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Mpendulo Cele receives top honours as best MSc student at SUhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7924Mpendulo Cele receives top honours as best MSc student at SUWiida Fourie-Basson<p>Stellenbosch University's top MSc student for 2020, Mr Mpendulo Cele (25), praised his teachers at Zwelethu High School and the Kutlwanong Center of Mathematics and Science in Umlazi for helping him to enjoy and excel at Mathematics and Physical Sciences.<br></p><p>This week he is the recipient of the S<sub>2</sub>A<sub>3</sub> medal for the best MSc student at Stellenbosch University for 2020. The bronze medal is awarded annually by the <a href="http://s2a3.org.za/joomla/index.php">Southern Africa Association for the Advancement of Science</a> to the most outstanding research student in the natural, engineering or medical sciences per South African university.</p><p>Mpendulo, who grew up in the care of his grandmother at Izonglweni, a rural area in the southern part of KwaZulu-Natal, says he initially scored only average marks for mathematics at school.</p><p>It was only when he arrived Zwelethu High School that this mathematics teachers, Mr Bongumusa Alphus Magwaza, helped him to improve his marks: “That is the year I really started to like mathematics," he recounts.</p><p>Because of this new-found self-confidence, he also took Physical Science in Grade 9. And by Grade 10 he was encouraged to enrol for extra classes at the <a href="http://kutlwanong.org/about-us/">Kutlwanong Center of Mathematics and Science</a> in Umlazi.</p><p>“Because of the wonderful teachers at Zwelethu and Kutlwanong, my marks improved for all my subjects and in Grade 12 I was the best student at Zwelethu High School".</p><p>He subsequently graduated with a BSc-degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2017, followed by a BScHons-degree in mathematics with a focus on Number Theory.</p><p>He then started looking for a study-leader to pursue his interest in Number Theory, and approached Dr Sophie Marques at Stellenbosch University. To strengthen his foundational knowledge in Number Theory, Dr Marques recommended that he should apply for the ALGANT scholarship, a competitive international programme in Algebra, Geometry and Number Theory. Stellenbosch University is the only South African university which forms part of this programme. During 2019 Mpendulo successfully completed seven master modules at the University of Padova in Italy, earning him a joint degree between SU and the University of Padova.</p><p>Dr Marques says she is particularly proud of the way her student persevered despite a number of challenges, including coming from a disadvantaged background: “Against all odds, he has strived and overcame everything that came his way".</p><p>“I appreciate his ability to prove and disprove the ideas I throw at him. This allowed us to make impressive progress on the research problem. He is also incredibly hardworking, and there was not a week that he would not send me a progress report," she added.</p><p>Mpendulo will now continue with his doctoral research in Number Theory under Dr Marquez' guidance.</p><p><strong>Media enquiries</strong></p><p>Mr Mpendulo Cele</p><p>Mobile: 073 518 7037</p><p>WhatApp: +39 320 888 6727</p><p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:mcele@sun.ac.za">mcele@sun.ac.za</a><br></p><p><br></p>
Long journey to PhD in mathematics for former Westridge learnerhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7926Long journey to PhD in mathematics for former Westridge learnerWiida Fourie-Basson<p>When Dr Lesley Wessels walked over the stage this week to receive her doctoral degree in mathematics, it will be the end of a long journey that started when she was still a learner at Westridge Senior Secondary School in Mitchell's Plain.</p><p>Dr Wessels is one of the 21 PhD graduates in the Faculty of Science to receive their degrees in person during SU's December graduation ceremonies.</p><p>“I am the fourth of five children, and my eldest brother started with this BSc-degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of the Western Cape by the time I started with high school. My father decided I should follow in my brother's footsteps. My parents were very involved in our future plans, as both of them attended school only until Grade 8. That was still the days when you could obtain a good work with only a Standard 8-certificate," she explains.</p><p>“They wanted a better life for their children, and my father thought a career in sciences was a good option. My brother eventually went into IT, but my preference was for Mathematics."<br></p><p>In 2001 she completed her MSc in Mathematics at UWC, specialising in Abstract Algebra: “UWC was like my second home, and I developed as human being," she recounts. </p><p>But in 2002 she received an e-mail from Prof Barry Green from Stellenbosch University with an invitation to do a PhD in Number Theory at SU under his guidance. While she was very happy at UWC, she was eager to embrace this new opportunity.