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SU researchers, alumni honoured by SA Academy researchers, alumni honoured by SA AcademyCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>​Three researchers and two former postgraduate students from Stellenbosch University (SU) have been honoured by the South African Academy for Science and Arts for their contributions to science and the arts.<br></p><p>The award winners are Prof Matilda Burden of the SU Museum, Prof Jan van Vuuren of the Department of Industrial Engineering, Prof Andre Weideman of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and alumni Theo Busschau and Ruhan Fourie.<br></p><p>Prof Matilda Burden, a cultural historian, receives an Honorary Award for the Advancement of History (Erepenning vir die Bevordering van Geskiedenis) for her outstanding contribution to the advancement of history or cultural history as disciplines in South Africa.<br></p><p>Burden says that even though she was completely taken by surprise, it is a great honour and she is deeply grateful for it.<br></p><p>“It is my privilege to be able to research and write about South African cultural history, and to train South Africans across all cultural boundaries in cultural history, heritage studies and museum science. It is, therefore, a special honour to be rewarded with an award that recognises a modest contribution. <br></p><p>“Receiving this award from the SA Academy for Science and Arts means a great deal to me, especially as it also recognises the field of cultural history," adds Burden.<br></p><p>The Douw Greeff Prize goes to Prof Jan van Vuuren for a research or review article of the highest scientific quality published in the <em>SA Journal of Natural Science and Technology</em> during the year preceding the award. </p><p>Van Vuuren says the prize was totally unexpected. “Recognition is not a researcher's driving force; rather, it is a fundamental curiosity that leads to a quest to answer open-ended questions. But it is nevertheless encouraging and enjoyable if one gets the kind of recognition that the South African Academy for Science and Arts gives." He also received this award in 2007 with Nicky Pantland.<br></p><p>The Havenga Prize for Physical Sciences was awarded to <span class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"><a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Prof André (J.A.C.) Weideman</strong></a><strong>,</strong></span> an applied mathematician who specialises in the design and improvement of computer algorithms for application in the natural sciences and engineering. The Havenga Prize is an annual award for original research in the natural sciences and can be awarded only once to an individual. </p><p>​Prof Weideman is <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=4819"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">internationally acknowledged</strong></a> as one of the most creative figures in numerical analysis, specifically for his research on the interface between complex analysis and numerical algorithms in application fields such as differential equations, integral transforms and special functions. Over a career spanning more than thirty years, he has made a valuable contribution to the improvement of software by applying his theoretical knowledge to develop practical algorithms.</p><p>In reaction to the award, Prof Weideman said the award is special even more so as applied mathematicians' research contributions often remain invisible to the popular media: “Applied mathematics is a subject in the service of the rest of the sciences. For someone who spent his academic career on improving computer algorithms for effective use by other scientists, this award is extremely special."<br></p><p>The Junior Captain Scott Memorial Medal for the best MSc-thesis in Zoology was awarded to Mr <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Theo Busschau</strong></a>, for his thesis on the “Phylogeographic patterning of three co-distributed forest-dwelling reptile species along the east coast of South Africa". </p><p>Mr Busschau has been working on reptiles since his BScHons-degree, under the supervision of Prof Savel Daniels. Described as an exceptional student, he has already published five research articles in peer-reviewed journals, two of which as first author, with another article in press. In September, he will be off to the United States where he was granted a PhD fellowship in Biology at New York University.<br></p><p>Another SU alumnus, Ruhan Fourie, was honoured with the Protea Boekhuis Prize and the General Christaan de Wet scholarship for the best History dissertation in Afrikaans. His master's thesis was on the anti-apartheid activist Beyers Naudé.<br></p><ul><li><strong>Photo</strong>: Mr Theo Busschau and Profs Matilda Burden, André Weideman and Jan van Vuuren. </li></ul><p> </p><p>​ </p><p><br></p>
