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MSc-student tackles one of the major challenges in quantum computinghttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8584MSc-student tackles one of the major challenges in quantum computingWiida Fourie-Basson<p>​​At Sovetjheza Senior Secondary School in the rural village of Matshiding, Mpumalanga, Unathi Skosana remembers being fascinated by the physics teacher singing the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz4Dd1I_fX0&ab_channel=AsapSCIENCE">Periodic Table Song</a> in Ndebele, or conjuring up elephant toothpaste from a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, dish soap and a few drops of food colouring.</p><p>It is perhaps no wonder then, that when he was exposed to quantum mechanics in his third year at Stellenbosch University, that fascination with science kicked in again.</p><p>Today he is pursuing an MSc-degree in quantum computing, with his first research paper, written in collaboration with his study leader Prof Mark Tame, published in <a href="https://www.nature.com/srep/"><em>Nature Scientific Reports</em></a>, one of the most authoritative scientific journals in the world of science. The article, a proof-of-concept demonstration of a quantum order-finding algorithm for factoring the integer 21, has already been downloaded 350 times and cited in two articles by researchers from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Spain and Germany.</p><p>Prof Tame, who holds the <a href="http://quantumnanophotonics.org/">South African research chair in photonics</a> in SU's Department of Physics, says he was delighted when Unathi decided to continue the work he started as a BSc Honours student on demonstrating small-scale quantum algorithms on IBM's quantum processors.</p><p>“For his MSc, Unathi decided to look at the prospect of realising Shor's algorithm on the IBM quantum processors for factoring the number 21. He is a very bright and promising researcher, and certainly does not shy away from tackling difficult challenges in quantum computing," he describes his student.</p><p>Shor's algorithm, developed by the American applied mathematician <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03068-9">Peter Shor</a> in 1994, is regarded as one of the crown jewels of quantum computing. Harnessing the laws of quantum mechanics, the algorithm introduced a completely new and efficient way of factoring numbers, which is considered to be a difficult problem for traditional computers. That is why the problem of prime factorisation lies at the heart of the <a href="https://www.khanacademy.org/computing/computers-and-internet/xcae6f4a7ff015e7d:online-data-security/xcae6f4a7ff015e7d:data-encryption-techniques/a/public-key-encryption">RSA public-key encryption method</a>, which is the basis of internet security as we know it today. </p><p>Unathi explains: “A key part of the 'quantum' improvement is because traditional computers process information that is stored in bits, which can take on values of '0' or '1', but never both. On the other hand, quantum computers store and process information in quantum bits or qubits, which operate and behave in a fundamentally different way. For instance, a qubit, just like a bit, can represent information as a '0' or '1', but in addition can also be in a combination of both '0' and '1' at the same time, called a superposition. By utilising the superposition feature, and other strange phenomena in the world of quantum mechanics such as entanglement, quantum computers will be better and faster than traditional computers at solving some computational problems."<br></p><p>Yet, despite several attempts over the past decades to realise Shor's algorithm for small numbers such as 21, the results have been noisy and not very conclusive.</p><p>In order to tackle this problem, Unathi first tried realizing Shor's algorithm in its original form on newly-built IBM quantum processors, and struggled with it for some time, getting very “noisy" results and nothing conclusive, as in previous attempts. In quantum computing, “noise" or “decoherence" happens when there are too many operations associated with an algorithm. </p><p>“Quantum technology is still in early development stages. This is primarily because of the inherent instability of qubits, which makes them very prone to errors," Unathi explains.</p><p>“In practice, the quantum nature of qubits is a doubled-edged sword, because it also makes them extremely sensitive to unintentional influences from their surrounding environment. The longer the computation goes on, the more this effect becomes pronounced which ultimately ruins the computation, giving unreliable results," he continues. </p><p>The breakthrough came when they played around with the idea of shortening Shor's algorithm for factoring 21 by replacing Toffoli gates – a universal logic operation used in traditional computing – with more compact logic gates and some clever maths.