</p><p>But that decision took her on a path away from her first passion. More than ten years and three study leaders later, she realised she made a huge mistake to shift her research focus from Abstract Algebra (her original interest) to Number Theory.</p><p>In 2007 she was appointed as a junior lecturer in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, on condition that she will complete her PhD-degree. But it was only in 2014 that she redefined herself and returned to her first love, Abstract Algebra.</p><p>“I expected my departmental head, Prof Ingrid Rewitzky, and my divisional head, Prof Florian Breuer, to be deeply disappointed in me. But to the contrary! They were rather relieved that I have finally taken control of my own career. I am also grateful towards my mentor, Prof Marina Rautenbach, for her support during this time."</p><p>She finally completed her thesis under Dr Karin Howell, herself an Algebraist.</p><p>“Dr Howell could be firm but in a very diplomatic manner. Apart from sharing her knowledge of Algebra with me, I also acquired many skills from her, especially with regard to time planning. She has a family, with two children in primary school, and she is a lecturer who often get nominated by first year students as the lecturer that inspired them the most. Then she is also founder and organiser of the annual African Women in Mathematics (AWiM) conference, and she is study leader to a number of postgraduate students. I am still left speechless when I think about how she gets is all done, and doing it so well!"</p><p> She is deeply grateful that she has finally managed to complete this long journey, and is looking forward to expand on her field of speciality in Algebra.</p><p>“For my MSc-degree my mini-thesis focused on coding theory. At the last AWiM-conference I met a coding theoretician from Sol Plaatjies University. We plan to start work on a new project in December, and I cannot wait to get started."</p><p>“I still have so much to learn, but I feel reassured that there are so many people in my environment who are willing to support me," she concludes.</p><p>On the photo above, Dr Lesley Wessels with her proud parents, George and Cecilia Wessels, after the graduation ceremony on 16 December 2020. <em>Photo: Stefan Els</em></p>
Nature conservation requires more dynamic approach to weather impacts of climate changehttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7890Nature conservation requires more dynamic approach to weather impacts of climate changeWiida Fourie-Basson<p>In a hard-hitting new paper leading ecologists and climate change specialists argue that current nature conservation practices are not sufficiently flexible and dynamic to weather the impacts of climate change. <br></p><p>Rather than only trying to conserve or restore nature to an original historical state, as is the case with static protected areas, a more flexible approach will reduce the adverse impacts of climate change by allowing species to migrate naturally, or even be moved to more suitable habitats, for example. Another approach would be identifying species at greater risk of extinction from climate change for proactive conservation of their genetic material in the hope of one day re-establishing them under more suitable conditions. </p><p>The paper, titled “<a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/12/01/2009584117">Post-2020 biodiversity targets need to embrace climate change</a>" was published in the high-impact journal <em>PNAS</em> this week. The paper refers to documented research indicating that species home ranges have already been shifting polewards, to cooler areas, with an estimated decadal average shift of 17 kilometers for terrestrial and 72 kilometers for marine taxa.</p><p>Prof Bob Scholes, editor of the paper and an ecologist in the <a href="https://www.wits.ac.za/gci/">Global Change Institute</a> at the University of the Witwatersrand, says the question of whether to intervene to protect species or not is a heated debate in conservation circles: “Interestingly, the animal people are much happier in moving things around than the plant people, who are rather conservative, so to speak. This paper, in a way, was intended to shock the conservationists out of the state of just continuing doing things as they have always done".</p><p>The authors argue that nature conservation strategies need to become more flexible and dynamic in how it addresses the impact of climate change on natural habitats, genetic resources of plants, the composition of species, and the functioning of ecosystems. If not, any apparent short-term gains in reversing biodiversity loss could be lost in the decades to follow, due to climate change.