Stellenbosch University’s BioCODE first recipient of UTF funding University’s BioCODE first recipient of UTF fundingInnovus <p>​​While you read this article, there will be at least 4 500 cancer fatalities and 8 000 from cardiovascular disease, according to the World Health Organisation. These statistics are exacerbated by the circumstances and lack of health care for many of these victims in developing countries.<br></p><p>Prof Resia Pretorius, head of Stellenbosch University's Physiological Sciences Department in the Faculty of Science, and her team of researchers, engineers and scientists hope to address these needs with the patenting and development of the BioCODE 2-in-1 nanosensor to determine disease risk in patients.</p><p>Pretorius says cancer and cardiovascular diseases are often characterised by type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attack and thrombosis, and the golden thread that links all of these conditions is systemic inflammation. “This inflammation is the result of increased circulating inflammatory biomarkers, including serum amyloid A, P-selectin and abnormal blood protein folding. These biomarkers are the cause of sticky blood and their presence greatly increase the possibility of getting a stroke, a heart attack or deep vein thrombosis."</p><p>Introduced by Anita Nel, Chief Director of Innovation and Business Development, who heads up <a href="">Innovus</a>, SU's technology transfer office for the commercialisation of the Institution's assets, Pretorius, Prof Anna-Mart Engelbrecht a cancer researcher, also from the department of Physiological Sciences, and Prof Willie Perold from SU's Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, developed a protocol for a small portable and cost effective nanosensor. The BioCODE team was the first recipients of funding from the newly established University Technology Fund (UTF).</p><p>Innovus was instrumental in working with the researchers to secure funding for the first stages of the development work of the BioCODE, the patenting thereof and the establishment of a company that is currently being incubated at SU's LaunchLab.</p><p>The sensor will be relatively cheap to produce and small enough to be used by a medical practitioner in his or her rooms and for nurses in mobile clinics. A second part of the sensor detects spontaneously formed sticky blood clotlets in circulation, using smartphone based technology. Perold says it is very exciting to be part of this multidisciplinary team of experts. “I do believe that many of the solutions of current day problems lie in this approach."</p><p>Pretorius said the BioCODE detects inflammatory biomarker levels from a drop of blood. “The serum amyloid A and P-selectin molecules in a person's circulation are upregulated when you have a risk for cancer or cardiovascular disease. To measure these molecules, we use antibodies which we immobilise on a test strip for the BioCODE," said Pretorius who, in 2018, already received funding to produce the antibodies in alpacas. They are now in the process to compare the antibodies to commercial ones.</p><p>In practice, a medical practitioner would usually send blood away to pathology laboratories for biomarker analysis. With the 2-in-1 nanosensor, the practitioner no longer has to send the blood samples away. Putting drops of a patient's blood on strips with serum amyloid A and P-selectin, will enable a practitioner to determine levels of the biomarkers in the patient. “Although one cannot determine what kind of cancer a patient might have per se, if serum amyloid A is greatly increased in circulation, it could suggest that a type of cancer is prevalent, and further testing can be done. “For instance, if the serum amyloid A levels are very high in a male patient, one can test for prostate cancer or in the case of a female patient, for breast cancer". These biomarkers are also significantly upregulated in cardiovascular disease.  The clinician still would need to make the final diagnoses, based on the usual clinical diagnostic processes.</p><p>“Our aim is to constantly improve the sensors to finally being able to detect specific cancers. We are currently also working on a sensor for the early detection of pancreatic cancer; since it is usually detected at a very late stage with a poor prognosis for these patients. This sensor will enable us to detect this cancer at a much earlier stage which will make 'n huge difference to the life expectancy of these patients with a current life expectancy of only 3-6 months," says Prof Engelbrecht.</p><p>Pretorius said the nanosensor could even be used to predict increased cytokine activity that is characteristic of the cytokine storm during COVID-19.</p><p>The prototype of the electronic part of the nanosensor is currently being finalised. BioCODE's first employee, Este Burger, who recently graduated from SU as an engineer, is working on the development of the smartphone-sensor for the company.</p><p>Dr Andre du Toit (post-doc researcher) and Greta de Waal (PhD student), both from the Department of Physiological Sciences, assist the team in the immobilisation of the antibodies onto the test strips.</p><p>Also part of the BioCODE team is SU's Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers, (who is a gastroenterologist, with a special interest in serum amyloid A in colorectal cancer) who, together with Prof Pretorius, Prof Engelbrecht and Prof Perold, holds the patent for the BioCODE and shares the supervision of a PhD-student with Pretorius.</p><p>“BioCODE is the right product for the right time in South Africa today," says De Villiers. “Not only is it cost effective to produce, but it will enable medical practitioners to give people in our rural areas access to valuable medical screening which is currently not possible to do. For me it is an honour to be part of a young and dedicated team that is creating a home-grown product that will be used by the medical practitioners around the globe."