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Faculty of Science boasts with two Havenga-prize winners in 2018 of Science boasts with two Havenga-prize winners in 2018Media and communication, Faculty of Science<p>Two scientists from the Faculty of Science were awarded the prestigious Havenga-prize for Life Sciences and Physical Sciences respectively from the <a href="">Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns</a>.<br></p><p>The Havenga prize is an annual award for original research in the natural sciences and can be awarded only once to an individual. The award ceremony took place on 21 September 2018 in Stellenbosch.<br></p><p>This year's recipients are Professor Emile van Zyl, distinghuished professor in Microbiology, and Professor Ben Herbst, emeritus professor in Applied Mathematics.</p><p>The Havenga prize for Life Sciences were awarded to Professor van Zyl for more than ten years of research into finding environmentally-friendly alternatives for fossil fuels. In the 2000s he developed, in collaboration with several international co-workers, stems from brewer's yeast in the laboratory which could produce cellulose-enzymes in sufficient quantities to break down cellulose and ferment ethanol from the associated sugars in one step, a process known as consolidated bioprocessing. At the time it was a world-first.</p><p>Prof. Van Zyl says biofuels will remain significant in the search for renewable biofuels for especially heavy motor vehicles, the marine and aviation industry: “The commercial production of biofuels from non-edible plant rests promises to become more sustainable, environmentally-friendly and cost-effective, without competing with food production. In the future cellulose-ethanol will be the better and more affordable alternative, especially if one takes into account that the cost of global warming is not accounted for in the use of fossil fuels".</p><p>The Havenga prize for Physical Sciences was awarded to Professor Herbst in recognition of an academic career that spanned over 40 years. During this time he was involved with the South African Mathematics Olympiad for 15 years. In 1998 he became closely involved with the establishment of the annual South African Symposium for Numerical and Applied Mathematics (SANUM). In 2015 the symposium celebrated its 40<sup>th</sup> anniversary with a list of selected international speakers. Today the SANUM conference is an established conference for numerical mathematicians from all over the world.</p><p>In reaction to the award, Professor Herbst said while awards have never been part of his frame of reference, he is thankful for the recognition: “Everything that I have done, I did out of passion and curiosity. And where I could work with enthusiasm, together with colleagues and students who meant so much to me, it was rewarding in itself". </p><p>During the event he also gave recognition to his mother, Mrs Lenie Herbst, who attended the event despite her mature age of 91. For that, she received a round of applause.</p><p>Another academic from Stellenbosch University, Professor Marlene van Niekerk, received the CL Engelbrecht prize for Afrikaans Literature for <em>Kaar</em>; Professor Lizette Joubert, chief researcher at the Agricultural Research Council's Infruitec-Nietvoorbij research institute and an extraordinary professor in the Department of Food Sciences at SU, received a medal of honour for her research on rooibos and honeybush.<br></p><p><em>On the photos above, Prof Emile van Zyl (left) and Prof Ben Herbst. Photo: SAAWK</em><br></p>
From two cupboards to 170 laboratories within a century two cupboards to 170 laboratories within a centuryWiida Fourie-Basson<p>​Only a hundred years ago, all the glassware and chemicals for the first professor of Mathematics and Natural Science's Laboratory for Experimental Sciences were stored in two small cupboards in a two-room building that is still standing in Ryneveld Street, Stellenbosch.<br></p><p>Today the Faculty of Science, one of the four founding faculties of Stellenbosch University, has grown to more than 170 laboratories in eight academic departments, housed in 13 academic buildings, with access to R226 million worth of state-of-the-art-analytical equipment. </p><p>During the Faculty of Science's centenary gala dinner on Monday, 1 October 2018, at Spier Wine Estate, Professor Louise Warnich, dean of the Faculty of Science, thanked the many staff, teachers, researchers, support staff and students who over the past one hundred years contributed to the faculty's achievements. The dinner also included the official launch of the Faculty's centenary book,<a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5955"> <em>A Particular Frame of Mind, Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, 1918-2018</em>.