ul><li>The paper titled “We don't know half of it: morphological and molecular evidence reveal dramatic underestimation of diversity in a key pollinator group (Nemestrinidae)" was published 5 January 2023 in the journal <a href=""><em>Invertebrate Systematics</em></a>.<br></li></ul><p>​On the images above, Long-tongue flies must fully insert its proboscis into the flower to obtain a tiny droplet of nectar at the bottom of the tube. In the process pollen is placed on or removed from its head by the long-tubed iris, <em>Lapeirousia anceps</em> (on the left) and the endangered <em>Nerine humillis</em> (on the right). <em>Images: Bruce Anderson and Ethan Newman</em><br></p><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Dr Genevieve Theron</p><p>E-mail:</p><p>Mobile: +27 82 591 0515</p><p> </p><p>Prof Timo van der Niet</p><p>E-mail:</p><p>Mobile: +27 728191439</p><p> </p><p>Prof Bruce Anderson</p><p>E-mail:</p><p>Mobile: +27 72 113 6948<br></p><p><em><br></em></p>
The Department of Forest and Wood Science graduated three PhD students in December 2022. Department of Forest and Wood Science graduated three PhD students in December 2022.Prof Martina Meincken<p>Sadiq Mohammed, Charles Mulenga and Russel Morkel (not in the photo) successfully completed their PhD studies despite the interruption caused by Covid-19 and the difficulties that followed, and graduated in December 2022. Sadiq Mohammed investigated the feasibility of manufacturing wood plastic composites from invasive trees and recycled plastic to be used as building materials in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses. Charles Mulenga analysed the effect that mining pollution has on the growth characteristics of indigenous trees in the Copperbelt area. Russel Morkel determined the moisture loss of wood logs during rail transport from the plantation to the mill. Well done guys – we are proud of you! ​<br></p>
Portraits from the Pandemic – “We are all doing our best" from the Pandemic – “We are all doing our best"Wiida Fourie-Basson, Faculty of Science<p>​F​​rom old souls who collect teas from across the world, to a burnt-out lawyer and a writer who has lost her sparkle. For those of us dealing with intense anxiety and burnout after the pandemic, the quaint watercolour-painted animal characters in <em>Portraits from the Pandemic </em>remind us “that we are all united in our brokenness".</p><p><em>Portraits from the Pandemic</em> is written and illustrated by Karin-Therese Howell, a mathematician and associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stellenbosch University. </p><p>The mother of two created and painted 40 unique sketches of a range of forest folk writing about their experiences during the pandemic to the local forest newspaper, <em>The Daily Oak</em>. This was her way of dealing with the stress and anxiety of living through the unknowns of the pandemic and the hard lockdown.<br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Meet%20Juniper.jpg" alt="Meet Juniper.jpg" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><p>These forest folk include, inter alia, a dedicated Grade 2 teacher, an emphatic architect, a mathematician suffering from imposter syndrome, the owner of a bakery, a recent divorcee, a married couple seeking counseling, a depressed journalist and a stressed-out student in mathematics living on coffee and Red Bull. </p><p>But while all of this may sound quite depressing, the beauty of the characters is found in how they are portrayed as sensitive souls, dealing with intense burnout and anxiety in their own special ways. Jeff the journalist, for example, has learnt to cope with his depression “by viewing the world upside down while breathing deeply and engaging all his senses". Christopher the burnt-out lawyer has quit his high-flying career and now works in a pet shop, living with his four pet mice on a small holding. </p><p>A few of the characters are also dealing with neuro-diversity challenges. The little owl character Lisa, for example, has auditory processing disorder. But because she was only diagnosed as a teen, many lyrics of the A-Ha songs she memorised are wrong. But that does not disturb Lisa: “She thinks many of them are more beautiful as she has them stored. Sound is a colour for Lisa, and silence a rainbow", reads the sketch.</p><p>Fundamental to each sketch is a deep empathy and the believe that “no hare should be left behind, excluded or just accommodated". That is why the last three characters in the book are Daisy, Lilly and Rosy. They are three moms who have started a campaign for the inclusion of neuro-diverse children at schools.</p><p>With this quaint little book, Karin-Therese also wants to raise awareness of a poorly understood neurodevelopmental condition that remains largely undiagnosed, even though it affects up to 7% of school-going children in the United States. This condition is known as development coordination disorder (DCD).</p><p>According to Dr Eileen Africa from the Division of Movement Science and Exercise Therapy at SU, children with development coordination disorder (DCD) typically present with poor postural control, lower muscle tone, slower movements, delayed action and -response times and coordination. But while the gross motor delays typically associated with DCD are easily observable with the naked eye, these difficulties are often misunderstood as laziness or behavioral problems.</p><p>“They tend to be viewed and labelled as clumsy and uncoordinated and are often teased or bullied by their peers. They struggle with daily activities such as riding a bicycle, getting dressed, eating, self-care, and many other skills that otherwise come naturally to a neurotypical child of the same age," Dr Africa explains. </p><p>This condition can persist into adulthood and therefore early recognition, diagnosis and intervention are paramount.</p><p><em>Portraits from the Pandemic</em> is available in two formats and is available in major book and gift stores or can be ordered directly from the author: Insta: @jupiterjune612, Facebook: karinthereseart</p><p>“I hope readers will sense some parts of themselves in these sketches," she writes: “We are all a little broken and doing our best."</p><p>For more information about development coordination disorder, <a href=""></a></p><p> </p><p>​<br></p>