</p><p>Pretorius expresses her thanks to the UTF for funding the research. It will enable the team to successfully reach the milestones which will provide leverage for further funding. “We will need to produce ten of the BioCODE 2-in-1 sensors and pull in an independent company which will draw blood and do tests on the BioCODE to determine if it will give consistent and comparable gold standard results. This will eventually lead to prototrials towards the end of milestone three at the end of 2020, which could put BioCODE on a path towards becoming a commercially viable product."</p><p>Stocks and Strauss, who was appointed as fund managers for the UTF fund, believes that BioCODE is an unique investment opportunity, says partner Wayne Stocks. “It is our opinion that the science is novel, the market is an exciting one, and the BioCODE team has the expertise, experience and passion to achieve the milestones identified to prove and commercialise the technology on a global scale."<br><br></p><p> </p><p><strong><em>About Innovus</em></strong></p><p><em>Innovus is a division of Stellenbosch University responsible for technology transfer, entrepreneurial support and development, and innovation at the university. Innovus manages the commercialisation of the University's innovation and intellectual property portfolio through patenting, licensing and the formation of spin-out companies.</em></p><p><em>Through our LaunchLab business incubator, Innovus offers various services to and opportunities for entrepreneurs. In addition to this their equity holding in the Innovus group of companies is a valuable asset for the university.</em></p><p><em>Innovus's website ( profiles an impressive portfolio of patents and provides tools and advice for inventors wishing to commercialise their ideas, and investors who want to help turn great ideas into reality.</em></p><p><strong><em>About Innovus and the UTF</em></strong></p><p><em>Stellenbosch University (SU) and the University of Cape Town co-invested in the newly established R150-million University Technology Fund (UTF) (a first for the continent of Africa) that was set up by the SA SME Fund in its endeavour to partner with South African universities to commercialise the technologies and business ideas that arise from these universities.</em><em> </em></p><p><em>For a few years now, Anita Nel, </em><em>Chief Director of Innovation and Business Development</em><em> at Innovus, and her team have been working on developing a funding model for early seed capital for universities' inventions and to gain support for it.</em><em>  </em><em>Such funding is crucial for the initial development phase of early stage technologies and to set up start-up ventures. Funds focusing solely on investing in university technologies are mushrooming abroad, but the UTF is the first investment fund in Africa dedicated for university inventions.</em><em>  </em><em>It has a unique model that makes provision for a pre-seed funding allocation that empowers institutions' technology transfer offices to support early stage technology development, building a solid pipeline of investable technologies for the UTF.</em><em> </em></p><p><br></p>
Climate warming could bring challenging times for invasive ladybirds warming could bring challenging times for invasive ladybirdsMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>In South Africa, the invasive <a href="">harlequin ladybird</a> may ultimately not be able to adapt to <a href="">climate change</a>, despite the fact that it has successfully invaded four continents over the last two decades.<br></p><p>This is the finding from a unique breeding experiment with over 400 harlequin ladybirds (<em>Harmonia axyridis</em>) undertaken by researchers from the <a href="">Department of Botany and Zoology</a> at Stellenbosch University (SU).</p><p>In this experiment, Drs<a href=""> Mike Logan</a> and <a href="">Ingrid Minnaa</a>r raised three generations of ladybeetles, creating more than 50 families with known parents and grandparents. This allowed them to create a family tree of 400 offspring. The goal of constructing such a large family tree was to disentangle the sources of variation of the traits measured. For example, the authors were able to determine if the variation of walking speed and temperature tolerance across beetles was explained mostly by genetic factors, maternal effects or the environment. </p><p>Dr Minnaar explains: “We were particularly interested to find out if specific performance traits of the beetle, such as the temperature at which peak performance occurs or the extreme temperatures at which performance ceases, have the potential to evolve or whether they are constrained. If we found evidence for the former, it would mean that the beetle has the capacity to adapt to climate change-related temperature<strong> </strong>shifts while the latter would suggest that the beetle may not perform well in warming scenarios." </p><p>The results of this study have recently been published in the journal <em>Evolution</em>, in an article entitled “<a href="">The evolutionary potential of an insect invader under climate change</a>". </p><p>The study found that the beetles have the potential to respond to shifts in temperature extremes, more so than to changes in mean temperature conditions. In addition, the highest and lowest temperatures tolerated by the beetles were found to not shift independently from each other – and results hint to what ecologists call a “specialist-generalist trade-off". This is when an increase in performance of one trait comes at the expense of another trait, and therefore, the peak performance for both traits cannot evolve simultaneously.