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Celebrating the fascinating world of plants the fascinating world of plantsFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p><span style="text-align:justify;">The</span><span style="text-align:justify;"> fascinating world of plants will be in the global spotlight when plant lovers from all over the world celebrate the seventh International </span><a href="" style="text-align:justify;">Fascination of Plants Day</a><span style="text-align:justify;"> on Saturday 18 May 2024.</span><br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The Fascination of Plants Day is hosted annually under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (<a href="">EPSO</a>) and the <a href="">Global Plant Council</a>.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Dr Itumeleng Moroenyane, a botanist from Stellenbosch University (SU) and national coordinator for events in South Africa, says it is important to acknowledge the significant contributions that South African plants have made to our cultural identity and traditional knowledge systems.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“From the healing properties of indigenous medicinal plants to the culinary delights of our edible flora, our flora is incredibly diverse and valuable. From the iconic fynbos of the Cape to the majestic baobabs of the Limpopo Province, South Africa's plants captivate the imagination and sustain life in countless ways. The plants in South Africa enrich our lives in myriad ways, reminding us of the deep connections between people and plants that have endured for centuries."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">This is the first time that South Africa is participating in this global event. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">At SU's Department of Botany and Zoology, Dr Moroenyane organised a programme for learners from local schools. It will consist of a microscope workshop, tours of the laboratories, a walking food tour and discussions.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">On Saturday 18 May, the Department of Botany and Zoology and the Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden are hosting a public event with guided food garden tours, interactive workshops, creative crafts, live music, and food trucks. Click here for more information and bookings - <a href="/english/entities/botanical-garden/events">Events (</a>  </p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>More about plants</strong></p><ul><li>Plants are unique organisms. They can produce sugars just from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. This ability to directly synthesize their own food has enabled plants to successfully colonize, adapt to, and diversify within almost every niche on the planet. Biologists estimate the total number of plant species to be about 250,000. </li><li>These abilities make plants the primary producers of biomass providing animals and mankind with food, feed, paper, medicine, chemicals, energy, and an enjoyable landscape.</li><li>Worldwide, anyone who would like to contribute to the Fascination of Plants Day (FoPD) is welcome to join in. Just contact your National Coordinator (click on "countries" at <a href=""></a>) to discuss and get access to all the supporting materials.</li><li>The Fascination of Plants Day covers all plant related topics including basic plant science, agriculture, horticulture and gardening, forestry, plant breeding, plant protection, food and nutrition, environmental conservation, climate change mitigation, smart bioproducts, biodiversity, sustainability, renewable resources, plant science education and art. </li></ul><p><em>Images freely available at </em><a href=""><em></em></a></p><p>​<br></p>
Maties lecturer tackling up-hill Comrades for students in need AND healthy brain cells lecturer tackling up-hill Comrades for students in need AND healthy brain cellsFaculty of Science (media and communication)<p>​<br><br></p><p>Prof. Ben Loos, head of the Department of Physiological Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU), will use the challenge posed by the Comrades Marathon – also called “the ultimate human race" – to raise funds for science students in need.</p><p>This will be his second Comrades Marathon, but his first time tackling the uphill race.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“I know it sounds a bit mad to run almost 90 km, for fun. The run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg is going to be a tough run, almost a whole marathon length up-hill. I am quite worried, and that is probably a good thing!" he commented this week. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">But besides running for students in need, he has another reason for keeping fit! His research group in the Department of Physiological Sciences at SU studies the biology and physiology of the cell, using advanced microscopy and biochemistry tools to understand what goes wrong in our brain cells in the case of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“We know that exercise increases the levels of autophagy, a cellular process during which brain cells get rid of damaged proteins, thereby decreasing the risk for the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. This is where my research interest and the running come together," he explains. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">He hopes to raise at least R20 000: “It has been a hard beginning of the year for the students, with many struggling financially, often because funding has been tight and delayed. Their resilience and grit are inspiring and wants you to do more," he says.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">“We are proud of our students, and we look to them for new ideas and solutions. They do the tough work, and often push past what is possible, for a better blot, a better micrograph, another repeat, a novel approach, and that often under immense personal pressure and financial vulnerability. This deserves celebration." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">While he enjoys the Comrades Marathon's incredible spirit of togetherness, it is for him also a celebration of life and conquering that which at first seemed unachievable.</p><p>Please support Prof. Loos' initiative at the <a href="">GivenGain platform</a>, where he will be joining a growing number of SU staff, students and alumni running the #Move4Maties Comrades Marathon for students in need. </p><p>Click <a href="">here</a> to join the #Move4Maties Comrades Marathon WhatsApp group.</p><p>In April this year, <a href="/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=10583">Dr Marietjie Lutz</a> raised over R60 000 for BSc chemistry students in need when she cycled a gruelling 600 kilometres in six days.</p><p>On the image above - Cells undergoing the process of autophagy: The green vesicles in the image are so-called autophagosomes – small vesicles that are responsible for the engulfment of cargo to be degraded. Here, the cell is very active and in the process of removing old and damaged proteins. These proteins are broken down into their separate molecules, which are then available again for the cell to build new ones or to generate energy. A very efficient recycling system at play. Images: Ben Loos<br></p><p>​<br></p>
Polymer innovator helps to transform world of medicine innovator helps to transform world of medicineCorporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​Although she was encouraged from a young age to become a medical doctor, Dr Gestél Kuyler, from the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University (SU), decided to follow a different path where her passion for improving lives converges with cutting-edge research and innovation. <br></p><p>Driven by curiosity, guided by mentors, and fuelled by a desire to contribute to medical health research, Kuyler recently obtained a dual-award PhD in the disciplines of polymer science (SU) and molecular pharmacology (Coventry University in the United Kingdom) at SU's March graduation. She was co-supervised by academics at SU and Coventry University, conducted research at both institutions, and will also be awarded the degree by Coventry University in July this year. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Hailing from George on the Garden Route, Kuyler has an entrepreneurial spirit and an inquisitive mind. “While I was busy with my master's degree, two friends and I started a successful chemistry tutoring business," says this member of the Golden Key International Honours Society – the world's premier collegiate honour society that recognises outstanding academic achievement.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“As the Research Manager of the Klumperman Research Group at SU, I enjoy the daily dose of novelty and discovery. I also enjoy experimenting in the lab and interacting with my peers and colleagues. This role offers an exciting chance to actively participate in ongoing research and contribute to new project development, particularly with commercial potential.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“We're in an environment that fosters growth, especially if you make the most of available resources and opportunities."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>PhD research</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Kuyler's doctoral study focused on designing, synthesising and characterising several novel polymers (these polymers are very large synthetic molecules) that can be used to isolate and investigate membrane proteins (MPs). These proteins are attached to or embedded within a cell's membrane and are involved in a plethora of key cellular processes. She says MPs almost function like “locks" that are specific to certain keys (e.g. drug molecules) to be activated to enter the cell and/or induce a response.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Due to the important role of MPs, they serve as crucial drug targets, which explains why 70% of the drugs approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration target these proteins. It is, therefore, important to maintain the structural integrity of these MPs for accurate drug design to treat cancer, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines, and asthma, among others. These and other conditions develop because of irregularities in the function or structure of MPs.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“However, it's not easy to study MPs due to the complexities of extracting them from the lipid (fatty compounds) environment which makes up the cell membrane. The difficulties arise from the amphiphilic nature of MPs (including parts that interact with water and parts that don't) and extracting them in a way that stabilises both the hydrophobic (water-repelling) and hydrophilic (water-attracting) parts. If this is not achieved, the protein can lose its true structure and function which is required for the accurate development of therapeutics. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“Despite these hurdles, researchers and drug developers must understand the structure and function of these drug targets to design and create new, efficient therapeutics. This understanding can not only reduce the time and cost of drug development but holds the potential to enhance the efficacy of drugs, ultimately minimising side effects and reducing the cost thereof."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Kuyler says the development of novel polymers offers several advantages over currently commercially available polymers due to the way that they are produced. “The synthetic approach we employ provides several customisation possibilities, providing a great platform for further development in our research group." <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;"><strong>Nanosene</strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Kuyler's PhD research not only led to the development of novel polymers, but also to the filing of an international patent that formed the core technology of <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">Nanosene</strong></a>, a SU spin-out company that she co-founded with Prof Bert Klumperman from SU's Department of Polymer Science in 2022. She leads Nanosene as its CEO.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">In 2021, Kuyler participated in an idea validation (testing and assessing the feasibility, viability, and potential of a business idea) programme at the LaunchLab (SU's technology and entrepreneurship incubator). Here the concept of Nanosene emerged and was validated through interactions with potential customers, industries, and stakeholders. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“This experience fuelled my enthusiasm for commercialising polymeric materials for molecular drug target identification and research. Nanosene was established to advance the development and commercialisation of innovative polymers and is now the official platform for translating interesting and commercially viable intellectual property (IP) originating from our research group."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Nanosene is the first bespoke polymer innovator and supplier from Africa that currently focuses on developing and producing amphiphilic polymers to isolate molecular drug targets. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“This breakthrough technology can transform the world of medicine by empowering researchers and drug developers to explore new avenues for treating various diseases," says Kuyler.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“We have successfully commercialised our first polymers through Nanosene, along with a strategic manufacturing and distribution collaboration with Cube Biotech, a leading biotechnology company in Germany."<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Kuyler mentions that in February this year, Nanosene emerged as the overall winner at the Academia-Industry Training (AIT) Swiss African Science and Business Innovators (SASBI) Conference in Lagos, Nigeria. It was the first time that Nanosene was pitched at the event. Nanosene has been selected as one of the top 12 African startups to attend the Swiss Residency Week in Switzerland in May 2024. It was also recently selected as one of the eight South African startups to join the country's delegation at VivaTechnology 2024, Europe's premier event for technology and innovation in Paris in May 2024.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“This experience has energised the team and reiterates the great potential of what we have to offer," says Kuyler.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">She adds that researchers, academic collaborators, pharmaceutical companies, biotech companies, and protein manufacturers will benefit from the work being done at Nanosene.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">With a PhD under her belt, Kuyler says she is eager to dedicate more time to the growth and advancement of Nanosene and the team as they strive for greater heights.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">She describes herself as a nature lover who enjoys the outdoors. <br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“I take every opportunity to be outside. I have a keen interest in plants and have recently delved into wild mushroom foraging. Exploring through hiking is another passion, and we've completed several multi-day hikes, including a memorable journey through the northern part of Kruger National Park.<br></p><p style="text-align:justify;">“I also love to spend time with friends and family, travelling, and enjoying good food and wine." ​<br></p><ul><li>​​<strong>Photo</strong>: Dr Gestél Kuyler in the laboratory. <strong>Photgrapher</strong>: Stefan Els</li></ul><br>