</p><p>“We were surprised at how good the results were, so we decided to write them up and submit a paper to <em>Nature Scientific Reports</em>," Prof Tame explains. The paper, titled “<a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-95973-w">Demonstration of Shor's factoring algorithm for N=21 on IBM quantum processors</a>" was published on 16 August 2021. </p><p>Prof Tame says he started experimenting with IBM's quantum processors in 2019. At the time, he wasn't that impressed. However, since then new processors with much better quality have been introduced on a regular basis, allowing him to consider their use by his postgraduate students. He submitted a proposal to the University of Witwatersrand for use of the IBM quantum processors under the banner of the <a href="https://arua.org.za/about/">African Research Universities' Alliance</a> (ARUA) – a network of 16 of Africa's leading universities.</p><p>“Access to the IBM quantum processors provides an opportunity for students from South Africa and Africa to learn and develop skills in this emerging technology, and even play a leading role," he says.</p><p>He has recently incorporated the use of IBM quantum processors into his BSc Honours lectures on quantum information: “Students can run quantum computing tasks on real quantum processors and submit their results to me for checking. In future I am hoping to open up the course to non-physics students from computer and data science as well," he adds.</p><p>In the meantime, putting together the quantum hardware needed to do even small-scale quantum computing is expensive and time consuming.</p><p>And that is why Unathi is now tackling another challenging task: building a proof-of-concept small-scale quantum computer, based on the use of particles of light (called photons). The idea is to build something that will produce similar results to the IBM quantum processors, but in a way that is better suited to the use of photons.</p><p>“Imagine giving students access to our own quantum processor," says Prof Tame. “The theoretically-minded ones can immediately put their ideas to the test, while those interested in experiments involving quantum mechanics can come in and play around with the real thing."</p><p>Unathi seems to be more than up to the task when he mentions another major inspiration: the Greek mathematician and geographer, <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eratosthenes">Eratosthenes</a>, who, two thousand years ago, made the first measurement of the circumference of the Earth working only with the midday shadows cast during an equinox.</p><p>So who's to say it's impossible to build your own quantum processor in the Merensky-building here on SU's campus!</p><p><strong>Caption</strong></p><p>On the photo, from left to right, Prof Mark Tame and MSc-student Unathi Skosana from Stellenbosch University's Department of Physics. <em>Photo credit: Stefan Els</em> </p><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Prof Mark Tame</p><p>SARChI research chair in Photonics, Department of Physics, Stellenbosch University</p><p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:mstame@sun.ac.za">mstame@sun.ac.za</a></p><p>Office: +27 (0)21 808 3375<br><br></p><p>​<br></p>
PhD-student in ethnobotany shines on international stagehttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8577PhD-student in ethnobotany shines on international stageMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>Kaylan Reddy (24), a PhD-student in the <a href="/english/faculty/science/botany-zoology/Pages/default.aspx">Department of Botany and Zoology​</a> at Stellenbosch University, has just received two awards at international conferences: one for the best poster in ethnobotany at Botany 2021 virtual conference, hosted by the Botanical Society of America, and the other for the best PhD presentation at the International Symposium of Phytochemicals in Medicine and Food, hosted by the Phytochemical Society of Europe and the Phytochemical Society of Asia.<br></p><p>Reddy, a first-generation student, first completed a BSc-degree in Biochemistry and Chemistry at the University of Pretoria (UP). An interest in how one could manipulate the chemistry of life within humans led him to a BScHons in Medicinal Plant Science at UP under the guidance of Dr Gary Stafford. Dr Stafford then introduced him to Prof Nox Makunga at Stellenbosch University's research into ethnobotany and plant medicine. In 2020 his MSc project, with Prof Makunga as study leader, was upgraded to a PhD. </p><p>For his studies, Reddy is looking into the chemical and genetic differences between eight different species of the medicinal plant <em>Sceletium</em> exclusively found in the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape. <em>Sceletium</em>, also known as 'kanna' and 'kougoed', has been used by indigenous peoples for centuries for relaxation, stress reduction, and calming thirst and hunger signals. Reddy hopes to characterise the chemical components found in the <em>Sceletium</em> genus that are effective for relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The next step is then to determine the most effective combination of these chemicals in order to develop substances that can be used in the treatment of anxiety and depression.</p><p>The search for this elusive species have awakened a newfound love for plants in him: “These plants are quite rare in nature and difficult to find, as they literally hide underneath other plants. Some of the species I am studying have not been seen since the 1980s. Most of the time we have to talk to people living in those areas to find the plants. Last week, an 80-year old gentleman helped us to find a population of <em>Sceletium</em> growing in an area he last visited when he was 16 years old," he explains.</p><p>Reddy is also passionate about science communication, and frequently shares his work on his Instagram account at @sceletium.sci.guy and on Twitter @Plant_Detective. He is also representing SU at the national semi-finals of FameLab 2021 where he will talk about medicinal plant science and mental health.<br></p><p><em>On the photo, Kaylan Reddy. Photographer: Stefan Els</em><br></p><p>​<br></p>