</p><p>At present, none of the 2020 <a href="https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/">Aichi Biodiversity Targets</a> of the Convention on Biodiversity Diversity explicitly addresses the urgency of climate change mitigation and adaptation as a critical component of biodiversity conservation. For example, they refer to Aichi Target 12, which aims to prevent the extinction of all known threatened species and improve their conservation status. A static or traditional approach to conservation would therefore seem unrealistic given the evidence that climate change has already resulted in significant range shifts: “Even very low levels of future climate change are projected to reduce the range size of a substantial fraction of species and put many species at high risk of extinction," they write.</p><p>Prof Guy Midgley, a global change and biodiversity specialist in the <a href="https://globalchangebiologygroup.weebly.com/">Department of Botany and Zoology</a> at Stellenbosch University and one of the co-authors, says furthermore that several prominent measures to  slow the rate of rising CO<sub>2</sub>, such as planting more trees, can conflict directly with the aims of biodiversity conservation in Africa.</p><p>“Large-scale afforestation of rich grassland ecosystems in Africa will not only threaten their unique shade-averse biodiversity, but also limit livelihoods options and reduce vital ecosystem services, like the delivery of freshwater, from these ecosystems," he argues.</p><p>Several unknowns still plague our ability to estimate risks, mainly because we still do not know what the impact of climate change could be on the delivery of multiple ecosystem services such as clean air and water, and food security, if pollination networks are at risk of disruption.</p><p>The authors argue that there are complex interactions between ecosystem processes, atmospheric composition and climate which we do not yet understand. Combined with continued human population growth and the concomitant increase in per capita consumption, which more often than not leads to the over-exploitation and pollution of ecosystems, it becomes clear that there is cause for serious concern.</p><p>The authors warn that recent assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have both highlighted the twinned risks to humanity arising from climate change and the “unprecedented and unsustainable use of natural resources".</p><p>Biodiversity directly supports the achievement of at least 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), while climate change has the potential to undermine all 16 of the SDGs. It is obvious we cannot do without considering both.</p><p>“Nature is clearly resilient to shocks like climate change, given enough time, and the earth's biological diversity has shifted and changed in response to global crises in the deep geological past, like meteorite strikes. It is therefore crucial for us to work with the natural forces that provide resilience rather than limiting conservation thinking to achieving fixed ideals based on our limited historical perspectives of natural ecosystems," concludes Prof Midgley.</p><p>The paper is the result of a multi-year assessment process by the authors for the IPBES, which resulted in chapter 4 of the IPBES global report “Plausible futures of nature, its contributions to people and their good quality of life", available at <a href="https://ipbes.net/global-assessment">https://ipbes.net/global-assessment</a>; https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/ipbes_global_assessment_chapter_4_unedited_31may.pdf</p><p><strong>On the photo above, view from Grootbos, Gansbaai, South Africa: </strong>The Cape Floral Kingdom already finds itself at the southern-most point of Africa, with few alternatives left for low-altitude plants to escape increasing temperatures but to slowly migrate to higher altitudes. Those plants already at higher altitudes, however, may need to be helped across a valley. If there is no suitable habitat left, they will need to be protected <em>ex situ</em> until such time as they can be returned to the wild. This is not the best option, but far better than extinction, argues a controversial new paper on the impact of climate change on biodiversity. <em>Photo credit: Anton Jordaan</em><br></p><p><strong>Media enquiries</strong></p><p>Prof Guy Midgley</p><p>Department of Botany and Zoology</p><p>Stellenbosch University</p><p>M: 082 569 2810 </p><p>E: gfmidgley@sun.ac.za</p><p> </p><p>Prof Bob Scholes</p><p>Global Change Institute</p><p>University of the Witwatersrand</p><p>T: +27 _11 717 6082</p><p>E: bob.scholes@wits.ac.za<br></p><p><br></p>
