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More than 600 degrees in the natural sciences awarded at SU’s December graduation
Author: Wiida Fourie-Basson
Published: 11/12/2019

​​​Dressed in traditional Zulu-attire, Maties student Menzi Ngcamphalalala today proudly walked across the stage to receive his MSc degree in Mathematics. He was one of the more than 600 graduate and postgraduate students in the natural sciences who received their degrees during Stellenbosch University's fifth graduation ceremony on 11 December 2019.

Amongst these were a whopping nine PhDs in Chemistry and Polymer Science, while another 29 students received their MSc-degrees in Mathematics as part of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences' (AIMS) programme. All in all, the Faculty of Science awarded 390 BSc, 145 BScHons, 55 MSc and 29 PhD degrees. 

Another MSc student in Mathematics, Sarah Selkirk​, was also awarded the prestigous S2A3 medal (bronze) of the Southern African Association for the Advancement of Science (SAAAS) for the best MSc student at Stellenbosch University across the natural, engineering and medical sciences.

Prof Louise Warnich, Dean of SU's Faculty of Science, says she is grateful for the hard work put in by lecturers, study leaders and students, despite the many challenges faced by higher education institutions in South Africa. Since 2015, the Faculty of Science has consistently produced more than 300 postgraduate students per year, and it seems the year 2019 will be no exception.

“Our graduandi continue to make important contributions to the private and public sectors in South Africa, many of them as leaders and entrepreneurs. I am confident that the class of 2019 will follow in their footsteps and apply their hard-earned, high-level skills for the advantage and development of our society."

Some of the highlights from this year's graduandi include a PhD in Biochemistry awarded to Dr Collins Jana, currently a lecturer at the University of Malawi's College of Medicine. Back in 2014, when he embarked on a career focusing on research into the development of new drugs to fight infectious diseases, there were no higher education institutions in Malawi offering postgraduate options in biochemistry. That was the start of a ten-year long journey as a postgraduate student in the research group of Prof Erick Strauss in SU's Department of Biochemistry.

Another highlight is the achievement of Dr Upenyu Lucky Muza, who not only earned a PhD in Chemistry under the supervision of Prof Harald Pasch, but in August this year he was one of only five postgraduate students nation-wide to receive the SASOL Postgraduate Medal from the South African Chemical Institute (SACI), awarded to postgraduate students who are innovative, entrepreneurial and independent. Formerly from Zimbabwe, he is off to Europe next year for a postdoctoral fellowship.

Another highlight is a PhD in Computer Science awarded to Dr Arnu Pretorius, who entered the field of machine learning and deep neural networks with a background in statistical mathematics. While many regard algorithms more as an art than a science, he developed a more principled design process in which decision are guided by theoretical developments. Read more​ about his work with study leader Dr Steve Kroon from the Computer Science Division in the Faculty of Science.

The Department of Botany and Zoology also made their mark this year, with five PhD-students graduating. Dr Luyanda Ndlela isolated and characterized three predatory bacteria that may one day become pivotal in finding natural treatments for toxic algal blooms; Dr Olivier Pasnin, a research scientist at the Mauritius Oceanography Institute, did the first phylogenetic analysis of sponges in the Western Ocean, thereby contributing to improved marine conservation practices. Other PhD graduates looked at the evolutionary history and taxonomy of parasitoid wasps, the drivers of Prosopis invasions in Eastern Africa, and the role of marine predators in regulating invasions.

Another three PhDs were awarded in Physics, three in Mathematical Science, two in Physiological Sciences and one each in Applied Mathematics and Microbiology

Photos: Stefan Els