Microbial plant bioprocessing – what can we learn from the cow?http://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8578Microbial plant bioprocessing – what can we learn from the cow?Wiida Fourie-Basson<p></p><p>For billions of years, Nature has perfected ways of dealing with the recycling of materials. Like a good housekeeper who saves as much as she can, she knows how to avoid what is too much and too little.</p><p>One of the best examples of this thrifty behaviour of Nature is the evolution of ruminants: animals such as deer, goats, cows and antelope have developed a unique digestive system, consisting of four different stomachs, to convert even the toughest grasses and leaves into nourishing milk, wool and protein.</p><p>Remember, as a child, how one cringed at the idea of regurgitating your own food to chew on it before it being swallowed again? Well, cows spend about eight hours of their day doing exactly that, thereby assisting their microbial community to process the raw plant food.</p><p>A cow is therefore a natural example of consolidated bioprocessing where cellulose (in plantmaterial) is hydrolysed and converted to various products in a single vessel (the cow). So what can we learn from Nature, and more specifically cows, when dealing with the 83 million metric tons of agricultural, municipal and fruit waste produced in South Africa every year?</p><p>According to microbiologists at Stellenbosch University, the concept of a biorefinery based on the four-stomach digestive system of ruminants, may just be key to the establishment of simple and robust, small-scale biorefinery operations in South Africa and Africa.</p><p><a href="/english/faculty/science/microbiology/research/wh-van-zyl">Prof Emile van Zyl</a>, distinguished professor in microbiology at SU, says first-world countries have made significant progress over the last few decades in the development of capital-intensive and advanced technologies to produce bioethanol from plant material. Yet, as long as relatively cheap fossil fuels are around, the upscaling of these technologies remain commercially non-viable. </p><p>“South Africa and Africa cannot afford the huge capital costs of large-scale cellulosic ethanol plants and the technological challenges associated with it," he explains.</p><p>That is why, in a recent review published in the journal <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4344/11/8/964"><em>Catalysis</em></a>, they propose the introduction of the rumen microbiome into anaerobic digestion processes. Currently, mixed anaerobic microbial cultures are used to break down organic matter to generate mostly biogas, and much research is aimed at finding the most efficient microbes and identifying the parameters for their optimal functioning.  Yet, argue the researchers, mammalian ruminants have naturally evolved to perform anaerobic digestion of plant material. </p><p>Furthermore, instead of producing biogas, they suggest supressing that latter part of the digestion process and rather use microbial hosts to produce industrial important organic acids, such as acetic, propionic, butyric and valeric and caproic acids from agricultural wastes. Yeast biotechnology can also be employed for the conversion of malic acid in grape and apple pomace to higher-value lactic, citric, fumaric and succinic acids. For example, the current value of organic acids can vary from about US$600 per metric ton for acetic acid to more than US$2000 per metric ton for carbon 4-6 carboxylic acids. With the rise in demand for bioplastics, organic polymers such as polylactate reach values of more than US$3500 per metric ton.</p><p>Prof Marinda Viljoen-Bloom, one of the co-authors, says while the application of rumen microbes for the digestion of plant material is not a new concept, it remains a challenge to replicate the complicated interactions found in ruminants in a bioreactor. In the <a href="/english/faculty/science/microbiology/research/m-bloom-viljoen">Biofuels Research Group</a> at the Department of Microbiology, they are specifically looking at ways to add value to South African waste streams: For his PhD, Dr Sesethu Njokweni explored the anaerobic production of volatile fatty acids from agricultural waste, while PhD student Annica Steyn is constructing a recombinant yeast strain that can effectively convert malic acid to higher-value organic acids. </p><p><strong>Did you know?