</p><p>In other words, beetles that are able to withstand a heat wave are unlikely to also withstand a cold snap, limiting this species' capacity to adapt to climate change, explains <a href="">Prof. Susana Clusella-Trullas</a>, co-author on the paper and principal investigator of the <a href="">Climate and Invasions: mechanisms in ectotherms lab</a> (CL.I.M.E lab) at SU.</p><p>She says the harlequin beetle's lack of evolutionary potential could be due to the unique history of this species' introduction to South Africa; “It could be that the initial gene pool was small, or perhaps there was strong selection for specific traits in the first few generations after its introduction to South Africa. There are however other possibilities as well. For example, this species may have low potential to adapt to changes in temperature but high capacity to buffer this variation by taking refuge, or shift its behaviour temporarily."</p><p>In the meantime, research on this species is ongoing, and focuses on gaining a better understanding of how it uses its microhabitat, and the <a href="">plasticity of its response to changes in temperature</a>.</p><p>"The goal is to increase our knowledge of <a href="">the population genetic structure of the species</a> and of its potential impacts on native ladybirds and other insects in South Africa, as the species is now well established and broadly distributed across the country. Our study shows that the evolutionary potential of invasive species cannot be assumed and both native and invasive species' performance need to be assessed to determine winners and losers in a warming world," she concludes.</p><ul><li>The research was supported by a grant from the <a href="">DSI/NRF Center of Excellence for Invasion Biology</a> (CIB), based at Stellenbosch University.<br></li></ul><div><em>Photo: Ingrid Minnaar</em><br></div><div><br></div><p><strong>Media enquiries</strong></p><p>Prof Susanna Clusella-Trullas</p><p>E-mail:<br></p><p><br></p>
First serial block-face microscope in SA at Tygerberg Campus serial block-face microscope in SA at Tygerberg CampusEls & Kriel<p>The Electron Microscopy (EM) unit has added a new member to their family - the ThermoFischer Apreo VolumeScope scanning electron microscope (or just the Apreo SEM for short). The Apreo SEM is an extremely versatile electron microscope, capable of acquiring conventional SEM images as well as 3D volumetric SEM data sets through a specialised process called serial block-face microscopy. Located at Tygerberg Campus, the Apreo is the first serial block-face microscope in South Africa and will allow researchers to conduct volumetric SEM analysis on various biological materials, from tissues to single cells. This is especially useful for medical researchers and biologists, as cellular ultrastructure can be assessed in its 'natural' 3D confirmation, as opposed to conventional 2D SEM.   <br></p><p>The new SEM is also accompanied by a new CAF staff member, Mr Jurgen Kriel, who will primarily provide SEM analytical services to medical researchers on Tygerberg campus. Jurgen is currently in the end stages of his PhD in Physiological Sciences and has previously worked as a student assistant at the Fluorescence Microscopy unit. Although many research projects are placed on hold during lockdown, the EM unit is still providing services to registered essential service companies. Jurgen is currently conducting SEM for the Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company (SNC), who are in the process of producing filter layers to be used in critically needed medical grade face masks.   <br></p><p><br></p>
SU chemist receives R6,9 million FLAIR grant for research on antimalarial drug development chemist receives R6,9 million FLAIR grant for research on antimalarial drug developmentMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>Stellenbosch University's (SU) <a href="">Dr Prinessa Chellan</a> is one of 30 young African scientists who will receive up to £300 000 (about R 6,9 million) over the next two years as part of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the Royal Society of London's (RSL) annual FLAIR fellowships, announced on Monday 11 May 2020.</p><p>The aim of the <a href="">Future Leaders – African Independent Research (FLAIR) programme</a> is to assist young African researchers to develop independent research careers at African institutions and ultimately to lead their own research groups. The initiative is supported by the United Kingdom's Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).</p><p>Dr Chellan, a lecturer in SU's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, conducts research on the use of metal complexes in developing new drugs to combat drug-resistant malaria. Human malaria is a major threat in developing countries. In 2015, 429 000 people succumbed to malaria, of which 71% were children under the age of five years. Currently the iron-containing drug, Ferroquine, is in clinical trials as a potential treatment for malaria infections. </p><p>Dr Chellan's research is focused on finding other metal complexes with similar potential. She plans to design cross-disciplinary projects where students will acquire skills that can be transferrable to different disciplines in academia and industry.