</a><br></p><p>Referring to the striking image of the molecular structure of a red garnet on the cover of the book, Professor Warnich said it provides an apt metaphor for the Faculty and its people: “Through their research, and will to knowledge, our scientists reveal the beauty of the natural world when they investigate intricate cellular infrastructures under a confocal microscope at nanoscale resolution, or when they master a new mathematical proof. But apart from being beautiful gemstones, garnets have many uses in industry. Likewise, science is applied in an amazing array of applications."<br></p><p>She reaffirmed the faculty's commitment to strengthen science and higher education in South Africa: “We have a proven track record in delivering some of the best postgraduate students in the country. We remain committed to developing the next generation of South African scientists – men and women who will become catalysts in creating the knowledge-intensive economy that is so crucial to South Africa's growth and development." <a href="/english/faculty/science/Documents/Centenary%20speeches/Science%20Dinner%20_LW-1%20Oct%202018.pdf">Click here</a> for the full speech.<br></p><p>Professor Wim de Villiers, SU Rector, congratulated the faculty on its many successes and achievements: “In future, the University needs to be a national asset that serves the diverse needs of our communities, with impact on our continent, and with global reach. We aim to become Africa's leading research-intensive university, and in realizing this bold ambition, the Faculty of Science has an indispensable role to play". <a href="/english/faculty/science/Documents/Centenary%20speeches/20181001%20Wim%20de%20Villiers%20-%20FoS%20Centenary%20(final).pdf">Click here</a> for his speech.<br></p><p>Dr Thomas auf der Heyde, Deputy-Director-General: Research, Development and Support with the Department of Science and Technology, said the basic sciences are the building block for applied science and technology, and universities are the training schools for the PhD-level researchers required for a knowledge-intense, innovation-driven economy. <a href="/english/faculty/science/Documents/Centenary%20speeches/DST%20speech%20Science%20Centenary%20Dinner_01102018.pdf">Click here</a> for the full speech.<br></p><p>In a short overview of the centenary book, Professor Jannie Hofmeyr emphasized how important it is that universities today continue to foster this “certain frame of mind" that Professor James Shand referred to in a 1916 lecture, “The making of a university":</p><blockquote style="margin:0px 0px 0px 40px;padding:0px;border:medium;"><p>A university is not a lecture-theatre, or a library, or a laboratory; it is not a building or a place at all; its essence is a frame of mind. We hear much in these days of the “will to power": the true character of a university is the “will to knowledge". The real university is neither a collection of books, not a collection of buildings, nor a collection of lecturers; it is a collection of students who possess the will to knowledge – the will to possess it and still more the will to advance it. A university if constituted by its students, and by them alone. When I say students, I mean not only the temporary students who join the university for few years, but far more the permanent students who constitute its staff, for every professor worth his salt is a student to the end of his days. If the students are animated by the will to knowledge, there is a university; if they are not, if their studies are only a means to a selfish end, such as the learning of a narrow trade, the securing of a position or an income or an academic distinction, or the propagation of a favourite doctrine, then no university is there though millions be spent on staff and buildings and equipment. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of knowledge, there is a university.</p></blockquote><p>He said the centenary book not only chronicles the endeavors of a century's worth of such excellent academics, it also contains a few amusing anecdotes, such as the first Professor of Chemistry, Berthault de St Jean van der Riet, who was nicknamed <em>Oubaas Fenol</em> because of his interest in essential oils; or Prof Robert Broom, first professor of Zoology in 1903, who defied Senate's wishes that he takes a roll call at each lecture. Here is a <a href="/english/faculty/science/Documents/Centenary%20speeches/Hofmeyr_toespraak.pdf">link</a> to his speech.<br></p><p>During the festivities, Prof Warnich handed two centenary books in red leather slip covers to Prof. De Villiers and Dr Auf der Heyde.</p><p>On the photo above, <em>Professor Louise Warnich, Dean: Faculty of Science, presented copies of the Faculty's centenary book,</em> A Particular Frame of Mind<em>, to Professor Wim de Villiers, Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University, and Dr. Thomas auf der Heyde, Deputy Director-General: Research at the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Photo: Nardus Engelbrecht</em></p>