</strong></p><p>The most significant sources of organic waste in South Africa is sugarcane bagasse (5.35 million metric tonnes), invasive plants (11.30 million metric tonnes) and fruit wastes (1.3 billion metric tonnes). Microbiologists from Stellenbosch University are investigation the use of mammalian rumen in the anaerobic digestive process to break down or separate organic waste into its original building blocks, from where it can subsequently be converted into various high-value products – just as a cow does with processing the tough plant material into the basic building blocks upon which the production of milk is based.</p><p>The article “Potential valorisation of organic waste streams to valuable organic acids through microbial conversion: a South African case study" was published in the journal <em>Catalysis</em> and is available online at  <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4344/11/8/964">https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4344/11/8/964</a></p><p><strong>Media interviews:</strong></p><p>Prof Marinda Viljoen-Bloom</p><p>Department of Microbiology, Stellenbosch University</p><p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:mv4@sun.ac.za">mv4@sun.ac.za</a></p><p>Mobile: +27 _83 630 3815<br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU finalists competing for science and technology awardshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8568SU finalists competing for science and technology awardsCorporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​As has been the case in previous years, Stellenbosch University (SU) will once again be well represented at the annual <a href="http://www.nstf.org.za/awards/about/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)/ South32Awards</strong></a>. Six finalists from SU will be competing for the 2020/2021 NSTF/South32 Awards at South Africa's “Science Oscars" on Thursday 30 September 2021. </p><p>This year, the NSTF Awards Gala Event will take place as a hybrid event to be broadcast from two cities – Johannesburg and Cape Town. This means the usual Gala Dinner will be reintroduced with the addition of a celebration in Cape Town and broadcasting from both cities to an online audience via the NSTF YouTube channel. The patron of the Awards, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande has been invited to preside over the presentation of awards.<br></p><p>Regarded as the most sought-after national accolades of their kind in the country, the NSTF/South32 Awards recognise, celebrate and reward the outstanding contributions of individuals, teams and organisations to science, engineering and technology (SET) in the country. Among the competitors are experienced scientists, engineers, innovators, science communicators, engineering capacity builders, organisational managers and leaders, as well as data and research managers.</p><p>According to the organisers, it is an extraordinary honour to be a finalist given the quality of the nominations received every year, the fierce competition that nominees face and growing interest from the SET community over the years.<br></p><p>The SU finalists (with department or environment) and the categories in which they will compete are as follows:<br></p><p><strong><em>Lifetime Award</em></strong></p><ul><li>Profs Soraya Bardien & Eileen Hoal (Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics)</li></ul><p><strong><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Researchers</em></strong></p><ul><li>Prof Anton du Plessis (Department of Physics and Manager: X-ray Computed Tomography Scanner Facility)</li></ul><p><strong><em>TW Kambule-NSTF Awards: Emerging Researchers</em></strong><em> </em></p><ul><li>Dr Wynand Goosen (Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics, Department of Biomedical Sciences)</li><li>Dr Caitlin Uren (Division of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics). She is also a finalist in the <strong><em>Data for Research</em></strong> category.</li></ul><p><strong><em>Innovation Award: Corporate Organisation</em></strong></p><ul><li>Innovus Technology Transfer Office Team with Leader and Head Dr Madelein Kleyn<br></li></ul><p>​<br></p>
Detailed analysis by African scientists of SARS-CoV-2 published in Sciencehttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8549Detailed analysis by African scientists of SARS-CoV-2 published in ScienceCorporate Communication and Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking<p><strong><em>​​​Scientists and public health officials in Africa join forces to expand genomic training and facilities so the continent can respond robustly to the global pandemic. </em></strong><strong><em>If left behind, Africa could become a breeding ground for new variants.</em></strong></p><p><em>Science</em> published a detailed analysis of SARS-CoV-2 variants produced by hundreds of African scientists and public health officials across the continent, today (9 September 2021). This is the first major output of Africa's top scientists to increase the continent's capacity to produce and analyse genomic data.