Building capacity to monitor for pesticide pollution in Western Cape rivers capacity to monitor for pesticide pollution in Western Cape rivers Wiida Fourie-Basson, Faculty of Science (media)<p></p><p>Geoenvironmental scientists at Stellenbosch University (SU) are working with the <a href="">Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Research</a> (Eawag) in Switzerland to develop in-house capacity to monitor for aquatic pesticide pollution.</p><p>Dr. Reynold Chow, a hydrogeologist in the <a href="/english/faculty/science/earthsciences">Department of Earth Sciences</a> at SU, says South Africa is the leading pesticide user in Sub-Saharan Africa, but due to the cost and expertise associated with this kind of monitoring, there is limited data from most developing countries on pesticide pollution.</p><p>To address this gap, Eawag has donated a set of chemical standards to the <a href="/english/research-innovation/caf/units-laboratories/mass-spectrometry">Mass Spectrometry Laboratory</a> in SU's Central Analytical Facilities (CAF). These chemical standards are very expensive, but necessary to develop the chemical analytical methods to detect and quantify these compounds in environmental samples.</p><p>Dr. Chow says we should be as concerned about pesticide pollution as the residue on exports: “While there are strong regulations regarding the levels of pesticide residue on exports, there are no regulations in South Africa for restricting levels of pesticide pollution in the environment, particularly in water. This is a problem for the environment, as well as rural communities in South Africa that rely on groundwater for drinking water.<br></p><p>“In other words, we have to live with the consequences of environmental pesticide pollution in our local ecosystems, while countries that import South African produce do not. This means they are literally externalizing the environmental impacts of pesticide pollution to South Africans," he warns.<br></p><p>In a recent study, Dr. Chow worked with scientists from Eawag, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the University of Basel and the Centre for Environmental and Occupational Health Research at the University of Cape Town to monitor pesticide pollution of waters in three agriculturally intensive river catchments in the Western Cape: Grabouw, Hex River Valley, and Piketberg. These areas are well-known for its wheat, deciduous fruit, wine, and citrus industries.<br></p><p>Over a sampling period of more than a year and testing for 101 pesticides, they found that surface waters across all three catchments contained at least three pesticides, while the majority (83%) of the samples contained five or more pesticides. These analyses were done at Eawag.<br></p><p>Two of the three catchments, Hex River Valley and Piketberg, raised concern because of high concentrations of certain pesticides over longer time periods. Analysis of samples from the Hex River Valley showed the persistence of terbuthylazine and imidacloprid for 22 weeks, while terbuthylazine and metsulfuron-methyl persisted for up to four weeks in the Piketberg catchment.<br></p><p>Terbuthylazine is a herbicide for the control of the emergence of a broad spectrum of annual weeds in apples, vines and citrus. Metsulfuron-methyl is a herbicide which kills broadleaf weeds and some annual grasses. Imidacloprid is an insecticide that mimics nicotine, which is naturally found in many plants and which is toxic to insects. Since 2013 it has been banned as a pesticide of concern in the European Union, as it has been found in honey worldwide and <a href="">as an insecticide may be responsible for declining honey-bee populations</a>.</p><p>Dr. Chow says current thinking is that the pesticides found in the rivers are unrelated to agricultural spraying (in the case of terbuthylazine and imidacloprid): “There are either other non-agricultural sources, such as forestry or urban areas, that we are unaware of, or these pesticides are leaching into the groundwater where they are gradually transported to rivers all year round."<br></p><p>To better understand the potential environmental and human health risks, they propose continuous and consistent monitoring programs for pesticide pollution in agriculturally intensive catchments, coupled with a recording system of pesticide use by farmers. “Only then will we be able to develop context-specific risk thresholds and sustainable agricultural practices that will benefit both the environment and our economy," he concludes.<br></p><p>The study, titled “Seasonal drivers and risks of aquatic pesticide pollution in drought and post-drought conditions in three Mediterranean watersheds", was published in the journal <em>Science of the Total Environment</em> recently. It is open-access and available online at: <a href=""></a></p><p><strong>​On the photo above: </strong>MSc-student Emma Davies is currently completing an internship at Eawag where she is receiving training in the methodology of pesticide analysis on an Agilent 6495C triple quadrupole Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS) system. Here she is with her co-supervisor Dr Christian Stamm. <em>Image provided</em></p><p><br></p>