</p><p>She says the FLAIR fellowship will have far reaching benefits for both her research group and the University per se: “I can now purchase new equipment for my lab to be used by my research group for more bioanalytical studies. I will also have access to a senior mentor and many training workshops on effective leadership and communications. My students and I will have the opportunity to work and train with new collaborators in the United Kingdom and thus increase our research capacity. I hope to make a major contribution to both South Africa and Africa in the form of innovative scientific research," she concludes.</p><p>According to Professor Nelson Torto, executive director of AAS, postdoctoral programmes are vital in training and developing early career researchers into research leaders whose scientific leadership will influence policies that will promote the socio-economic development of the continent.</p><p>The next round of FLAIR applications is currently open and will close on 27 May 2020. More details about eligibility and how to apply <a href="">here</a>.<br></p><p><br></p>
SU textile scientist develops test to evaluate barrier efficiency of face mask fabrics textile scientist develops test to evaluate barrier efficiency of face mask fabricsMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>Adine Gericke, a textile specialist from Stellenbosch University's Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science, has developed a standardised test for use by the clothing and textile manufacturing industry to evaluate the effectiveness of textile fabrics and filter materials used in fabric face masks.<br></p><p>The test method is based on the <a href="">World Health Organisation's (WHO) guidelines</a> published on 29 March 2020 and relies on the latest evidence that the virus appears to largely exit through the mouth of an infected individual in micro-droplet form during talking, coughing or sneezing. It is therefore believed that fabric masks can play in important role in reducing the community transmission of the virus. </p><p>Adine, one of only a handful of textile specialists in South Africa, was directly involved in updating the <a href="">Department of Trade, Industry and Competition's guidelines for fabric masks</a>, published online on 29 April 2020. In South Africa, it is now compulsory to wear a face mask in public.</p><p>She says the effectiveness of fabric face masks can be greatly improved by the selection of an optimum combination of fabric layers: “Masks typically consist of two to three layers or fabrics, which could include a filter layer in the middle. Each layer contributes to the performance properties of the end product. Fabrics can be tested in single layers or in combinations according to the design of a specific mask."  </p><p>But while a mask should act as a barrier, it must not block airflow: if a person cannot breathe normally while wearing the mask, this will lead to the mask being removed or frequently touched by the wearer, she warns.  </p><p>Since the lockdown, she has been working around the clock to test a range of textiles and nonwoven materials for the industry: “Textiles are deceptive. One cannot just assume that one material will perform better than another only because it is, for example, thicker than another."</p><p>For home sewers, her advice is as follows:</p><ul><li>In order to stop micro-droplets, use two but preferably three layers of fabric;</li><li>Try to include a “filter layer" in the middle (such as interfacing or any lightweight stiff fabric), as it will have a huge impact to increase barrier efficiency;</li><li>The mask must be comfortable, especially if it is going to be used in the workplace. Some fabrics have good barrier efficiency, but might have very low air permeability.  Test your design by wearing the mask for at least 30 minutes (a five minute test is not enough) to make sure your combination of fabrics does not  restrict breathability, build up heat or cause irritation to the extent that you need to remove the mask;</li><li>Lastly, experiment with different fabrics until you find the right combination.</li></ul><p>She says it was hugely gratifying to do research with an immediate and practical benefit to society: “Most of the manufacturers I've worked with are committed to manufacturing face masks that are functional and made from locally-produced fabrics, and taking care to select the best fabrics for the masks."<br></p><p><br></p>
SU pays tribute to beloved microbiologist, Doug Rawlings pays tribute to beloved microbiologist, Doug RawlingsCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie<p>​​Stellenbosch University's (SU) Professor Douglas (Doug) E Rawlings (68), one of South Africa's foremost microbiologists, passed away over the weekend (2 May 2020) after suffering a heart attack.</p><p>Rawlings, one of the first molecular microbiologists in South Africa, is a former President of the Royal Society of South Africa and a founding member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.<br></p><p>Since the late 1980s, Rawlings and his research group made internationally-recognised contributions to the field of Molecular Biology with his research on the use of microorganisms in bio-mining. He also made a significant contribution to our understanding of the biology of broad host range IncQ-family plasmids, and for twenty years (1992–2011) he held an A-rating from the National Research Foundation.