Mathematics postgraduates at Heidelberg Laureates Forum postgraduates at Heidelberg Laureates ForumMedia and communication, Faculty of Science<p>Three postgraduate students in Mathematics had the privilege of attending the <a href="">Heidelberg Laureates Forum</a> which took place from 23 to 28 September 2018 in the historic town of Heidelberg in Germany.</p><p>This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to learn from and interact with the recipients of the most prestigious awards in the fields of Mathematics and Computer Science, namely the Abel Prize, the Fields Medal and the Nevanlinna Prize in Mathematics, and the A.M Turing award and the ACM Prize in Computing. These awards are on the same level as the Nobel Prize.<br></p><p>Sogo Pierre Sanon, Hosana Ranaivomanana and Dylan Nelson had to compete against postgraduates students across the world in order to be able to attend.<br></p><p>Sogo, who recently completed his MSc in Mathematics at SU, is now pursuing his PhD at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany. While at SU, his supervisors were Dr Karin Therese-Howell and Dr Bruce Bartlett. </p><p>Dylan is busy with his Phd in Mathematics under the supervision of Dr Dirk Basson, while Hosana is an MSc student in Mathematics with Dr Bartlett as supervisor. <br></p>
SU to host first postdoctoral conference in Southern Africa to host first postdoctoral conference in Southern AfricaCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>The first postdoctoral conference in Southern Africa will take place at Stellenbosch University (SU) from Wednesday 3 October to Friday 5 October 2018. The event, which is organised by SU's Postdoctoral Society, will be held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies. Prior to the conference proper on Thursday (starting at 09H00), a welcoming function will be held on Wednesday evening at Stellenbrau in Stellenbosch.<br></p><p>Forming part of SU' Centenary commemoration, the conference celebrates 100 years of education at the institution.<br></p><p>Themed <em>100 years into the future</em>, it brings together postdoctoral researchers from across South Africa and other parts of the continent to talk about their work. The aim is to create an interdisciplinary forum and to emphasize the importance of postdoctoral fellows to drive research for the next 100 years. The conference will feature two interdisciplinary workshops, 57 oral presentations and nine posters from all over South Africa and beyond.<br></p><p>​Presentations will focus on a wide range of issues within the fields of African history, Education, Medicine and Health Sciences to Technology, Biology and Agriculture. Some of the topics to be discussed include the decolonisation of social work education; school-based cybersecurity; causes of neonatal mortality; gender equality in educational leadership; biomolecules and nanotechnology; the management of employee wellbeing; job insecurity in South Africa's Higher Education, and the importance of social innovation systems for sustainable development.</p><p>Reflecting on the importance of the conference, Chairperson of the Stellenbosch Postdoctoral Society and member of the organising committee Dr Natasha Mothapo says “postdocs are the research muscle at universities, driving research outputs and innovation. We believe that gatherings such as these are very important to assist in driving collaborations for the future since we are the ones who will be the academics of the future within universities." <br></p><p>“The research narrative in Africa is changing, so is the face of research and its impact on our communities. For the next 100 years, where should research in Africa be going? Where should we focus? What can we do to put Africa in the lead globally?  </p><p>Mothapo says they hope that these are some of the discussions that will emerge at the conference.</p><p>The number of postdoctoral research fellows at SU increased by 40% since 2015, with more than 350 registered during 2017, with a nearly 50% split between national and international fellows. </p><ul><li>For more information on the conference or to attend the event, please liaise with Dr Natasha Mothapo at tel 021 808 43 87 or e-mail <a href=""></a>. <br></li></ul><p><br></p>
