Prof Gideon Wolfaardt from Stellenbosch University (SU) is the recipient of the prestigious Havenga Prize, awarded annually by the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns for original research in the natural sciences.
Prof Wolfaardt, a microbiologist by training, is currently director of the Stellenbosch University Water Institute (SUWI) and holder of the Rand Water Chair in Public Health and the ERWAT Chair in Wastewater Management in SU's Department of Microbiology. He also holds a joint appointment as professor in Environmental Microbiology at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and is adjunct professor at the Department of Applied Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, also at Ryerson University.
Described by colleagues as a down-to-earth scientist with a superhuman work ethic and a passion for his research, he is currently managing six multi-disciplinary research projects looking at, inter alia, contaminants of emerging concern in wastewater effluent; the prevention of groundwater contamination in the context of global and climate change; raising the bio-based industrial feedstock capacity of marginal lands; as well as a Southern African-German collaborative project in the field of water security in Africa.
His research group was the first from Africa to participate in the Sewage Analysis CORe group Europe (SCORE) project as part of a European network of specialists in the field of wastewater monitoring. Members of this network investigate the use of quantitative measurement of human biomarkers in wastewater to evaluate lifestyle, health and exposure on community level. During the Covid-19 pandemic, his group was also part of a national network of specialists who worked to establish an early-warning system by monitoring wastewater effluence for the presence of SARS-Cov-2.
While some of their work include fundamental research, his group mainly focuses on water treatment and management, the fate and impact of micro-pollutants, infection control, microbial conversion of biomass, management of mine tailings and nuclear waste, and the environmental fate and behavior of microorganisms.
Prof Wolfaardt has published more then 100 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and presented numerous invited seminars in Canada, the United States, Germany, South Africa, Morocco, Austria and Australia. His research on environmental processes in industrial, engineered and clinical settings has a strong emphasis on techno-social innovation, which has led to eight registered patents since 2013.
According to Prof Alf Botha, head of SU's Department of Microbiology, Prof Wolfaardt is best known amongst postgraduate students, colleagues, industry partners and farmers for his fair treatment of one and all: “Many a time he has helped farmers to solve their water problems, often not expecting anything in return".