</p><p>Genomic surveillance has been crucial to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants and guide the global public health response. Unfortunately, when the pandemic started, Africa was soon left behind. Its fragile health and scientific infrastructure, weak purchasing power, and the fact that diagnostics and reagents were being hoarded by developed countries, made Africa the world's least vaccinated continent. It did not have access to the technology required to fight the pandemic. </p><p>In order to close this gap, 112 African and 25 international organisations, in close collaboration with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (<a href="https://africacdc.org/">Africa CDC</a>) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), worked together and created a detailed analysis of SARS-CoV-2 variants and lineages in Africa. The detailed <em>Science</em> paper describes SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance in 33 African countries and two overseas territories. </p><p>It shows that the epidemics in most countries were initiated by importations predominantly from Europe, which diminished after the early introduction of international travel restrictions. As the pandemic progressed, ongoing transmission in many countries and increasing mobility led to the emergence and continent-wide spread of many variants of concern and interest, such as B.1.351 (Beta), B.1.525 (Eta), A.23.1 and C.1.1/C.1.2. </p><p>In spite of limited sampling, the African scientists identified many of the variants of concern (VOCs) and variants of interest (VOIs) that are being transmitted across the world. Detailed characterisation of the variants and their impact on vaccine-induced immunity is extremely important. If the pandemic is not controlled in Africa, we may see the production of vaccine-escape variants, which may profoundly affect the African and global population. The findings in this important paper highlight that Africa must not be left behind in the global pandemic response, otherwise it could become a breeding ground for new COVID variants.</p><p>“We are deeply committed to using the most advanced technologies in Africa to trace and combat the virus. If the virus keeps evolving on the African continent, this will become a global problem. It is our moral duty to try to protect Africa and the world," <strong>says Prof Tulio de Oliveira, a professor of Bioinformatics who hold appointments at Stellenbosch University's School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, its Faculty of Medicine and Health Science and Faculty of Science, and director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal</strong>. “This was a very fulfilling collaboration. Not only did we manage to share and analyse our African data together, the collaboration also involved complete sharing of knowledge, with all analysis scripts shared and hundreds of hours of capacity building in analysis and data generation so that genomics can be decentralised and performed in real time in Africa."</p><p>“Strengthening genomic surveillance systems across the continent is key for early detection and control of disease outbreaks," says <strong>Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC</strong>. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Africa CDC Institute of Pathogen Genomics has been supporting member states to expand their SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance for the rapid detection of variants. The Institute is very proud of this collaborative work and will continue to coordinate collaboration among public health, academic and research institutions to strengthen pathogen genomics and bioinformatics capacity in Africa." </p><p>Since the production of this manuscript and collaboration, Africa has increased its genomics surveillance and today, 40,000 African genomes are available in GISAID. The increase of sequencing is a challenge that the continent is overcoming with the support of funders, the Africa Union/Africa CDC and the WHO in close collaboration with Ministries of Health, public health institutions and the scientific community that produced this pan-African analysis.</p><p>“We ignore mutations and variants at our own peril. The Delta variant is a wake-up call and underlines the importance of genomic information, and of ensuring that African scientists have the necessary resources to analyse the evolution of COVID-19," <strong>says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.</strong> “Without this analysis, variants can spread undetected on the continent and across the globe. This will prolong the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, not just in Africa, but worldwide."</p><p>The open-access manuscript is available on the <em>Science</em> website: </p><p>Wilkinson et al. <strong>A year of genomic surveillance reveals how the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic unfolded in Africa, </strong><em>Science</em>, doi/10.1126/science.abj4336, 2021.</p><p><a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.abj4336">https://science.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.abj4336</a>  <br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU students rule the roost at SA Mathematics Olympiad for universitieshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8535SU students rule the roost at SA Mathematics Olympiad for universitiesMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p></p><p>For the fifth year in a row, Stellenbosch University (SU) engineering student Ralph McDougall made it into the Hall of Fame of the ASSA South African Tertiary Mathematics Olympiad (SATMO).