Fall hopelessly in love with plants and nature, says SU Botanical Garden’s new curator hopelessly in love with plants and nature, says SU Botanical Garden’s new curatorCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Martin Viljoen]<p>Dr Donovan Kirkwood has been appointed as the new curator at the internationally accredited* Stellenbosch University (SU) Botanical Garden. He takes up the position on 1 October 2018. <br></p><p>“I'm very excited about the position. I've worked in the biodiversity conservation sector for a long time, but I really enjoy growing plants for fun. This job is a fantastic mix of two great passions", said Kirkwood.</p><p>Kirkwood is a highly skilled botanist as well as a person with a strong academic profile. He is a trained ecologist in Cape, savanna and forest ecosystems, sampling and experimental design, and statistical analysis and reporting. He completed his PhD at the University of Cape Town in 2003, and his research focused on population ecology and vegetation description, including formal floristic survey and analysis.</p><p>“SU welcomes Dr Kirkwood as new curator and is very excited about his appointment. The Botanical Garden is a precious SU asset, as a conservatory, as a space for academic research and as a pleasance garden for students, staff and the public and will flourish under Dr Kirkwood's curatorship."</p><p>Kirkwood's key responsibilities as curator will include administrative and operational management to keep the garden functioning smoothly, properly maintained and beautiful. He will also continue to help sustain and grow the conservation work that the garden is committed to as a Botanic Gardens Conservation International partner, which includes everything from education and outreach to growing endangered plants and supporting population or habitat rehabilitation. </p><p>Apart from his career experience and being academically knowledgeable in botany, Kirkwood also spent numerous years working as a photojournalist and writing magazine articles to help educate people about more sustainable gardening practices. </p><p>He believes that all these skills and career experience will be of great benefit in taking the Botanical Garden into a new chapter. </p><p>“I certainly want to continue the legacy of conservation growing projects and partnerships, but I also would like to make learning about the tremendous botanical diversity of South Africa, and particularly the Western Cape, exciting, visually appealing and personal. I really want to highlight the many spectacular threatened plants we have and make strong links to the threatened habitats and landscapes and what people can do about looking after our heritage. Most of all, I just want to get people to fall hopelessly in love with plants and nature", said Kirkwood.</p><ul><li>The SU Botanical Garden was accredited as an <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5850">Accredited Conservation Practitioner</a> by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (<a href="">BGCI</a>) in August (at the time one of only 11 gardens in the world) while receiving general <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=5705">accreditation</a> from the BGCI in June.<br></li></ul><p> </p><p> </p><p><br></p>
Researcher receives national award for science communication receives national award for science communicationCorporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]<p>​​​Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus, an emerging researcher in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University, on Wednesday (26 September 2018) received an award from the National Research Foundation (NRF) for her outstanding contributions to public engagement with science and for making science and technology more accessible to the public. She was honoured with the Excellence in Science Engagement Award. The annual NRF Awards recognise and celebrate South African research excellence.<br></p><p>The Excellence in Science Engagement Award acknowledges researchers at South African universities and science councils who make exceptional contributions to public engagement and public understanding of science over a sustained period. It also encourages academics to help enhance the public's engagement and understanding of all the sciences (including technology, innovation, the social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge). </p><p>Malgas-Enus says she feel extremely honoured to have received this special award.</p><p>“I am humbled that they have recognised my efforts in this wonderful manner. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude towards my institution for recognising my contribution to outreach by nominating me for this special award. I am deeply grateful for their support and encouragement."