Living with little Monsters officially launched with little Monsters officially launchedBongiwe Mhlongo<p>​​​<br></p><p>Stellenbosch University gathered in celebration of the launch of the book, '<em>Living with little Monsters',</em> a scientific household manual written for the everyday consumer which introduces the reader to a variety of potentially harmful microorganisms.</p><p><strong>“</strong><strong>There is no point in scientists having all this information about germs if they don't share it to make the world a better place.</strong><strong>"</strong>  - <em>Prof Stephen Forsythe:</em> <em>Living with little Monsters, </em><em>retired professor of Microbiology from Nottingham Trent University and member of the advisory board of SU's Department of Food Science. </em></p><p>Food scientists Dr. Michaela van den Honert and Prof. Pieter Gouws of the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) at Stellenbosch University have compiled the most recent scientific data to create a comprehensive list of descriptions of specific microbes that the everyday consumer should be aware of, including the good and the bad. By doing this, they can better enable regular consumers and their families to live healthier and safer daily lives. </p><p>The far-reaching coronavirus pandemic highlighted the critical need for a better understanding of microorganisms, whether viruses or bacteria, to develop better practices for reducing the risk of serious infections. Ideally, every household should understand how microorganisms can harm human and animal health. </p><p>“It is important that everybody has a basic understanding of the fact that there are microorganisms who live all around us, particularly in food safety. The book is a way of conveying information and sharing it with everybody", said Dr. van den Honert.</p><p>Consumer engagement and awareness are one of the Centre for Food Safety's main pillars. <em>Living with little Monsters</em> makes complex scientific principles easy to understand and includes various graphic illustrations to convey essential information in a practical way, so that it could easily be applied to the everyday life of the consumer. </p><p>Michael Lee, a key contributor to the book enthusiastically states that, “Ignorance in the general population about this microworld is a recipe for disaster, that is why this book could become a life saver. With the help of <em>Living with little Monsters</em>, we can focus on forging a better co-existence with the microbial world."</p><p>“We wrote this book because we believe that everybody has a story to tell, and our story is sharing information about food-borne organisms and sharing information about food safety and related matters. There is so much more in the book, once you start reading you will realise that there is so much more that you need to know, and by reading the book you might change some of your habits." Prof Pieter Gouws added. </p><p>The dean of the Faculty of AgriSciences congratulated the authors for the excellent collaboration. “As I was reading through the book, I could not tell that the chapters were written by different authors, you worked very well as a collective team, the Faculty and University sincerely congratulate you." said Prof Danie Brink.</p><p>get your copy of<em> Living with Little Monsters</em> at <a href="">Takealot​</a> and <a href="">Amazon</a>.<br></p><p> </p><p>Photo credit: Franna Lombard  ​​<br></p><p>​</p>
SUWI researchers working with small-scale farmers to co-create value-adding technologies researchers working with small-scale farmers to co-create value-adding technologiesMedia and Communication, Faculty of Science<p>​The Stellenbosch University Water Institute (SUWI) is working with small farmers in Lynedoch to co-create technologies that develop new business opportunities and value chains for their farming activities in Stellenbosch.<br></p><p>The DIVAGRI research project forms part of a European Union-funded project involving four other African countries: Ghana, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.</p><p>The technologies include a desalination greenhouse, an artificial wetland, a biogas digester, a mobile kiln, a biorefinery, a clay-based drip irrigation system and intercropping.</p><p>The technologies are being installed and piloted on Stellenbosch University's Experimental Farm in Stellenbosch and will later be demonstrated on-site in Lynedoch where the small farmers are situated.  </p><p>The various technologies form part of DIVAGRI's aim of creating diverse revenue streams for farmers through a circular economy where waste materials are re-used and farming techniques like irrigation and intercropping are improved.</p><p>“The technologies exist already," says Stellenbosch researcher Mr Henk Stander," We are learning with the small-scale farmers how to adapt it to our local circumstances so that we can assist them to improve their current production as well as create additional sources of income".