</p><p>Rawlings was also a leader in higher education management. In 1998 he was appointed as chair of SU's Department of Microbiology, and apart from terms as vice-dean of the Faculty of Science, he also acted as interim dean and vice-rector of research.</p><p>Professor Emile van Zyl, Distinguished Professor in Microbiology and long-term colleague, says Rawlings was a leading internationally-recognised researcher and a “mensch" in every sense of the word. “He held high personal values and standards and was able to lead the Department of Microbiology through a difficult time in its history. His approach later became the ethos of the department and took us to great heights. One of his most loved sayings was that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why he believed that every lecturer had to be supported and find their place in the Department, because only then could the Department as a whole achieve success."</p><p>Van Zyl says Rawlings was an old school gentleman and very conscientious. “I will never forget the time when he insisted on coming to work despite a serious eye infection. He is one of the few people who can probably count the number of sick days on one hand."</p><p>According to Van Zyl it is less well-known that, in his personal life, Rawlings was “shepherd" to a small church parish. Together with his wife, Janet, they often took in parish members. “Doug's entire life was characterised by the motto: 'in service of my fellow-man'. He applied this on all levels of his life – academic, religious and later years top management. In his quiet way he contributed immensely to the integrity of top management."</p><p>Mentor for early career researchers</p><p>Dr Therina Theron, Senior Director: Research and Innovation at SU, says Rawlings had played a key role in SU's early career academic development programme over the past four years. “He was a well-respected and much-loved colleague in the Division for Research Development (DRD) and an integral part of our research support team. He made an exceptional contribution to the development of early-career academic staff members during this post-retirement part of his career.</p><p>“In the same period, he also served as alternate Research Integrity Officer and as a valued member of one of our Research Ethics Committees. As a man of absolute integrity and exceptional and deep perception and insight, he could be fully trusted with and excelled in these difficult roles – always regarding the people involved in research integrity issues as his top priority.</p><p>“Doug was a brilliant, humble academic role model and a mentor to so many people, including myself. I will never forget his exceptional and selfless service to SU and to my division. I will cherish the lessons that I've learnt from him. He was an epitome of wisdom, kindness, empathy and humility. Even as a global leader in his scientific field, he didn't care about public awards or acknowledgements. He did care deeply about making a positive impact on people's lives, sharing his experiences and wisdom, and bringing kindness into this world.</p><p>“He will be sorely missed by everyone in the DRD and in the SU academic community. Our heartfelt condolences to his family in this very difficult time of loss and grief. He always spoke with so much love about his wife Janet and their children and grandchildren."</p><p>During his career, Rawlings received numerous accolades, including the PanLabs Award from the Society for Industrial Microbiology in the USA, the Havenga-prize from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns en the SU Rector's award for excellence in research. In 2006 he was a finalist for the Lifetime Award of the National Science and Technology Forum. He served several terms on the Council of the South African Society for Microbiology and was a recipient of the Association's silver and gold medals in 1992 and 2011) respectively.</p><p>Rawlings leaves behind his wife, three children and five grandchildren.<br></p><p><br></p>
MSc student in zoology off to London to study science communication student in zoology off to London to study science communicationMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>​An MSc student in zoology at Stellenbosch University, Celeste de Kock, has been accepted for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College, currently rated as one of the top ten universities in the world.<br></p><p>The MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College was introduced in 1991, and accepts only 45-50 students per year. </p><p>De Kock says she originally planned to study visual arts, but changed her mind in Grade 11 after an introduction to botany and zoology during a Maties Science Winter Week: “I have always had a love for nature and especially the classification of plants and animals, and the beauty of form and function. So when they took us into the Natural Sciences Building during the Science Winterweek, I became so excited I just knew this was what I wanted to do."