</p><p>Passionate about science outreach, Malgas-Enus established the Stellenbosch University Chemistry Outreach Initiative (SUNCIO) which takes the science laboratory to underprivileged schools. </p><p>She does several public engagements per year, in the form of motivational talks to young girls, taking the “laboratory" to underprivileged schools in designated areas to promote science, articles in print media as well as radio interviews to make science more accessible to the general public. She has also designed four Practical Chemistry kits so that learners at schools that don't have a laboratory or resources, can easily do the prescribed physical sciences practical work in their classrooms. </p><p>In 2013, Malgas-Enus established the RME-NANO research group which focuses on the design and application of organic and inorganic nanoparticles in areas such as the treatment of wastewater and blood clotting. Apart from the NRF Award, Malgas-Enus also received the Claude Leon Lecturer Merit Award, the Rector's Award for General Performance and the CHEC (Cape Higher Education Consortium) Funding Award for Outreach.</p><p>She has published papers in leading journals in her field and also supervised and co-supervised master's and doctoral students.</p><p>Malgas-Enus says she would like to encourage her fellow emerging researchers to not only do world-class research but to also contribute to outreach in a manner which yields the greatest impact and can make a difference to communities.</p><p>At the same ceremony, Profs Michael Samways (Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology) and Simon Schaaf (Department of Paediatrics and Child Health) obtained special awards for having received an A-rating from the NRF.</p><ul><li><strong>Photo</strong>: Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus (right) with Dr Therina Theron, Senior Director of SU's Division for Research Development, at the ceremony.<br></li></ul><p><br> </p>
Microbes captured in living display captured in living displayWiida Fourie-Basson<p>Seven different bacteria and several yeasts and fungi which are commonly found all around us – and even inside our guts - were used to create a living microbial display, on show in a glass cabinet in the foyer of the JC Smuts building at Stellenbosch University until this Friday only.<br></p><p><img src="/english/faculty/science/PublishingImages/News%20items/MicrobesonTwitter2.JPG" class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="" style="margin:5px;width:425px;" /></p><p>“This is a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of the rich diversity of microbes in and around us, captured together in one display," explains Dr Heinrich Volschenk, part of the team of staff and students in the Department of Microbiology who planned and executed this unique example of microbial art.</p><p>Taking some inspiration from the creators of the bacterial billboard for the movie <a href="">Contagion</a>, the microbes were selected specifically for their bright colours and safety. The raison-d'être for the display is, of course, to celebrate the University's centenary.<br></p><p>Thus far, the microbes have surpassed all expectations.</p><p>“Because of the cold weather, they are growing slower than expected. But now the different colours are more evident, as well as the different morphologies," says Mrs Trudy Jansen, also from the Department of Microbiology.<br></p><p>You will, for example, now be able to recognise the smelly green mould that forms on that orange which has been lying forgotten at the bottom of your bag. Or the blueish, grayish mouldy stuff on last week's sandwiches.<br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/MicrobesonTwitter.JPG" alt="MicrobesonTwitter.JPG" class="ms-rtePosition-2" style="margin:5px;width:428px;" /></p><p>If you look really closely, while holding up your breath long enough, you will also be able to observe the traces of microscopic small mites which have since colonised the display cabinet: “They are in the air all around, but we cannot see them. Now we can observe how they have appeared out of thin air to feed on the abundance of food available," Jansen comments.</p><p>On social media, fellow microbiologists simply can't wait for the next update: “It is 24 hours later – our super reliable <em>Serratia</em> is growing like crazy. Some fluorescent green <em>Pseudomonas</em> coming through, and numerous orange and pink yeasts starting to show up. By tomorrow the yellow <em>Micrococcus luteus</em> should make its appearance?", wrote Dr Shelly Dean in a Facebook post. There were also daily updates on Twitter from @volschenk:<br></p><p>And for a video to see how this display came about, visit <a href=""></a></p><p><em>On the photo below, the microbial art team from SU's Department of Microbiology are, from left to right, Odwa Biko, Zoë Bhana, Dr Heinrich Volschenk, Shakier Samie, Lindsay Faure, Ivan Harris, Dr Shelly Deane, Caylin Bosch, Dr Thando Ndlovu, Jane de Kock, Prof. Alf Botha, Trudy Jansen, Wendy Wentzel, Monique Waso, Tersia Conradie, Kathryn Griessel, Warrick Sitzer, and Marisa Valentine. People involved, but not in the photograph: Prof Wesaal Khan, Tania van der Merwe, Méshelle Gey van Pittius, Ludwig Brocker, Alno Carstens and Elzaan Booysen</em><br><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Mikrobesgroepfoto_resized.jpg" alt="Mikrobesgroepfoto_resized.jpg" style="margin:5px;" /><br></p>