</p><p>Ralph, who is currently a third-year electrical engineering student, first made it into the Hall of Fame in his Grade 11-year, and finished joint-first in Grade 12. In 2019, he again made it into the Hall of Fame, then sole first in 2020, and this year joint-first with a score of 18 out of 20. The question paper comprises 20 relatively short “give the answer only" problems, to be solved in two hours.</p><p>Another two SU students also made it into the Hall of Fame this year: Jean Weight obtained a score of 15 out of 20, and Danielle Kleyn 12. They are both first-year students in the BSc mathematical sciences programme.</p><p>Dr Dirk Basson, coordinator of the Olympiad at SU and a lecturer in the Mathematics Division, says a record number of 36 SU students participated in this year's competition. Nine of them obtained a score of ten and more, which places them in the top 30 out of the 215 students that participated. With these high scores, SU was ranked first amongst the competing universities, including University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand.</p><p>Ralph says the problems posed in the Olympiad are usually original, and do not come from a set syllabus: “It is unlike any other exam. Through participating in Maths Olympiads, one becomes accustomed to analytical thinking and solving unconventional problems. I believe this is a tremendous help for succeeding in your university studies."</p><p>The South African Mathematical Foundation (SAMF) administers a number of Mathematics Olympiads, including the SA Mathematics Olympiad, the SA Mathematics Challenge, the PAN-African Mathematics Olympiad and the International Mathematical Olympiad. The SAMF website also contains a wealth of Olympiad resources in the form of training manuals and former typical Olympiad problems.</p><p>This year SU and other South African universities will also compete for the first time in the Simon Marais Mathematics Competition on 9 October 2021. Dr Simon Marais was an SU alumni and physicist who became a prominent contrarian asset manager in South Africa and later Australia. He maintained a life-long passionate interest in mathematics and mathematical problem solving after completing a PhD in Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University in 1991. On 26 February 2015 he passed away after a short battle with cancer. </p><p>The competition consists of two three-hour long papers, written in the morning and afternoon respectively. Register at https://forms.office.com/r/0QUg1VNbm8 before 10 September.</p><p>Students who want to participate in any of these Olympiads can send an e-mail to Dr Dirk Basson at djbasson@sun.ac.za​<br></p><p><br><br></p>
Major skills boost in agri-horticulture for TVET Collegeshttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8521Major skills boost in agri-horticulture for TVET CollegesMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>​Motheo Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College is the first TVET College in South Africa to have established a technology-driven greenhouse tunnel. The objective is to develop the skills of TVET graduates in the agri-horticultural sector and enhance their employability.<br></p><p>This is one of the milestones in the Stellenbosch University (SU) and Maastricht School of Management's (MSM) three year Orange Knowledge Programme titled “Strengthening Skills of TVET Staff and Students for Optimizing Water Usage and Climate Smart Agriculture in South Africa". The project is funded by the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation (NUFFIC), through the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. </p><p>The installation of the greenhouse tunnel is the result of a number of assessment activities which involved researchers from SU, Dutch greenhouse experts coordinated through MSM, as well as TVET staff from Boland, Motheo, and Vhembe Colleges. One of these assessments, conducted from December 2019 to January 2020, highlighted the key industry-driven skills requirement by the private horticulture sector in the domain of water-smart agri-horticulture. The investment in the greenhouse will therefore develop and enhance the skills and employability of TVET graduates. </p><p>During the handover on Friday 13 August 2021, Prof Dipiloane Phutsisi, principal of <a href="https://www.motheotvet.co.za/plot32.html">Motheo College</a>, emphasized the need for cooperation and knowledge exchange to ensure successful crop production training in the greenhouse. Dr Rykie van der Westhuizen, a crop production specialist, inspected the greenhouse and approved its operation and functionality by carrying out the official handover and sign-off to Motheo College. Over the next few weeks, Dr Van der Westhuizen will play a crucial role in the operationalization of the greenhouse and starting with horticultural training in the greenhouse for college students.  </p><p>Mr Brent Stevens from Vegtech, the suppliers of the tunnel, also introduced a number of TVET staff to the technical aspects of the greenhouse tunnel. Another greenhouse tunnel has since been completed at <a href="https://www.vhembecollege.edu.za/">Vhembe TVET College</a> in Limpopo, and a third tunnel, at <a href="https://www.bolandcollege.com/">Boland TVET College</a>, should be completed by November 2021. </p><p><strong>Media inquiries</strong></p><p>Mr Peter Makae</p><p>Manager in the Office of the Principal, Motheo TVET College, Bloemfontein</p><p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:makaep@motheotvet.co.za">makaep@motheotvet.co.za</a></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>Mr Manuel Jackson</p><p>Programme officer, Stellenbosch University Water Institute</p><p>E-mail: jacksonm@sun.ac.za<br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU’s Dr Katherine de Villiers awarded for outstanding chemical researchhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8523SU’s Dr Katherine de Villiers awarded for outstanding chemical researchMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>​For the third time in her academic career as a chemist, Dr Katherine de Villiers (39) has been honoured by the South African Chemical Institute (SACI) for her outstanding contribution to research in this field.<br></p><p>Dr De Villiers, a senior lecturer in bioinorganic chemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University (SU), is the recipient of the 2021 <a href="https://www.saci.co.za/saci_awards.html">Raikes' Medal of the SA Chemical Institute</a>. The gold-plated medal, together with a monetary prize of R2500, is awarded annually to a member of the institute, under the age of 40, whose original chemical research shows outstanding promise. </p><p>However, as a postgraduate student in chemistry and the University of Cape Town, she was also the recipient of the SACI James Moir Medal for the best BScHonours student in chemistry in 2004, and in 2008 she received the SACI Postgraduate Medal for her PhD thesis, which she completed at the age of 26 under the guidance of Prof Timothy Egan. She joined SU's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science in 2009 as a lecturer, and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2013. </p><p>Dr De Villiers works in the field of bioinorganic chemistry, and in particular the rational development of antimalarial drugs to target the asexual blood stage of the malaria parasite lifecycle. Having grown up in Zimbabwe, she witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of malaria:  “When I learned as an Honours student that my passion for chemistry could make a contribution to transforming the lives of people at risk of this parasitic disease, I knew I had found my path," she writes in a <a href="https://www.nrf.ac.za/content/women%E2%80%99s-month-2021-dr-katherine-de-villiers">blog for the National Research Foundation</a> recently.</p><p>As she recently become the mother of two, Christopher (4) and Caroline (2), she has opted to put her career path on a slower trajectory by giving up her full-time position for a five/eights post: “While I know my career progress will not be as fast as it could have been, if I remained in a full-time position, I believe this option gives me the time and space to separate my work and home life. I love my work and look forward to my time in office each day, but I also want to play an active role in my children's lives."</p><p>Prof Peter Mallon, head of the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, says this is an outstanding achievement. Previous recipients of this award currently working in the department include Prof Willem van Otterlo (2004), Prof Erick Strauss (2013) and Prof André de Villiers (2015).<br></p><p>​<br></p>
SACI medal for SU’s top chemistry studenthttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8505SACI medal for SU’s top chemistry studentMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p></p><p>Stellenbosch University chemistry student Kayla Heinrich has been awarded the South African Chemical Institute's (SACI) coveted James Moir Medal as the Best Chemistry Honours Student at SU in 2020.</p><p>The James Moir Medals are awarded annually to the best BScHons student in chemistry at each university in South Africa, and only students achieving an average final mark of at least 75% are eligible.</p><p>Kayla, who is a former learner from Fairmont High School in Durbanville, says she initially wanted to become a geneticist, but after enjoying physics in her first year, decided to change degree programmes to biological laser physics. Finally, in her third year, she made the decision to switch to chemical biology to follow her passion. </p><p>“Unfortunately I had to extend my degree by a year. I was sure after my third year that Chemistry was for me and that I wanted to continue with the BSc Hons-degree in Chemistry. Despite it being tough, especially during a pandemic, I enjoyed the challenge and how much I was able to learn in one year."</p><p>She is currently doing an MSc in Chemistry under the supervision of Prof Selwyn Mapolie and Prof André de Villiers.</p><p>Her advice to fellow students? </p><p>“Never give up. You are not alone, everyone goes through the lows where you feel like you can't do it anymore. But don't give up on yourself. What if you can do what you've been told you would not be capable of? I've made it this far by pushing my boundaries."</p><p>She is considering pursuing a PhD in chemistry, but she also wants to explore her passion for teaching: “I have been a high school and university tutor for eight years. I enjoy helping students achieve that 'aha' moment by pushing themselves past their limits to find that the subject they initially struggled with, is now one of their favourites."</p><p>Recently, Kayla also received the SMM award for the best BScHons-student in SU's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science.<br></p><p>​<br></p>
