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SU offers exciting new interdisciplinary study options in the natural sciences
Author: Media & Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 24/10/2019

​​​The Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University has expanded its offering to include from 2020 a more interdisciplinary approach for those students who want to specialise in the fields of medicinal chemistry, bioinformatics and computational biology, and biomedical engineering

This interdisciplinary BSc degree allows for a more flexible combination of different fields, such as chemistry combined with physiology; mathematics and computer science with physiology; or computer science combined with mathematics, statistics, biochemistry and genetics.

“This means we will be able to accommodate a student who is interested in genetics, but also in mathematics and computer science, or someone with a keen interest in mathematics as well as biology. We are therefore offering an opportunity for students to combine their interests in the mathematical, the biological and the physical sciences, while at the same time preparing them for new fields that require an integration of knowledge and skills," explains Prof Ingrid Rewitzky, head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences and Vice-Dean of teaching and learning in the Faculty of Science.

Applied Medicinal Chemistry curriculum

With this curriculum, the Departments of Physiological Sciences and Chemistry and Polymer Science offer a broad, multi-disciplinary background in chemistry and physiology to prepare students for careers in the medical, pharmaceutical and allied health industries.

Prof Anna-Mart Engelbrecht from the Department of Physiological Sciences says students will be exposed to topics such as drug synthesis in chemistry, physiology, as well as the pathophysiology basis of diseases. In the third year, students will also be introduced to a module in the legal aspects of patent law and innovation management. A module in botany will provide them with the botanical background to understand the diversity of plant forms and function at a local and global scale.

“This knowledge can be used for sustainable drug development from plant extracts, novel processes of plant extraction and use. It is therefore essential that students should possess knowledge of the legal aspects of innovation protection and management when new drugs are developed," she explains.

Prof Willem van Otterlo and Dr Catherine Kaschula from the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science point out that this curriculum will provide students with the strong chemical background needed to interface in an applied manner with the physiological sciences, with an option of extending their studies into the chemistry or physiology honours programme.

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology curriculum

This curriculum provides comprehensive training in computer science, mathematics, statistics, biochemistry and genetics. Students who follow this curriculum will have a deep understanding of biology, with the analytical dexterity offered by mathematics and statistics to use existing or develop new software tools, using their computer science skills.

Prof Hugh Patterton, director of the Centre for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) at SU, says students will be able to use and analyse large biological datasets effectively, and gain new insights from the data. “Bioinformatics and computational biology are specialized fields in data sciences, where enormous biological datasets generated by modern technologies are used to understand living organisms at an incredible level of detail. It allows a deep insight into the chemistry and processes that define a living organism, the relationship between organisms and the evolution of life, and is used to answer fundament​al questions in biology," Patterton explains.

On a postgraduate level, selected students can pursue an honours programme in bioinformatics and computational biology, or, with additional undergraduate modules taken, honours programmes in biochemistry, computer science or genetics. The CBCB will also be offering an MSc and PhD degree in bioinformatics and computational biology.

Biomedical Mathematical Sciences curriculum

Biomedical engineering involves the application of engineering principles to biology and medicine to solve healthcare problems, and is currently regarded as one of the fastest growing job markets in the world.

The Biomedical Mathematical Sciences curriculum will expose students to the fields of mathematics, computer science and physiology. It can lead to an honours programme in physiology or mathematics, or a postgraduate diploma and later an MSc in biomedical engineering in the Faculty of Engineering.

*For more information on any of these new offerings, contact Prof Rewitzky at 021 808 3289 or