Book celebrates 100 years of natural sciences at SU celebrates 100 years of natural sciences at SUWiida Fourie-Basson<p>​A book which traces the steps of the first pioneers who laid the foundations for training and research in various disciplines in the natural sciences at Stellenbosch University, will be available as from 1 October 2018.<br></p><p>The book, <em>A Particular Frame of Mind, Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, 1918-2018</em>, also documents the contributions of various individuals to the establishment of research fields such as nuclear physics and polymer science in South Africa.<br></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><img class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="Bookpics_for SU web.png" src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Bookpics_for%20SU%20web.png" style="margin:5px;" /></p><p>“The reader will obtain a vivid and striking view of the particular way of thinking of the historical and current natural scientist," explains Professor Piet Swart, emeritus professor at SU and one of the editors of the book.</p><p>According to Professor Louise Warnich, the first female dean of the Faculty of Science, the book is an attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the first one hundred years of tertiary education and research in natural sciences at the University. Several of the department's founding histories have now been documented for the first time.</p><p>“In the process several staff members took on the challenge to open storerooms and dust off old documents and equipment. In the Department of Botany and Zoology, for example, we found an expenditure book dating from 1918, with entries documenting the buying of 19 rabbits and 20 doves. We also found the oldest photo to date of the very first professor of mathematics and natural science, Professor George Gordon, surrounded by a group of eight students, dating from circa 1880."</p><p>She says the Faculty of Science is very much aware of the scars left by apartheid: “Now, and over the next few decades, we have the opportunity to do things differently. The compilation of this book showed us that what we do today, and how we do it, will make a difference to the lives of those coming after us."<br></p><p><img class="ms-rtePosition-2" alt="Zoology expenditure book 1918.png" src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Zoology%20expenditure%20book%201918.png" style="margin:5px;" /><br> </p><p><strong>Book specifications</strong></p><p>Red linen hard case book with foil embossed on cover and spine, covered with a dust jacket with French folds and individually shrink wrapped. Available in Afrikaans or English.</p><p><strong>Paper:</strong> Text printed on 157 gsm Gold East Matt</p><p><strong>Format:</strong> 280mm deep and 280mm wide</p><p><strong>Extent:</strong> 200 full-colour pages plus endpapers<br></p><p><strong>ISBN English edition</strong>: 978-0-7972-1731-7</p><p><strong>ISBN Afrikaans edition: </strong>978-0-7972-1730-0</p><p><strong>Publication date:</strong> October 2018<strong> </strong></p><p><strong>Price:</strong> R780 (discount available on orders of four and more)</p><p><strong>How to order the book</strong></p><p>To order your copy, send an e-mail to <a href=""></a>, upon which you will receive an invoice with payment details and information about when and where to collect your copy. If the book must be sent via courier, the cost will be added to the price of the book.<br></p><p><br> </p><p>Photographer: Clive Hassall<br></p><p><br> </p>
Africa needs fundamental research in machine learning needs fundamental research in machine learningWiida Fourie-Basson<p>Fundamental research in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is essential if Africa wants to have control over some of the really big ideas in the world.<br></p><p>This is the message from <a href="">Dr Nando de Freitas</a>, one of the world's leading thinkers in machine learning and principal scientist at <a href="">Deepmind</a>. This South African presented the keynote address at the <a href="">2018 Deep Learning Indaba</a> that is taking place at Stellenbosch University from 9 to 14 September 2018 this week.