Miniature Guttural Toads on Mauritius and Réunion stun researchershttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7882Miniature Guttural Toads on Mauritius and Réunion stun researchersWiida Fourie-Basson<p>Researchers from the <a href="https://blogs.sun.ac.za/cib/">DSI/NRF Center for Invasion Biology</a> at Stellenbosch University have found that, scarcely a hundred years after Guttural Toads were introduced to the islands of Mauritius and Réunion, their overall body size has been reduced by up to a third compared to their counterparts in South Africa.<br></p><p>The Guttural Toad, a large amphibian species native to Africa, was introduced to Mauritius in 1922 and from there to Réunion in 1927 for biocontrol of cane beetles and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. While studying the history of this introduction, the researchers were amazed by how much smaller the island-based toads had become.</p><p>“Dwarfism in amphibians is known to have occurred in many lineages over millions of years, yet this study has identified it occurring in less than a hundred years, which raises questions about the evolutionary mechanisms driving this change," says Dr James Baxter-Gilbert, lead author of the article “Shrinking before our isles: The rapid expression of insular dwarfism in two invasive populations of guttural toad (<em>Sclerophrys gutturalis</em>)", published in the journal <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0651"><em>Biology Letters</em></a> recently.</p><p>Another important finding is the significant reduction in the length of these amphibians' hindlimbs. According to the researchers, this could be because of changes to their reproductive strategy, or the absence of the toad's native predators. Alternatively, it could also be associated with the fact that once they spread across the islands the need for dispersal is no longer an important driver - similar to trends seen in island birds when they lose their ability to fly. </p><p>While biologists are familiar with this type of change occurring when colonising animal populations adapt to island-life, part of a phenomena known as the Island Syndrome, large-scale changes in body size, such as dwarfism or gigantism, have been associated with long evolutionary processes taking place over thousands or millions of years.</p><p>Dr Baxter-Gilbert explains: “The Island Rule puts forward the idea that, over time, large-bodied mainland species will dwarf in size as they adapt to island life. We know this from fossil and historic records, such as the miniature hippopotamuses (<em>Hippopotamus creutzburgi</em>) and elephants (<em>Mammathus creticus</em>) from Crete during the Pleistocene; while small-bodied mainland species will grow to become gigantic, such as the oversized and fearless Dodos (<em>Raphus cucllatus</em>) of Mauritius."</p><p>He says the research is a fascinating first step in understanding how biological invasions can radically change the biology of this island amphibian invader. “We are now planning to examine the mechanisms driving these changes. It appears that there is still much to learn," he said.</p><p>Dr Baxter-Gilbert is a postdoctoral fellow in <a href="http://john.measey.com/">Prof John Measey's research group</a> in the DSI-NRF Center of Excellence in Invasion Biology, hosted at Stellenbosch University.<br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Toads%20from%20Mauritius_small.png" alt="Toads from Mauritius_small.png" class="ms-rtePosition-4" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p><p><em>On the photo above, an adult female Guttural Toad from Durban in hand (A), compared to an adult male (yellow throat patch) and female from Mauritius (B). </em><em>Photos credits: James Baxter-Gilbert (A) and John Measey (B).</em></p><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Dr James Baxter-Gilbert</p><p>DSI/NRF Centre of Excellence in Invasion Biology (CIB), Stellenbosch University</p><p>E-mail: jbg@sun.ac.za</p><p>Mobile: 082 407 0956 <br></p><p><em><br></em></p><p><br></p>
SU again boasts researchers among world’s highly cited researchers http://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7851SU again boasts researchers among world’s highly cited researchers Corporate Communication and Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking<p>Stellenbosch University (SU) once again boasts two eminent academics who have been named Highly Cited Researchers, according to the Highly Cited Researchers 2020 list from the Web of Science Group, released recently. Professors Oonsie Biggs (Cross-Field) and Dave Richardson (Environment and Ecology) are among the world's most-cited researchers. Both achieved the same feat in 2019.<br></p><p>Biggs is the incumbent of the DSI/NRF Research Chair in Social-Ecological Systems and Resilience in the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition; and Richardson is the Director of the DSI/NRF Centre for Invasion Biology and Professor in the Department of Botany and Zoology.</p><p>The highly anticipated list identifies scientists and social scientists who produced multiple papers ranking in the top 1% by citations for their field and year of publication, demonstrating significant research influence among their peers. This year's list contains about 3 900 Highly Cited Researchers in 21 fields of the sciences and social sciences and about 2 500 Highly Cited Researchers identified as having exceptional performance across several fields. </p><p>The methodology that determines the who's who of influential researchers draws on the data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts from the Institute for Scientific Information at the Web of Science Group.