</p><p>As part of the process, the University has developed a “community of practice" with a group of farmers in Lynedoch to meet regularly, share ideas and discuss challenges of the project</p><p>“This project is giving us the opportunity to address food security not only in our homes but throughout the world," says Lynedoch farmer Mrs Jana Claassen. “It has already taught us about business administration and irrigation systems".,</p><p>The University has also formed a “learning practice alliance" with interested stakeholders such as the National Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Stellenbosch Municipality to work with the project team throughout the project period. </p><p>The LPA members will provide input on the work and play a key role in the long-term sustainability of the technologies and interventions. This includes co-developing training programs and knowledge sharing centres, and linking the work to a multi-national endeavour serving small farmers across the African continent. </p><p>Mr Lungelo George, DALRRD Economic Development, Trade and Marketing Co-operatives Enterprise Development District Manager, welcomed the project and said if enough land was available and the technologies were successful, the project had the potential to assist farmers in increasing production. He had been participating in the Learning Practice Alliance at Lynedoch.<br></p><p>On the images above:<br></p><p><strong>Intercropping and drip irrigation experimental systems:</strong> At the Stellenbosch University (SU) Welgevallen Experimental Farm, the DIVAGRI project has planted Pecan Trees in air pots. </p><p><strong>Desalination Greenhouse:</strong>  Salt-tolerant (halophytic) plants will be cultivated in this recently constructed greenhouse system where condensate (fresh water) from evaporated salt water is collected for other purposes. The primary goal of this system is to cultivate high-value plants such as <em>Salicornia</em> (glasswort), which obtain nutrients from two tanks stocked with tilapia fish as additional protein source.<br></p><ul><li>​The project DIVAGRI has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101000348. The content of this website does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies entirely with the author(s).</li><li>Find more information about DIVAGRI at<br></li></ul><p>​<br></p>
Money must be spent more wisely to control invasive plants in SA must be spent more wisely to control invasive plants in SACorporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​The South African government has spent R7,1 billion (adjusted to 2020 values) between 1998 and 2020 to curb the spread of invasive plants, but we are still struggling to get them under control. What we need is a national strategy that focuses on clearly defined priority sites, improves planning and monitoring, and increases operational efficiency.<br></p><p>This is according to a review conducted by Brian van Wilgen from the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University, Andrew Wannenburgh from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, and John Wilson from the South African National Biodiversity Institute. The findings of their study were published recently in a leading conservation science journal, <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Biological Conservation</strong></a>.</p><p>The researchers reviewed the cost, extent and effectiveness of the management of invasive plants by the government-funded Working for Water programme between 1998 and 2020 – the country's largest intervention for managing invasive plants and for supporting a range of agencies or individuals who are legally responsible for the control of these invasive species. <br></p><p>For their review, they used a broad framework of indicators for assessing inputs (efforts to regulate, money spent, planning coverage and effort expended), outputs (the number of species and the extent of sites treated), and outcomes (the effectiveness of treatments in terms of changes in the extent of invasion and the recovery of biodiversity and ecosystem services) at a national level. Their study is based on (1) spatially explicit data on efforts that targeted selected sites and species for control; (2) surveys of the extent of invasion; and (3) case studies of control effectiveness.</p><p>According to the researchers, national surveys suggest that plant invasions have continued to grow in range and abundance over the past 20 years. They add that the effectiveness of control operations at roughly 76 000 sites covering 2,7 million hectares has not been monitored regularly and that only about 14% of the estimated invaded area has been tackled. More than a quarter of the control operations were not in priority areas for biodiversity and/or water conservation.<br></p><p>“This shows that the problem is too large to expect that invasive species can be effectively controlled everywhere in the country," say the researchers. <br></p><p>“Although R310 million (adjusted to 2020 values) has been spent annually since 1998 to clear invasive plants, and progress has been made in places, we still haven't won the battle. Several estimates show that to reduce alien plant invasions to manageable levels everywhere, we will need three to seven times more money.<br></p><p>“It is, therefore, vital that the available funding is used more effectively to achieve control of alien plant invasions in priority areas."<br></p><p>The researchers say that Working for Water, which started out as a bold visionary project with laudable progress in many areas, has been unable to reach its initial goal of creating 20 000 jobs to win the war against invasive alien plants.