</p><p>However, during her studies she realised that there was little opportunity for creative expression: “I have always been interested in a wide range of topics, and am always looking for ways to combine science and the visual arts. But there is often little scope for creativity in science, and because of the academic culture of publishing in scholarly journals, most of the science is lost to the public. The purpose of science is to ultimately deepen our understanding of the world around us and, where relevant, to use it as a tool to improve our lives. I believe that this knowledge should be accessible and understandable to all.</p><p>“Art can be used to bridge the gap between the public and raw science. Showcasing and explaining amazing science with eye-catching visuals, through videos, infographics and exhibitions, often makes more of an impact when compared to the written or spoken word," she adds.</p><p>The one-year full-time course offers a balance between theoretical and practical modules, combined with an internship. De Kock says she is especially excited about the internship opportunities provided by the course, which includes partners such as <em>New Scientist</em>, <em>Nature </em>and the<em> </em>Science Museum, London.</p><p>For now she is applying for funding to support her studies at Imperial College, and hopefully she will be able to join the class in person, starting 1 October 2020.</p><p>De Kock says more BSc-students should consider science communication as a career: “Do not assume that a career in the natural sciences is limited to research only. Science communication offers a creative, interdisciplinary career outside academia and offers so many options in television, radio, journalism, museums, digital media and policymaking," she concludes.<br></p><p><br> </p>
SU’s Faculty of Science awards record number of PhD-degrees’s Faculty of Science awards record number of PhD-degreesMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>Stellenbosch University's Science Faculty will award a record number of 68 PhD-degrees for the 2019 academic year, of which 39 during the virtual graduation ceremony on Friday, 3 April. This is the highest number of PhDs since 2014 (42) and 18 more than in 2018 (50).<br></p><p>For the 2019 academic year, the Faculty delivered a total of 527 BSc-graduates, 149 Honours- and 102 MSc-graduates.</p><p>Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science, said they are very proud of their students: “We wish to congratulate each and every one of you on this major milestone in your lives."<br></p><p>Dr David Phair, who earned a PhD in myrmecology (the scientific study of ants), said he will be watching the virtual ceremony from home, internet allowing, while Dr Claire Ineza said she will certainly not miss the opportunity to cross the stage later this year. This supermom from Rwanda earned her PhD in Chemistry while raising her son, now 4-years old, and being pregnant with the most recent addition to the family, a three-month old baby boy.</p><p>SU graduandi will be able to follow the virtual conferral of their qualifications at 14:00 on Friday 3 April 2020. A link to the virtual proceedings will be published on the SU homepage (<a href="/"></a>) on Friday morning.<br></p>
Lessons from the insect world: How do ant colonies fight disease? from the insect world: How do ant colonies fight disease?Dr David Phair<p>​As the Covid-19 pandemic makes its impact known throughout the world, we are being forced to come to terms with how our modern way of living contributes to the spread of pathogens. We live in densely packed cities full of interacting individuals, each going about their own business as part of the greater economy.<br></p><p>When you consider humankind in this light, it is hard not to draw parallels with the highly social insects such as bees and ants in particular. They, like us, live in densely populated cities and towns, nests packed with hundreds to millions of individuals all working to support the colony. They too must communicate and provide services. Some are food producers, some manage resources and others sweep the proverbial streets.</p><p>Like humankind, they too are at high levels of risk when it comes to dealing with the threat of disease and epidemics. Ants, however, have been dealing with this problem for the last 100 million years. This has given them ample time to develop mechanisms for fighting diseases, such as acidic secretions that are antimicrobial, much like the hand sanitisers we are now using every day.</p><p>Researchers have found that ants and other social insects use a collection of social behaviours to fight disease in the colony. Called “social immunity", it is a rapidly growing area of research worldwide. Some of these behaviours can be costly, like a doctor working on the frontlines of a Covid-19 outbreak, putting the individual at risk while providing the colony with protection against disease. </p><p>My research into social immunity looked at how three South African ant species respond to the threat of disease: the well-known large pugnacious ants (<em>Anoplolepis custodiens</em>), yellow-haired sugar ants (<em>Camponotus fulvopilosus</em>), and the common fierce ants (<em>Tetramorium sericeiventre</em>). While they all responded differently to disease exposure, none of them implemented a full lockdown.