</p><p>The Deep Learning Indaba is a volunteer-driven grassroots organization whose aim it is to build pan-African capacity in Artificial Intelligence by creating communities, building leadership and recognizing excellence across the continent. During the week, more than 500 students and researches from 30 African countries and 19 international countries are exposed to several of the world's leading thinkers in this field.</p><p>Dr De Freitas said it is still very difficult for machines to recognize shapes, such as that of Table Mountain, or to emulate even the most basic of human actions, such as pouring milk into a cup, which is something a three-year-old also has to master: “Hardcoding has its limits, and it is very hard to get machines to do what human minds can do. We are trying to do this the machine learning way, but for that we need massive datasets of images and comparative training data sets. This takes a lot of effort and ingenuity. It cannot be taught. You have to figure it out as you go along," he explained.</p><p>However, most of the new frontiers in machine learning, such as reinforcement learning, meta learning and supervised learning, requires fundamental research: “Fundamental research is important, even for Africa. Because it is from fundamental research that the big ideas emerge. It is not only about applications. Only when you have control over the big idea, will you be able to build things. The rest is trial and error."</p><p>He also emphasized the ethical aspects of machine learning: “We will never have ethical machines. There will always be some kind of bias. But it is essential that we all have access to the benefits that technology will bring," he concluded.</p><p>The next plenary speaker was <a href="">Dr Mustapha Cissé</a>, head of the Google AI Lab in Ghana, and an expert on f<a href="">airness, transparency and reliability</a> in machine learning.</p><p>He said there are important problems in Africa and the developing world that we want to solve. But there is an inherent bias due to the fact that the community solving the problems are doing it from the available but limited datasets: “It is important that we are aware of what we call the 'white guy problem', and that we pay more attention to the impact we could have on the a global level." He presented two sessions on the Fundamentals of Machine Learning at the Indaba.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University, said in her welcoming address that the Deep Learning Indaba could not have happened at a more ideal time, as South Africa's Department of Science and Technology has just released a new White Paper that aims to shake-up South Africa's science and research landscape: </p><p style="text-align:justify;">“The fourth industrial revolution is predicted to disrupt industries and transform production, management and governance systems. Will we here in Africa be able to make the technological leap, as we did a decade ago from landlines to mobile technology? Will Africa and Africans benefit from the cutting-edge advances in artificial intelligence, data science and machine learning, while at the same time addressing Africa's unique challenges? Or should I rather say, can we afford not to?"</p><p><a href="">Dr Shakir Mohamed</a>, one of the lead organisers of the Indaba, said the Indaba aims to work with local universities and to strengthen local initiatives, so that students do not need to leave Africa to learn from the best.</p><p>Other key events this week include a Women in Machine Learning event sponsored by Microsoft, the inaugural <a href="">Kambule</a> and <a href="">Maathai </a>awards that recognise excellence in the research and application of machine learning in Africa, and the closing keynote address to be delivered by Dr Jeff Dean, global head of Google AI, and Google Senior Fellow, on Friday, 14 September.<br></p><p>For media enquiries, contact<br></p><p><br> </p>
Invasive pines fueled Knysna fires pines fueled Knysna firesWiida Fourie-Basson<p>​​The replacement of natural fynbos vegetation with pine plantations in the southern Cape, and the subsequent invasion of surrounding land by invasive pine trees, significantly increased the severity of the <a href="">2017 Knysna wildfires</a>.