<br></p><p>“This mismatch between the dream and reality is partly because sufficient funds were never available, but also because clear goals have not been set, and that there are various structural issues which made control less effective than it could have been. Moreover, insufficient monitoring has meant it has been impossible to reliably track the progress that has been made.<br></p><p>“We need high-level plans with long-term (i.e., 20 years and more) goals for priority areas, in terms of which medium-term plans describing the interventions needed to achieve specific targets over 5–10 years can be drawn up. These medium-term plans would then be implemented and monitored according to annual plans of operation. In addition, there is an urgent need to focus available scarce resources on priority areas if meaningful progress is to be made."<br></p><p>The researchers do point out that despite a lack of adequate funding, Working for Water is still viewed as a highly successful programme. <br></p><p>“It has raised awareness of the problem of biological invasions, secured substantial funding to address the issue, cleared invasive plants over extensive areas, and created much-needed employment, training and development opportunities."<br></p><p>They remain optimistic about the programme and say it can play a positive role in ensuring that invasive alien plants are effectively controlled in (or prevented from invading) defined priority areas, provided that several issues are adequately addressed.<br></p><p>“For this to happen, however, the level of funding needs to be increased; the current suite of projects clearly needs to be narrowed down to a manageable set within priority areas; clear, goal-oriented long and medium-term management plans for priority areas must be developed; the use of biological control agents needs to maximise; high-risk species must be eradicated where possible; and the efficiency of managing the invasive species must be improved."<br></p><p>“If our recommendations are followed, all priority sites should develop and implement long and medium-term management plans with clear goals," add the researchers.<br></p><ul><li><strong>Source</strong>: Van Wilgen, B; Wannenburgh A; Wilson, J 2022. A review of two decades of government support for managing alien plant invasions in South Africa. <em>Biological Conservation</em>, Vol 274: <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"></strong></a></li></ul><p><em>Photo of Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) invasive alien trees in South Africa courtesy of </em><a href=""><em class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><strong>Wikimedia Commons</strong></em></a><em>.</em></p><p>​<br></p>
Maths lecturer attends prestigious Heidelberg Laureate Forum lecturer attends prestigious Heidelberg Laureate ForumEngela Duvenage (Faculty of Science, media)<p>​A junior lecturer and PhD student in Mathematical Sciences, Jacques Rabie, rubbed shoulders with some of the top researchers in his field at the <a href="">Heidelberg Laureate Forum</a> (HLF) in Germany recently. He was​ one of 200 young researchers from more than 50 countries worldwide who were selected for this honour.</p><p>The HLF is modeled on the concept of the <a href="">Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings</a>, which annually provides young researchers the chance to engage with Nobel Laureates. As there are no Nobel Awards for computer science or mathematics, the HLF has since 2013 provided young mathematicians and computer scientists the opportunity to interact and learn from laureates in their fields too, all of whom have been winners of prestigious prizes such as the ACM Prize in Computing, the ACM AM Turing Award, the Fields Medal, Abel Prize and the Nevanlinna Prize.</p><p>The 2022 edition is the first in person event since the Covid-19 pandemic, as virtual events were held in 2020 and 2021.<br></p><p>At the opening event, held on Sunday 18 September 2022, HLF chair and managing director of the Klaus Tschira Foundation, said that the passion and dedication to research of the laureates and young researchers attending is the lifeblood of the Forum. She urged the participants to spend as much time networking as possible, and to learn from each other.<br></p><p>Workshops, panel discussions and seminars by laureates are par for the course of the HLF, as are social events aimed at providing the attendees enough time to have meaningful conversations. A boat trip down the Neckar River, a visit to the Speyer Museum of Technology, a Bavarian evening and a visit to the Heidelberg Castle are always among the highlights of the weeklong event.<br></p><p>Rabie says he is indeed taking the opportunity at HLF to network as much as possible with others in the field of algebra, and also to look for new lines of thought and research to explore.<br></p><p>“It is also interesting to chat to others about the world of work, and to hear how they experience it," he adds. </p><p>Although Rabie admits it is not always easy to do, he believes in having conversations and sharing about the work that one does, and the value of working together with others. In this sense, he admires the example set by the Hungarian mathematician <a href="">Paul Erdős</a>, whose mission it was to collaborate with as many fellow researchers as possible.</p><p>“If you do not share the work that you do, you are actually limiting the field that you are working in," adds Rabie, who authored an<a href=""> article</a> on the topic of competition and collaboration in the maths field for the online publication<a href="file:///C:/Users/science/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/Content.Outlook/NHWS6HVW/"> Wisaarkhu</a>.