Science, AgriSciences, Health Sciences students victorious at SU’s FameLab heat, AgriSciences, Health Sciences students victorious at SU’s FameLab heatCorporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Alec Basson]<p>​Tallulah Glasby, a master's student in microecology at Stellenbosch University (SU), has won the SU heat of the 2024 national <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">FameLab</strong></a><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0"> </strong>competition.</p><p>The event took place on Wednesday (8 May) at the SU LaunchLab. Eduard Zehrt, a master's student in food science, and Carene Ndong Sima, a doctoral student in human genetics, finished second and third respectively. Glasby walked away with R4 000, while Zehrt and Ndong Sima both pocketed R3 000. Ndong Sima also received an extra R1 500 after also being named as the audience choice winner. The prize money was co-sponsored by the Postgraduate Office at SU and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies Prof Sibusiso Moyo.</p><p>Considered to be one of the biggest science communication and public speaking competitions in the world, FameLab, which is also a development initiative, creates a platform for young emerging scientists to speak to public audiences about their work.</p><p>Glasby, Zehrt and Ndong Sima were among 17 master's and doctoral students who were given only three minutes to share their research with the audience. As the winner of the heat, Glasby will represent SU at the national semi-finals in September where she will compete against the winners of heats at other universities in South Africa.<br></p><div class="ms-rtestate-read ms-rte-embedcode ms-rte-embedil ms-rtestate-notify"><iframe width="560" height="315" src="" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div><ul><li>​Cellphone users click <a href=""><strong class="ms-rteThemeForeColor-5-0">here </strong></a>for video.<br></li></ul><p><strong>Glasby</strong> won the heat for her talk on the community of organisms living at the surface of soils called biological soil crusts. “These microorganisms produce essential nutrients for the environment and for life, enrich the soil, and allow other organisms to inhabit these areas. They also act as a sponge by absorbing and retaining moisture in the soil and creating tiny oases for other soil organisms."</p><p>Commenting on her win, Glasby said that even though her victory was unexpected, it was an amazing experience to share her work with the public. She was also grateful for the science communication skills she gained at the pre-event workshop.</p><p>In his presentation, <strong>Zehrt</strong> shared how he is using hyperspectral cameras – they work exactly like the cameras in cellphones – to analyse what is inside food and to combat food fraud. Focusing on chicken, he said this allows him to determine how fresh and tender the meat is and to even check if bacteria are growing on the surface. “With my research, I'm able to distinguish between free range and conventional chicken with 80% accuracy."</p><p>Zehrt said it was an enjoyable experience to talk about his research in this way. He encouraged other students to take part in the FameLab heat.</p><p>In her talk, <strong>Ndong Sima </strong>emphasised the need for a patient-centred approach to treat Tuberculosis. She said it is important to look at our genes because they can tell us how people would respond to treatment. “Having people's genetic profile, we can then predict which patient would be more at risk of treatment failure before treatment initiation. That would be a game changer."</p><p>Ndong Sima said she was surprised to be among the winners. She commended the judges and instructors for helping her to be comfortable in front of an audience and to share her research.</p><p>In her welcoming speech, Prof Moyo touched on the importance of science communication and said researchers need to show how their work benefits society. “We want the next generation of scientists, masters and doctoral students who can share their research strategically and impactfully with a wider audience." </p><p>The SU FameLab heat was organised by Jive Media Africa and the Postgraduate Office, which forms part of the Division for Research Development. The judges were Wiida Fourie-Basson (Faculty of Science), Maambele Khosa (Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation), Marina Joubert (Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology) and Fumani Jwara (South African Research Chair in Science Communication).</p><p>A masterclass in science communication and public speaking will be presented prior to the national semi-finals by a trainer brought in from the United Kingdom (UK) by the British Council. The top ten from the semi-finals will compete at the national finals and the winner of FameLab SA will represent South Africa at the international finals in the UK.</p><ul><li><strong>Photo</strong>: Carene Ndong Sima, Tallulah Glasby and Eduard Zehrt at the FameLab heat. <strong>Photographer</strong>: Stefan Els​<br></li><li><strong>Video of FameLab heat by Stefan Els</strong><br></li></ul><p>​<br></p>
Tulio de Oliveira selected for TIME100 Health 2024 de Oliveira selected for TIME100 Health 2024Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) [Maambele Khosa]<em>​TIME Magazine</em> has recognized Prof Tulio de Oliveira in its inaugural 2024 TIME100 Health list, a new annual compilation that celebrates 100 individuals who have had the most impact on global health this year.<p>This recognition, determined by TIME's international network of editors, thought leaders, and previous honourees, marks De Oliveira's second appearance in TIME's influential rankings, following his previous inclusion in the 2022 TIME100 list of the world's most influential people. The full 2024 TIME100 Health list is available at <a href=""></a> </p><p>De Oliveira is a world-renowned scientist on the field of genomics. He is the Director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) at SU, Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and Deputy Director of the Genomic Surveillance Unit at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK.</p><p>In 2021, De Oliveira led a groundbreaking multidisciplinary team of researchers and scientists in the discovery of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, which swiftly emerged as the dominant global variant of the virus. In 2020, he led the team that discovered the SARS-CoV-2 Beta variant. In the last decades, De Oliveira has led multiple networks of scientists in South Africa and Africa and in 2023, he launched the Climate Amplified Diseases and Epidemics (CLIMADE) consortium, a global consortium to characterize diseases and pathogens that are amplified by climate change.</p><p>Commenting on this remarkable achievement, Prof Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies at SU, said: “Prof Tulio de Oliveira's tireless dedication to advancing scientific knowledge and his exceptional leadership in the field of genomics and bioinformatics exemplify the spirit of innovation and collaboration that defines our institution."</p><p>"I am deeply honoured to be recognised once again by <em>TIME Magazine</em> and to be included in the distinguished TIME100 Health list of 2024. This acknowledgment underscores the importance of collaborative research efforts in addressing global health challenges." De Oliveira expressed his gratitude, and added: “Once I saw that the COVID-19 pandemic was receding, I decided to work with our team of over 100 scientists in South Africa and with the largest genomics facility in the world, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, to create a new programme of work, this time to fight the multiple diseases that are being amplified by climate change, such as dengue, chikungunya, the Zika virus, influenza and cholera." </p><p>Throughout his career, De Oliveira has garnered numerous accolades for his contributions to public health and infectious disease research. In addition to him being listed in Nature as one of the top ten people who helped to shape science in 2021, he was also included in the MIT Technology Review list as one of the leaders of the ten breakthrough technologies in 2022. He was the recipient of the Lifetime Leadership Award from Discovery Health and has received the Order of Merit medal from the Portuguese President, the Gold Medal Award from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), the Batho Pele Award from the South African government for his contributions to society and was winner of the German Africa prize in 2022. His commitment to excellence and innovation continues to inspire colleagues and researchers worldwide.</p><ul><li>​De Oliveira is also Professor of Bioinformatics in the SU <a href="/english/data-science-and-computational-thinking">School for Data Science and Computational Thinking</a> and associated with the Faculties of Science and Medicine and Health Sciences at SU.​ </li></ul><p>ABOUT<br></p><ul><li><a href="file:///C:/Users/viljoenm/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/Content.Outlook/0P8C1GUV/CERI">CERI</a> at <a href="/english/">Stellenbosch University</a></li><li><a href="">KRISP</a> at <a href="">University of Kwazulu-Natal</a></li><li><a href="">GSU</a> at the <a href="">Wellcome Sanger Institute</a></li></ul><p>​ </p><p><br></p>
Stellenbosch mathematician offers historical view of connection between unique mathematical forms mathematician offers historical view of connection between unique mathematical formsWiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​​Stellenbosch University mathematician Bruce Bartlett's article on computing the roots of a quintic polynomial was chosen as the feature article in the <a href="">April edition</a> of the <em>Notices of the American Mathematical Society</em> (AMS), regarded as the world's most widely read magazine aimed at professional mathematicians.</p><p>The article, titled “The Quintic, the Icosahedron, and Elliptic Curves" tells the story of the remarkable correspondence between these unique mathematical forms while at the same time framing this correspondence in a new and systematic way. In the process, he also uses this correspondence to come up with an efficient numerical method to calculate the roots of the quintic.</p><p>Moreover, the article is written in such a way that it takes the reader on a “carpet ride through the mathematics of the last four centuries". This includes Kepler's Platonic model of the solar system (1597), Gauss' diary entry from 1799 and experiencing “the atmosphere in Trinity College Hall during the wonderful moment Ramanujan burst on to the scene in 1913", he writes in the article. Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) is regarded as one of India's greatest mathematical geniuses, and the focus of the <a href="">film</a> “The man who knew infinity", released in 2016.</p><p>Bartlett says the article has been more than ten years in the making. As a topologist, his interest was first sparked when listening to a maths talk by the French mathematician <a href="">Etienne Ghys</a> at the International Congress of Mathematics in Madrid in 2006: “In this incredible talk, Ghys mixed three-dimensional topology, which is the field I specialise in, with elliptic curves, a field in number theory that I was not familiar with."<br></p><p><img src="/english/PublishingImages/Lists/dualnews/My%20Items%20View/Bruce%20Bartlett.jpg" alt="Bruce Bartlett.jpg" style="margin:5px;width:302px;height:227px;" /><br></p><p>In 2014 he wrote a <a href="">blog post</a> on this connection between seemingly unrelated objects for <a href="">The n-Category Café</a>, a group blog on math, physics and philosophy.