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Top awards for SU chemists
Author: Media & Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 01/09/2020

​Three chemists from Stellenbosch University have been recognised by the South African Chemical Institute (SACI) for their contribution to chemistry research, teaching and learning in South Africa.

Prof Selwyn Mapolie was selected as a SACI Fellow, the highest category of membership of the Institute, in recognition of his sustained contribution to the chemical community in South Africa. This honour is only bestowed on a select group of members that have demonstrated excellence and leadership in the areas of the profession, education and management of chemistry and volunteer service.

SACI also recognised Dr Margaret Blackie's outstanding contribution to chemical education over the past five years. She is the recipient of the Institute's Chemical Education Medal, while PhD-student Jean Lombard received the SACI Postgraduate award.

Prof Peter Mallon, head of the department, said the awards are well deserved national recognition for the researchers' contribution to research and education in chemistry in South Africa. Prof Mallon is also SACI president.

Prof Mapolie, who's research career spans over more than 30 years, says it is a great honour to be recognised by his peers, many of whom he has admired for the significant contributions they have made to advance the discipline. He also expressed his indebtedness to the many postgraduate students he has worked with during the years: “My postgraduate students have all contributed significantly to my achievements as a scientist," he said.

Dr Blackie says she appreciates the fact that SACI recognises contributions to education in chemistry and science: “It is a tremendous privilege to be the recipient of this award. And I am deeply grateful to my mentors and collaborators. I have learnt so much along the way from working with others."

Dr Blackie recently co-authored two chapters in a book Building Knowledge in Higher Education, covering topics such as the decolonisation of the science curriculum and the gap between first year students' theoretical understanding of key concepts in chemistry and their ability to transfer that knowledge into other domains, such as medicine and engineering.

PhD-student Jean Lombard says she is grateful but surprised to receive the award, especially as the last year of her PhD was incredibly challenging and a lot of hard work. This former Tygerberg High School learner has just handed in her doctoral thesis.

“I work in the field of solid-state supramolecular chemistry. For my research, I developed new techniques to make what we call 'multicomponent materials'. We are interested in making these materials because it is a simple way of improving the physical properties of an existing material. For instance, a pharmaceutical drug molecule may not be useful because of poor solubility. With my techniques, it could be made more soluble by turning it into a multicomponent material. My focus was specifically looking at techniques which use less or no harmful solvents."

She says she is fascinated by the behaviour of molecules: “I get the feeling that there is much more going on below the surface. I am excited by every new discovery being made. It is amazing to witness the seemingly impossible for yourself!"

Jean's doctoral thesis was supervised by dr Tanya le Roex and Prof Delia Haynes.

On the photo above, from left to right, PhD student Jean Lombaard, Dr Mags Blackie and Prof Selwyn Mapolie.