Hundreds of Cape Fur seals entangled in fishing lines and nets every yearhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=8497Hundreds of Cape Fur seals entangled in fishing lines and nets every yearMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p></p><p>Fishing line and nets are having a major impact on Cape fur seals (<em>Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus</em>), the most common marine mammal observed around the coastline of South Africa and Namibia, where they are endemic. </p><p>While their population numbers are considered healthy, plastic pollution, and particularly fishing line and nets, are causing horrific injuries and can result in a slow, painful death. </p><p>These are the first results from an ongoing project, initiated in 2018, to investigate the impact of pollution on Cape fur seals in Namibia. The project involves researchers and conservationists from Stellenbosch University, Sea Search-Namibian Dolphin Project and Ocean Conservation Namibia.</p><p>The team monitors the entanglement rates of seals and Ocean Conservation Namibia have been disentangling many of the animals affected. The first results from the project were published this week in the scientific journal <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X21007931"><em>Marine Pollution Bulletin</em></a><em>.</em> </p><p>The study demonstrated that a high number of affected animals were pups and juveniles, which were mainly entangled around the neck by fishing line.  Rates of entanglement were roughly 1 per 500 animals and was similar between the two colonies investigated at Walvis Bay and Cape Cross. Of the 347 entangled animals documented, the disentanglement team, led by Naudé Dreyer of Ocean Conservation Namibia, were able to successfully disentangled 191 individuals between 2018 and March 2020. </p><p>Working in Africa with limited recourses, the team also compared low cost methods of data collection. They found that photographic scans of the colonies were a fast and accurate method to collect data on entangled individuals and the materials they are trapped in. </p><p>Dr Tess Gridley, co-director of the Namibia Dolphin Project and an extraordinary senior lecturer in the Department of Botany and Zoology at Stellenbosch University, says plastic pollution and particularly lost and discarded fishing nets are having a big impact to marine life: “Once entangled, these seals face a very painful and uncertain future: finding food becomes harder and wounds can become deep and debilitating, and likely cause death in many cases. Changes to policy could help, such as financial incentives to recover lines, safe disposal of nets and sustainable alternatives to plastics". </p><p>Stephanie Curtis, a research student with the Namibian Dolphin Project and lead author, says the impact of plastic pollution in the oceans is devastating: “Seals should not have to suffer this way because of our carelessness with waste".</p><p>According to Dr Simon Elwen, co-director of the Namibian Dolphin Project and also associated with SU's Department of Botany and Zoology, fur seals are especially vulnerable to becoming entangled: “They are very curious and playful animals and will investigate objects in the water, but their thick, backwards facing fur which keeps them warm at sea easily snags lines and straps and stops it falling back off."</p><p>Naudé Dreyer from Ocean Conservation Namibia says the project is ongoing: “Since the start of 2021 we have already disentangled over 600 fur seals in only two colonies. This is the tip of the iceberg. It is imperative that studies such as this highlight the consequences of plastic waste on marine animals, and bring around change for the better".</p><p>Press Folder - with images,  video and full pdf of paper at https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1TIJEkkX6Y_QR-Eb4dWt55zG9am3t3udr?usp=sharing</p><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Dr Tess Gridley</p><p>Co-Director of the Namibia Dolphin Project/Sea Search and extraordinary senior lecturer, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University.</p><p>E-mail: nam.dolphin.project@gmail.com. </p><p>Mobile: +27(0)794292702</p><p>Land Line : +27 (0) 21 788 1206</p><p> </p><p>Mr Naudé Dreyer</p><p>Ocean Conservation Namibia</p><p>Email: info@ocnamibia.org</p><p>Mobile: +264 (0) 81 149 7377</p><p> </p><p>Dr Simon Elwen</p><p>Co-Director of the Namibia Dolphin Project/Sea Search and research associate, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University</p><p>E-mail: Simon.Elwen@gmail.com</p><p>Mobile: +27(0)711395951</p><p>Land Line : +27 (0) 21 788 1206<br></p><p>​<br></p>