</p><p>The data derive from <em>Essential Science Indicators</em>, a component of <em>InCites</em>. The fields are defined by sets of journals and exceptionally, in the case of multidisciplinary journals such as <em>Nature</em> and <em>Science</em>, by a paper-by-paper assignment to a field based on an analysis of the cited references in the papers. This percentile-based selection method removes the citation advantage of older papers relative to recently published ones, since papers are weighed against others in the same annual cohort.</p><p>Commenting on the 2020 list, David Pendlebury, Head of Research Analysis at the Institute for Scientific Information, said that human capital was fundamental in the race for knowledge. “This list identifies and celebrates exceptional individual researchers who are having a great impact on the research community as measured by the rate at which their work is being cited by others."</p><p>He added that identifying these key players at the leading edge of their chosen fields provided a distinct advantage for those who fund, monitor, support and advance the conduct of research, often in the face of finite resources and complex, pressing challenges.</p><p>The full 2020 Highly Cited Researchers list and executive summary can be found <a href="https://recognition.webofscience.com/awards/highly-cited/2020/">here</a>, and the methodology can be found <a href="https://recognition.webofscience.com/awards/highly-cited/2020/methodology/">here</a>.<br></p><p><br></p>
LC-MS used to study leaf blackening in Proteashttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7799LC-MS used to study leaf blackening in ProteasProf M Stander<p style="text-align:justify;"><span style="text-align:justify;">​LC-MS is an important tool in metabolomics studies.</span><span style="text-align:justify;"> </span><span style="text-align:justify;">A</span><span style="text-align:justify;">n example of </span><span style="text-align:justify;">such </span><span style="text-align:justify;">work at the LCMS laboratory is the recently published papers by our PhD student, Keabetswe Masike who used it to study leaf blackening in Proteas.  </span>​​​​​​<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">She further optimized phenolic methods on the Synapt system with ion mobility and data-independent acquisition to study the metabolites of the plants.  Leaf blackening is a post-harvesting disorder that causes financial losses during exports.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Ion mobility is a complementary tool to mass spectrometry that separates molecules (ions) based on their collisional cross-section.  </p><p>The link to her latest paper:</p><p> <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.0c03607">https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.0c03607</a>​<br></p><p><br></p><p> <img src="/english/faculty/science/CAF/Documents/LC-MS%20leaf%20blackening.png" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:400px;height:380px;" /><br><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p>
Science centenary book now available on TakeAlothttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7775Science centenary book now available on TakeAlotMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p>The Faculty of Science's centenary book on a hundred years of science at Stellenbosch University (SU) is now available on <a href="https://www.takealot.com/stellenbosch-university-a-particular-frame-of-mind/PLID70623219">TakeAlot</a>.</p><p>The coffee table book, <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=6042"><em>A Particular Frame of Mind – Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University 1918-2018</em></a>, traces the steps of the first pioneers who laid the foundations for training and research in various disciplines in the natural sciences at SU. It also documents the contributions of various individuals to the establishment of research fields such as nuclear physics and polymer science in South Africa.</p><p>Prof. Chris Garbers, former professor of organic chemistry from 1958 to 1978 and president of the CSIR from 1980 to 1990, writes in the Foreword that key institutions such as the SU's Faculty of Science have contributed “to transforming South Africa from a mainly rural society to an industrial giant on the African continent".</p><p>“The book is a succinct summary covering the past one hundred years, with the exposition of diverse scientific findings in layman's terms, as well as the documentation of anecdotes about various eccentric characters. The book is further enhanced by the insets of colleagues with specialist knowledge and understanding of contemporary developments in science," he continues writing.</p><p>This limited edition red linen hard case book is embossed with foil on the front and spine, and contains more than 200 photographs and images from the SU Archive, the Africana section of the SU Library, and various artefacts from departmental collections, including scientific images of historical and current research.<br></p><p><br></p>