</p><p>Rabie recently submitted his PhD and hopes to graduate at the end of 2022. His thesis focused on the field of near vector-spaces, and through it he contributed his own ideas on its theory, geometry and hyperstructures.<br></p><p>He is also in the midst of his first year as a junior lecturer at SU, and is now looking for postdoctoral opportunities.<br></p><p>It's so far been a good 2022 for the young mathematician from the Class of 2015 at Linden High School in Johannesburg. His first paper, co-authored with his supervisor Prof Karin-Therese Howell of the SU Department of Mathematical Sciences, was published in January in the journal <a href=""><em>Quaestiones Mathematicae</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>They wrote on the geometries with non-commutative joins and their application to near-vector spaces. The duo has contributed to the theory of the geometry of near-structures by defining a near-linear space, proving some properties and showing that by adding some axioms they could arrive at a nearaffine space. They used some of the geometric results to prove an open problem in near-vector space theory, namely that a subset of a near-vector space that is closed under addition and scalar multiplication is a subspace.</p><p>“A nearaffine space is a generalisation of the traditional affine space, for which the line joining two points generally depends on the order in which the points are joined, i.e. the map sending a pair of different points to their common line is noncommutative," he explained during a recent talk in his home department.</p><p>Rabie enjoys teaching, and helping others to understand difficult concepts. It is a role that he had already taken on at school, often helping others who were struggling with mathematics in afterschool programmes. At SU he started tutoring and working as a teaching assistant in his second year. During the Covid-19 lockdown period, he incorporated cartoons and jokes into his learning material to try and make the experience of online classes and tutorials a bit less daunting for his students.<br></p><p>During 2020 helped to remodel teaching material for Mathematics 114 and 144 at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequently to prepare the courses for the Augmented Remote Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (ARTLA) model followed by SU in 2021.<br></p><p>About his teaching philosophy, he says: “I believe there is no better substitution to independent practice when it comes to mathematics learning. However, this does not mean that students should be left entirely to self-study. The most important task of a lecturer is to create an environment most conducive to independent learning. This can for instance be achieved by giving some introductory problems before lectures to introduce the topics to be discussed in the lecture, and then some further problems designed for reflection after the lecture."<br></p><p>He believes increased student engagement can be achieved by encouraging student questions and participation in lectures, and using lecturing material that is visually stimulating.<br></p>
SU's fossil expert returns with great news from expedition in Mongolia's fossil expert returns with great news from expedition in MongoliaCorporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking - Sandra Mulder<p>​​A discovery of multiple fossil assemblages and ash deposits in the Eastern Gobi basin in Mongolia could reveal new knowledge of dinosaurs and extreme climate conditions that existed on Earth 120 to 80 million years ago.<br></p><p>This is according to <a href="/english/faculty/science/earthsciences/staff-and-postgrads/academic-staff/dr-ryan-tucker">Dr Ryan Tucker</a>, a sedimentologist and taphonomist in the Department of Earth Sciences at Stellenbosch University. He was part of an international team of scientists led by Dr Lindsay Zanno of the North Carolina Museum of Natural History, who undertook the expedition to Mongolia. The scientists form part of the Project MADEx (Mongolian Alliance for Dinosaur Exploration), whose work focuses on finding data on climate change in Earth's deep time, especially the Cretaceous period.<img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Bio1.jpg" alt="Bio1.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:300px;height:225px;" /><br></p><p>Tucker cannot reveal too much information about the discovery, as much of the recovered material belongs to new species yet to be named. “But in broad strokes, we found a rather unusually large ankylosaur, a possible allosaur-type theropod, several new dromaeosaurs (raptors), along with one site locality preserving numerous eggs and egg nests – all roughly from the middle Cretaceous period. </p><p>“We are exceedingly happy with the data discovered," he says. </p><p>During the five weeks at the Gobi site, the team surprisingly found ash beds, which have not been identified in the Eastern Gobi until now. “This will significantly improve our understanding of the temporal framework, which currently spans a possible 40 million years. With these specific ash beds, we could improve that age estimate to within 1 million years, allowing us to meaningfully compare similar dinosaurs locally and globally," Tucker says.