</p><p><strong>From quarantine to doctor's visits</strong></p><p>The large pugnacious ants (<em>A. custodiens</em>) used a wide range of social immunity mechanisms to prevent infections and relied heavily on social-based interventions. For example, they implement a form of quarantine where ants that were exposed to the infection did not enter the chambers where the queen and the young stayed; they also generally remained in the nest chamber closest to the colony exit. This species also implemented more frequent and intense allogrooming, their form of a doctor's visits, where nestmates clean and disinfect the potentially exposed individuals. The parallel I see here is with those countries with very high population densities, where it is important to work together to prevent the spread of disease. In a similar fashion to how some countries have implemented strict lockdowns, these ants prevent risky individuals from interacting with colony members who are essential to the functioning of the colony. </p><p><strong>Social distancing and communal disinfection</strong></p><p>The yellow-haired sugar ants (<em>C. fulvopilosus</em>) did not show any form of quarantine. They did, however, make use of social distancing. Out of the three species we assessed, these ants engaged with each other the least, relying instead on a self-care approach to prevent the spread of a pathogen. But this was not their only defence against disease. Sugar ants are well known for their liberal use of formic acid, a potent antimicrobial substance, to defend the nest and we expect that they use this substance to manage exposure to pathogens. In one instance, we observed a novel behaviour where an individual applying formic acid would cause surrounding ants to also apply their own formic acid, possibly a form of communal disinfectant.</p><p><strong>Innate immunity coupled with grooming </strong></p><p>The common fierce ants (<em>T. sericeiventre</em>) appeared to use a measured approach relying on both individual responses to infection and group responses like allogrooming. Out of our three species, they appeared to have the best innate immunity against the infection. We think this may be a result of previous experience with disease, as they live in the wettest areas of the studied species, and for soil dwelling ants, wetter environments harbour more microbial organisms, some of which can be pathogenic. This species response can be paralleled with countries that have experienced previous epidemics and so could react quickly and effectively to minimise the spread of the Covid-19 infection. </p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="540" height="303" src="/english/_layouts/15/videoembedplayer.aspx?site=fd815503b3e242dba5d4c9d4c07b52b0&web=8df8337c4e81442e97dacf869c9a6eb5&folder=caa6c847f94240ac932b03d878acc2a5&img=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Esun%2Eac%2Eza%2Fenglish%2FPublishingImages%2FCollective%2520Disinfection%2520in%2520an%2520ant%2520colony%2FPreview%2520Images%2FCollective%2520Disinfection%5Fmp4%2Epng&" data-title="Collective Disinfection in an ant colony" data-description="Collective Disinfection in an ant colony" data-duration="19"></iframe> </div><p><br></p><p><strong>What do ant colonies do differently?</strong></p><p>While there are many parallels between ants and humans, there are also distinct differences. Many humans can be described as altruistic, willing to put their life on the line to protect others. However, compared to ants we have much to learn. Most ants will do their utmost to protect the colony and there is little to no room for selfish ambition in the functioning of a colony. Those that try to forge their own path are heavily policed. This enables ant colonies to remain relatively unaffected by large scale epidemics, despite their potentially high level of risk.</p><p>Another distinct difference is the fact that communication between colonies of ants is rare and epidemics, to my knowledge, do not develop into pandemics. Considering how interconnected humankind is, however, the risks of pandemics are much greater. What can we therefore learn from how ants and social insects fight disease? And could we incorporate this knowledge into strategies to combat Covid-19 and any future pandemics?  </p><p><strong>Ant wisdom offers hope</strong></p><p>Our research does provide some hope, as all three ant species, working together as a colony, were able to mitigate and overcome the effect of exposure to the disease. Taking a lesson from our ants, we should put our own interests aside, cooperate and do what is necessary o mitigate the spread and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ant wisdom suggests that is the right thing to do.</p><ul><li>Dr David Phair received his PhD during Stellenbosch University's virtual April graduation ceremony this Friday, 3 April. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the research group of Prof Theresa Wossler in SU's Department of Botany and Zoology. His research was funded by the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA) and a grant from the National Research Foundation. <br></li></ul><p><strong>On the photo, </strong>A trail of sugar ants (<em>Camponotus fulvopilosus)</em> in the Karoo National Park. Ants are thought to have evolved around 168 million years ago and became ecologically dominant about 60 million years ago. <em>Image: Brigitte Braschler, Iimbovane Outreach Project</em></p><img src="file:///C:/Users/science/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image004.jpg" alt="" style="width:275px;margin:5px;" /><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Dr David Phair</p><p>E-mail: <a href=""></a> or</p><p>Mobile: 072 481 7600 <br></p><p><br></p>