Wisaarkhu a Falling Walls finalist at the Berlin Science Weekhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7776Wisaarkhu a Falling Walls finalist at the Berlin Science WeekMedia & Communication, Faculty of Science<p><em>Wisaarkhu</em>, a multidisciplinary project aimed at humanizing mathematics, is one of the innovative projects that has been selected as a finalist in the science engagement category of the <a href="https://falling-walls.com/remote2020/">Falling Walls competition</a> taking place during the Berlin Science Week from 1 to 10 November 2020.</p><p>The Falling Walls Conference was established on 9 November 2009 with the 20th anniversary of the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall. The aim of the conference, which has since grown into a World Science Summit, is to break down the walls between science and society.</p><p><a href="https://wisaarkhu.co.za/"><em>Wisaarkhu</em> </a>is the brain child of Dr Sophie Marques and her colleague Prof Zurab Janelidze from the <a href="https://math.sun.ac.za/">Mathematics Division</a> at Stellenbosch University. It started in 2019 as a series of talks about the psychology of abstract mathematics, i.e. how we experience mathematics, and involved students and lecturers from mathematics, psychology, education and the arts. With the support of Prof Ingrid Rewitzky, head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences and Vice-Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Science, the initiative has since evolved into a community of practice with an online magazine and ongoing online talks with participants from all over the world.</p><p>Dr Marques says the seeds for the project was planted when she started feeling completely overwhelmed when confronted with the fears and anxieties of her students. While mathematics is supposed to empower her students, it more often than not had the complete opposite effect.</p><p>“If it is true that mathematics can empower people with essential life skills, then why are we failing so dramatically to do so? How can we share this knowledge as widely and fairly as possible? If education is about helping our students to be the best they can be, how do we do that with mathematics? How do we make mathematics accessible, valid and visible for most?" she writes on the <a href="https://wisaarkhu.co.za/about/"><em>Wisaarkhu</em> blog</a>.</p><p>One of the clinical psychologists involved in the project, Mariam Salie, says too many walls have been built around mathematics, creating anxiety and discomfort: “These walls disconnect the subject from reality and other disciplines and gives the impression that it is disconnected from humanity. With this project, we aim to break the stigma surrounding mathematics and give everyone the opportunity to learn maths, a very important life skill."</p><p>Dr Karin-Therese Howell, a lecturer in mathematics, says she nominated <em>Wisaarkhu</em> for the Falling Walls competition because the initiative encourages community and involvement with the field of mathematics: “As a lecturer, I was sad that most of my students would not engage with mathematics after they graduated. This project aims to change that."</p><p>Since the <em>Wisaarkhu</em> team learned that they are amongst the finalists in the competition, they have had to come up with a video about their work within a matter of days. This video was produced by lecturers Mariam Salie, Dr Karin-Theresa Howell, Dr Rizwana Roomaney, maths teacher Shaun Hudson-Bennet and students Ethan Quirke, Laylaa Motola and Lourens van Niekerk.<br></p><p>“This team effort is just one example of the amazing diversity and commitment of the entire <em>Wisaarkhu</em> community, working hard behind the scenes to make it a success," says Dr Marques.</p><p>Thus far she has attended a number of events, including discussions with the other finalists and exchanging ideas. The <em>Wisaarkhu</em> team now has to produce another video by 28 October in order to compete for the top ten positions in their category. The top ten videos will be screened during the Grand Finale on 9 November 2020, the day the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. All videos are freely accessible online at www.falling-walls.com/2020/finalists<br></p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/m0X4fhPk8nE" frameborder="0"></iframe>​</div><p><br></p><p><br></p>