</p><p>“The data found at the site will provide insights into what we maybe need to adapt in our present time and future. We try to compare the Mongolian fossil assemblages and ecosystems to those of Utah (USA) to test global patterns," he adds. </p><p><strong>Exploring the global climate crisis</strong></p><p>The recovered fossils, ash deposits and rock material are now at various laboratories in America, Stellenbosch, and Mongolia to determine, among others, the age of the material and to analyse the climate proxies (temperature, humidity, and rainfall). The Mongolian project aims to fill knowledge gaps by exploring the impact of a global climate crisis on North-Eastern Asia's Cretaceous ecosystems.</p><p>Previous research found that the climate on Earth is impacted by the ongoing tectonic processes (the movement of land and earthquakes) or changes in the Earth's crust. Significant climate shifts in history are linked to such geological processes or changes in the Earth.<img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/theropod%20(meat-eating%20dinosaur)%20tooth.jpg" alt="theropod (meat-eating dinosaur) tooth.jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:300px;height:400px;" /><br></p><p>Recent research showed a substantial climate change 30 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period. The warming was so intense that rainforests flourished on the South Pole. During this time –dubbed the mid-Cretaceous Thermal Maximum (CTM) – Earth's inhabitants experienced environmental and climatic disruptions directly linked to Gondwana (Southern Hemisphere separated to form South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia) and Laurasia (North America and Eurasia became separated from the Southern continents), Tucker elaborates on how movements in the Earth's crust can cause climate change.</p><p>He states that the detrimental effects of climate change currently being felt globally can possibly be linked to natural causes and human alteration to natural processes. </p><p>“Therefore, our team seeks to fill these knowledge gaps by exploring the impact of a global climate crisis on North-Eastern Asian Cretaceous ecosystems. If we are successful in obtaining research funds it will allow us to better understand the effects of the CTM event in the East Gobi basin of Mongolia, allowing us to capture paleoclimate environmental proxies for global comparisons in a modern or future context."</p><p><strong>High-risk, high-reward</strong></p><p>Tucker plans to return to Gobi next year with postgraduate students, who will benefit significantly from prospecting there. “Besides helping to explain the region's cryptic geology, they will also be prepared for a very successful and rewarding career because of the unique nature of the fieldwork and the complexity of the geology there."<img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Thin-bedded%20ash%20horizon(the%20white%20unit).jpg" alt="Thin-bedded ash horizon(the white unit).jpg" class="ms-rtePosition-1" style="margin:5px;width:400px;height:300px;" /><br></p><p>“I hope to find funding to bring the students to Mongolia next year and for many years to come; it holds such a special place in my heart now," Tucker says. </p><p>The Mongolian project team seeks “high-risk, high-reward" areas to do the prospecting. “With the aid of historical geological maps and satellite imagery, we assess areas with good rock exposure, high relief, and lacking human modification," says Tucker. “In these areas, the risk is high not to recover any fossil material, but the reward is also high because if we find something, it is typically new to science."</p><p>The Eastern Gobi basin is such a site. According to Tucker, there is still a wealth of data to be recovered. “We have just scratched the surface, and we barely covered a fraction of the geographical area we intended to. We saw very little of what there really is."  </p><p>The other members of the Mongolian project team are Drs Junki Yoshida and Ryuji Takasaki (research associates, School of Science, Hokkaido University, Japan), Dr Tsogtbaatar Chinzorig (Institute of Paleontology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences), Dr Khishigjav Tsogtbaatar (project advisor and Director of the Institute of Paleontology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences), and Drs Celina Suarez and Marina Suarez (University of Arkansas, USA).</p><ul><li>For more information on Tucker's work, visit <a href="/english/faculty/science/earthsciences/staff-and-postgrads/academic-staff/dr-ryan-tucker"></a></li></ul><p> <br></p><p><br></p><p> </p><p> </p><p><br></p>
Engineering, AgriSciences, Science, and Health Sciences students shine at SU FameLab heat, AgriSciences, Science, and Health Sciences students shine at SU FameLab heat Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​​​Taskeen Ebrahim, a doctoral student in Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU), has won the SU heat of the 2023<strong>*</strong> national <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">FameLab</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>competition cycle.</p><p>The in-person event took place on Thursday (13 October 2022). Kaylan Reddy<strong>*<strong>*</strong></strong>, a PhD-student in Botany, and Ayesha Shaikh, a PhD student in Plant Pathology, finished second and third respectively. This year's SU heat also saw the addition of an audience choice category which was won by Siphosethu Zantsi, a master's student in Physiotherapy.<br></p><p>Considered to be one of the biggest science communication and public speaking competitions in the world, FameLab creates a platform for young emerging scientists to speak to public audiences about their work.