</p><p>This is one of the findings of a study published in the journal <a href=""><em>Fire Ecology</em></a> by a research team from the <a href="">DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology</a> (CIB) at Stellenbosch University, Nelson Mandela University, SANParks, and the CSIR. The aim of the study was to assess the climatic, weather and fuel factors that contributed to one of the region's worst fires ever recorded. </p><p>Over four days in June 2017, the Knysna fires burnt 15000 hectares, claiming the lives of seven people and destroying more than 5000 hectares of commercial pine plantations and over 800 buildings. </p><p>The researchers used satellite imagery to compare the landscape before and after the fire, including the type of vegetation covering the different areas. This information enabled them to estimate the amount of biomass consumed by the 2017 fire. </p><p>One of the main findings is that the severity of the fire was significantly higher in plantations of invasive alien trees and in fynbos invaded by alien trees, than in uninvaded fynbos. And while the weather conditions were extreme, they were not unprecedented, as similar conditions occurred in the past at a rate of approximately one day every three years. The severity of the 18-24 month drought that preceded the fires, on the other hand, was higher than ever recorded in the historical weather record, and this contributed significantly to the impact of the fire.</p><p>Prof. Brian van Wilgen, a fire ecologist with the CIB and one of the co-authors, says large tracts of natural vegetation in the southern Cape have been systematically replaced with plantations of <em>Pinus</em> and <em>Eucalyptus</em> species, increasing above-ground biomass from about four to 20 tonnes per hectare: “Given that more than two-thirds of the area that burned was in one of these altered conditions, our findings demonstrate clearly that fuel loads have substantially increased compared to earlier situations when the landscape would have been dominated by regularly burned uninvaded natural vegetation."</p><p>It is estimated that pine trees have invaded more than 90% of the Garden Route National Park's fynbos vegetation at various densities. Additional invasions by Australian <em>Acacia</em> and <em>Eucalyptus</em> species cover a further 29% and 14% respectively: “By increasing the amount of fuel available to burn, the fires become more intense and more difficult to control," he explains.</p><p>Van Wilgen warns, however, that events of this nature can become more frequent as the climate of the southern Cape becomes more hot and dry, and as the extent of invasions increases.</p><p>“The conditions that exacerbated the severity of the 2017 Knysna fires will occur again. People need to stay vigilant and implement fire-wise practices, and, more importantly, steer away from placing developments in high-risk areas in the long inter-fire periods.</p><p>“Our study underscores the need to implement effective programs to control the spread of invasive alien plants, and to re-examine the economic and ecological sustainability of commercial planting of invasive alien trees in fire-prone areas." </p><p>Some of the other finding include:</p><ul><li>The Knysna fires burned 14 958 hectares, of which one third comprised natural vegetation.</li><li>Of the land in the altered category, most (78%) was either commercial plantations of invasive alien trees (52%), or other land invaded by alien plants (26%).</li><li>A relatively small proportion of the burned area was natural forests (4%), or thicket (2%).</li></ul><ul><li>A policy of regular prescribed burning, practiced by the Department of Forestry in the 1970s and 1980s with the dual goals of rejuvenating the fire-dependent vegetation and reducing fuel loads, were halted in the late 1980s. Fire management then shifted to a focus on fire suppression to protect forestry plantations and residential developments, resulting in substantial fuel build-ups in natural vegetation. Leaving fynbos unburnt for long periods can treble the fuel loads, as has been shown in studies elsewhere. In addition, invasion of these areas can further increase fuel loads by 50 to 60%.</li><li>The Knysna's population grew by over 70% over the past 20 years, from 43 000 people to 74 000 people in 2018.</li></ul><p>The paper “An assessment of climate, weather, and fuel factors influencing a large, destructive wildfire in the Knysna region, South Africa" was published in <em>Fire Ecology</em> in August 2018 and is available online at <a href=""></a></p><p>The authors are Dr Tineke Kraaij, Nelson Mandela University, Mr Johan Baard, SANParks, Mr Jacob Arndt, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Mr Lufuno Vhengani, Meraka Institute, CSIR, and Prof. Brian van Wilgen, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University.</p><p><strong>Captions</strong></p><p>A burned-out plantation near Harkerville, shortly after the 2017 Knysna wildfire. Photo: Johan Baard</p><p>Orderly plantations of pine trees in the background, and invasion by escaped pines on the <a href="">Garcia Pass</a> in the southern Cape. These invasions can substantially increase fuel loads, leading to more intense and damaging wildfires. <em>Photo: Brian van Wilgen</em></p><p><strong>Media interviews</strong></p><p>Prof. Brian van Wilgen</p><p>Tel: 021 808-2835; Cell: 082 454 9726</p><p><br> </p>