Engineering, Science and AgriSciences students victorious at SU’s FameLab heathttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7753Engineering, Science and AgriSciences students victorious at SU’s FameLab heatCorporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​​​​Thabani Mtsi, a Master's student in Civil Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU), won the SU heat of the 2021 national <a href="https://www.saasta.ac.za/famelab-south-africa/"><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">FameLab</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>science communication and public speaking competition. The virtual event took place on Wednesday (14 October). Kaylan Reddy, a Master's student in Botany and Zoology, and Zimbili Sibiya, a doctoral student in Forest and Wood Science, finished second and third respectively. Considered one of the biggest science communication competitions in the world, FameLab creates a platform for young scientists to speak to public audiences about their work.<br></p><p>Mtsi and 23 other postgraduate students were given only three minutes to share their research with the audience. He spoke about ways in which the minibus taxi industry user experience can be improved, while Reddy talked about how indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants can be combined with brain biology to treat  anxiety and depression. Sibiya focused on the link between nature and technological sustainability. As the winner of the heat, Mtsi will represent SU at the national final in April 2021 where he 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 Division for Research Development's Postgraduate Office​. The judges were Martin Viljoen (Corporate Communication and Marketing), Wilma Stassen (Marketing & Communications at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences), Dr Palesa Mothapo (Research Development) and Prof Nox Makunga (Botany and Zoology).<br></p><p>Commenting on his win, Mtsi, said “my life purpose is to inspire and edify those within my sphere of influence and everything I do is in service of this purpose. It is imperative that we use our academic pursuits to build the communities that built us because we are because of them. I was clothed, fed and raised by the taxi industry and so 'isintu' has it that I reciprocate that benevolence."<br></p><p>Regarding the importance of science communication, he said “Science that is circumscribed to the bounds of scientific journals and papers has stifled societal applicability. The gap between science and society needs to be bridged so that we can co-create solutions — particularly on the Afrikan continent."<br></p><p>Mtsi also boasts a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship and two Rector's Awards for Excellence, among others. His undergraduate thesis was named the best in South Africa by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering for 2018/2019.</p><p>The winner of the South African final will compete against participants from 30 countries at the international FameLab competition</p><ul><li><strong>Photo</strong>: Thabani Mtsi, Kaylan Reddy.and Zimbili Sibiya</li></ul><p><br></p>
Small fish species from the Serengeti named for Sir David Attenboroughhttp://www.sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=7742Small fish species from the Serengeti named for Sir David AttenboroughWiida Fourie-Basson<p>​​​A newly identified killifish species from the iconic Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, has been named for Sir David Attenborough in recognition of his dedicated efforts to promote <em>biophilia</em> – an awareness of the wonders and beauty of nature.</p><p>In contrast to the charismatic wildebeest and their spectacular annual migration, the brightly coloured <em>Nothobranchius attenboroughi </em>is barely five centimetres long and known to live fast and die young. ​​The species is endemic to northern Tanzania and integral to the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.</p><p>That is why five scientists and fish enthusiasts from Canada, France and South Africa decided to name this highly vulnerable species after the doyen of biodiversity conservation.</p><p>“We wanted to honour Sir Attenborough for raising awareness of the wonders and beauty of nature to so many people worldwide, promoting the importance of biodiversity conservation, and above all, inspiring so many young persons and researchers in the field of natural history, including ourselves," explains the authors: Prof Dirk Bellstedt and Dr Fenton (Woody) Cotterill, a biochemist and geologist respectively and their student, De Wet van der Merwe, from Stellenbosch University, South Africa, together with Béla Nagy, from France, and Prof Brian Watters, from Canada.