</p><p>Ebrahim, Reddy, Shaikh and Zantsi were among 18 master's and doctoral students who were given only three minutes to share their research with the audience. As the winner of the heat, Ebrahim will represent SU at the national final next year where she will compete against the winners of heats at other universities in South Africa.</p><p>The SU FameLab heat was organised by Jive Media Africa and the Postgraduate Office, which forms part of the Division for Research Development. The judges were Maryke Hunter-Husselmann (Division for Research Development), Anne Reif (Institute for Communication Science at the Technical University Braunschweig, Germany), Nonsikelelo (Ntsiki) Sackey (Siakhula Digital) and Fumani Mabogoane (South African Research Chair in Science Communication).</p><p><strong>Ebrahim</strong> won the heat for a talk on the point-of-care treatment for pancreatic cancer. She is developing a device (in the form of a little black box) that would allow for the early detection of this type of cancer. The device would be less expensive and more time efficient. It could make it easier to do blood tests and shorten the time people will have to wait for the results of such tests.</p><p>Commenting on her win, Ebrahim said she is very thankful for the opportunity to develop her science communication skills, and excited to be among these students who are going further, so that she can learn even more.</p><p>“Science communication is important in my research because I work on a project that is so multidisciplinary, and new insight and perspectives from these various disciplines can only be gained efficiently through good communication. I think it is also valuable to show people that there are opportunities out there that allow you to do work that has purpose and that could potentially help people. Science communication also encourages you to organise and distil your research, and to share it with scientific and non-scientific audiences, who can help build community while disseminating knowledge."</p><p>In his talk, <strong>Reddy</strong> spoke about how the chemical components found in indigenous medicinal plants like <em>Sceletium</em>, also known as 'kanna' and 'kougoed', could be used to develop substances that could help improve people's mental health. According to him, South Africa's indigenous people have used medicinal plants to lift their mood and to increase their happiness.<br></p><p>Reddy said it is a privilege to be amongst the winners. “As a scientist, I believe that it is my duty to share science with the public. Winning means that I get the opportunity to further develop my skills in science communication and ultimately grow as a storyteller in the hopes to demystify science and inspire others.</p><p>“Science communication around traditional medicine and mental health is incredibly important to combat yet another pandemic we are facing — the mental health pandemic. Through my research, I hope to communicate the untapped potential in indigenous knowledge and traditional medicine that could improve the quality of life of millions of people globally."</p><p>In her presentation, <strong>Shaikh</strong> shared with the audience how her research aims to make local maize varieties more resistant to fungi that contaminate maize, reduce crop yields and are hazardous to animals and humans.  According to Shaikh, her research could also help to improve food security and allow farmers to control these pathogens in an environmentally-friendly way.</p><p>She said she was elated to be among the top three and that taking part in the competition has given her the confidence to share her work with others. </p><p>“Science communication is a means of building relationships that can serve as pathways for collaboration and innovative ideas, both of which are very necessary elements in science and research. Furthermore, without science communication we risk our research sitting in a book on a shelf in an archive never having made a meaningful impact."</p><p><strong>Zantsi</strong> shared with the audience how her research wants to give children who have lost their lower limbs access to prosthetic equipment. Her study highlights the impact of prosthetic limbs in children who might not necessarily be deemed candidates for prosthetic intervention.</p><p>Zantsi said it was an honour to be selected as one of the winners and that this boosted her confidence and zeal to share her research even more.</p><p>“By communicating my research, I hope to educate, advocate for and add value to advancing the field of prosthetics and rehabilitation, particularly for children. This is important because not only will it help the child individually by allowing them to function like their peers, but it could change the trajectory of their future, giving them prospects to gain jobs and to contribute to society."</p><p>The winner of the South African final will represent the country at the international FameLab competition in the United Kingdom.</p><p><strong>*</strong><em>Since a FameLab cycle typically starts the previous year going into the next year, there is an overlap with the 2022 and 2023 FameLab cycles.</em></p><p><strong>*<strong>*</strong></strong><em>Kaylan Reddy was the 2021 SU heat 1st runner-up as well (previous contestants may re-enter as long as they meet the FameLab requirements of being a current postgraduate in the STEM fields and under the age of 35).</em></p><ul><li><strong>Photo</strong>: Siphosethu Zantsi, Kaylan Reddy, Taskeen Ebrahim and Ayesha Shaikh at the FameLab heat. <strong>Photographer</strong>: Ignus Dreyer</li></ul><p>​<br></p>