<br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/three%20researchers.png" alt="three researchers.png" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:450px;" />Together this eclectic group of scientists have been working on fish species endemic to East Africa since the 1990s. Between the five of them they have covered thousands of kilometres from as far north as Chad and Sudan through eastern central Africa to the Caprivi Region of Namibia and northern KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa, in an effort to collect, study and describe <em>Nothobranchius</em> species and to collect tissues for laboratory work. Key to their studies has been the DNA sequencing and molecular systematic work started by Dr Cotterill in 2007 in Prof Bellstedt's laboratory and subsequently greatly expanded by De Wet van der Merwe in his PhD studies since 2015.<br></p><p>They want to make use of this opportunity to raise awareness about the precarious conservation status of <em>Nothobranchius</em> fishes in general: “The biodiversity of East Africa is deservedly renowned for the diversity of its spectacular large mammals, but the freshwater fish fauna is no less significant. The conservation status of <em>Nothobranchius</em> <em>attenboroughi</em> depends on the integrity of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem and the area surrounding Lake Victoria," explains Prof Bellstedt.</p><p>This is because these fish literally only live long enough during the wet season to reach maturity and then die after they've laid their eggs in the habitat substrate mud and the seasonal pools dry out. As the mud dries, cracks allow oxygen to penetrate and the embryos to develop. When the rainy season arrives and the pools fill again, the eggs hatch, the fry grow rapidly and the cycle repeats itself.​</p><p>With climate change and human settlement in the regions surrounding Lake Victoria, the conservation of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is not only important for the conservation of the large mammals such as wildebeest and their migration, but also for these wonderfully adapted, brightly coloured little fish and their precarious life cycle. Sir David Attenborough has always emphasized that an ecosystem consists of many species including even the smallest and this is also one of the reasons the authors have named the species in his honour.</p><p><strong>More about </strong><strong><em>Nothobranchius </em></strong><strong><em>attenboroughi</em></strong><strong> </strong></p><p><em>Nothobranchius </em><em>attenboroughi</em> is endemic to northern Tanzania and found in ephemeral pools and marshes associated with the Grumeti River system and other small systems draining into Lake Victoria at the east side of the lake. The ecological integrity of this river is maintained by the congruence of its catchments largely within the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. It is one of six new species described in an article entitled “Review of the <em>Nothobranchius ugandensis </em>species group from the inland plateau of eastern Africa with descriptions of six new species (Teleostei: Nothobranchiidae)", published in the journal <em>Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters</em> in April this year. The article is available online at <a href="https://pfeil-verlag.de/publikationen/review-of-the-nothobranchius-ugandensis-species-group-from-the-inland-plateau-of-eastern-africa-with-descriptions-of-six-new-species/">https://pfeil-verlag.de/publikationen/review-of-the-nothobranchius-ugandensis-species-group-from-the-inland-plateau-of-eastern-africa-with-descriptions-of-six-new-species/</a></p><p>The work was largely privately funded by the authors, but since 2015, it has been funded under the umbrella of the “Off the Beaten Track" initiative of the Volkswagen Foundation in Germany and Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The aim of the project, entitled “<a href="http://portal.volkswagenstiftung.de/search/projectDetails.do?ref=88732">Exploring the Genomic Record of Living Biota to Reconstruct the Landscape Evolution of South Central Afric</a>a", is to develop a novel approach to reconstruct the landscape evolution of central Africa over the past 20 million years. This is being done by combining Sanger and next-generation sequencing of the DNA of fish groups, such as the killifish and cichlid fishes, with high precision rock dating of key landforms.</p><p><strong>On the photo above: </strong>The brightly coloured killifish species, <em>Nothobranchius attenboroughi</em>, is only five centimetres long. It is found in ephemeral pools and marshes at the east side of Lake Victoria, where its survival depends on the annual rain season when the dry riverbeds of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem start flowing again. <em>Photo: Brian Watters</em></p><p><strong><br></strong></p><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Prof Dirk U. Bellstedt, </p><p>Stellenbosch University</p><p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:dub@sun.ac.za">dub@sun.ac.za</a></p><p>Mobile:+27-73-1661380</p><p> </p><p>Dr Fenton Cotterill</p><p>Department of Earth Sciences, Stellenbosch University</p><p>E-mail: <a href="mailto:fcotterill@gmail.com">fcotterill@gmail.com</a><br></p>