</p><p>However, in 2020, while on a visit at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Germany, he attended two lectures by the renowned number theorist Don Zagier on the icosahedron, the Roger-Ramanujan identities and beyond: “I simply had to attend these lecturers. I sat in the front row and took diligent notes!" he recounts.</p><p>As it turned out, even a world leader in number theory like Zagier still found the relationship between the quintic and the icosahedron a bit mysterious: “I realised then that there is scope for an article, providing a coherent picture of how to compute the roots of a quintic polynomial via the icosahedron and elliptic curves. I realised that there were very few people, if any, who had this global picture of the way it worked," he explains.</p><p>But Barlett is also a firm believer that, in the words of his intellectual mentor <a href="">John Baez</a>, “(In) mathematics, every sufficiently beautiful object is connected to all others".  </p><p>In this regard, it is worth remembering that the icosahedron is one of the five Platonic solids. Bartlett explains: “The ancient Greeks discovered that there are only five ways that you can build a closed convex shape in three dimensions by gluing regular polygons, such as equilateral triangles, or squares, or pentagons etc., together. These are the five Platonic solids."</p><p>The first four correspond with the elements of nature: the tetrahedron with fire, the octahedron with air, the cube with earth, and the dodecahedron with water.</p><p>“The icosahedron, on the other hand, played a mysterious role. According to Plato the gods used it for arranging the constellations of the whole heaven. It certainly has an air of mystery around it!" he adds. </p><p>Back in the 21st century, Bartlett says the whole theme of his research in quantum topology is to try and connect objects from diverse mathematical areas together: “This is what excites me about mathematics, relating A to B where A and B live in very different areas. That is also why I need to have a broad background."</p><p>Taking deep dives into mathematical history is another topic that excites him. While writing the article for AMS, he had to obtain copyright to include a picture of equation 5 on page 9 of Ramanujan's original handwritten letter to Godfrey Hardy at Trinity College in 1913.</p><p>After a long search, and with the help of the makers of the film, <a href="">The man who knew infinity</a>, it was traced to Cambridge University Library. An editor at AMS, Masahiro Yamada, managed the communication with Cambridge and after paying a fee, Bartlett is now the proud owner of a reproduction right to page 9 of Ramanujan's letter to Hardy.</p><p>“So, now I also own a little piece of mathematical history!"  <br></p><p><em>On the photo above, SU mathematician Bruce Bartlett with a copy of equation 5 on page 9 of Ramanujan's original handwritten letter to Godfrey Hardy at Trinity College in 1913. Photo: Wiida Fourie-Basson</em> <br></p><p>​<br></p>
International workshop tackles management of invasives in protected areas workshop tackles management of invasives in protected areasMedia: School for Climate Studies<p>​Ecologists from 17 countries and six continents gathered in Stellenbosch recently to share knowledge and best practice approaches to the management of invasive species in protected areas.</p><p>The three-day workshop was hosted under the umbrella of the Centre for Invasion Biology <a href="">Chair in Managing Invasions in Protected Areas</a> which is hosted within Stellenbosch University's (SU) School for Climate Studies.</p><p>Prof. Tammy Robinson-Smythe, holder of the chair, said in her welcoming address that it was exciting to have specialists from just about every ecosystem – from marine and terrestrial to freshwater ecosystems – together in one room, making this a unique geographically representative gathering.</p><p>The objective of the workshop was to work towards achieving Target six of the <a href="">Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework</a>, concerned with, inter alia, reducing the rates of introduction and establishment of known or potential invasive alien species by at least 50% by 2030.</p><p>Robinson says invasive species have a broad impact on biodiversity, ecosystem services and people's livelihoods. In this sense, tackling Target 6 already works towards the overall objective of the Global Biodiversity Framework, also known at the <a href="">Biodiversity Plan for Life of Earth</a>.  </p><p>As protected areas are focal points of action, already set up to protect valuable ecosystem services, she believes these centres of conservation expertise can be capitalised on to maximise the benefits of management interventions. </p><p>“With this workshop, we are hoping to identify and overcome the barriers in achieving the Global Biodiversity Framework targets," she adds.</p><p>A selection of papers delivered at the workshop will be published in a special edition of the journal <em>Biological Invasions</em>. Additionally, an overarching paper will draw together insights from the workshop, serving as a synthesis of the state of knowledge and identifying gaps in current practice and opportunities for meeting Target 6. </p><p>Prof. Guy Midgley, interim director of the School for Climate Studies at SU, said in his welcome address that invasive species are perfectly poised to benefit from increased CO<sub>2</sub> levels in the atmosphere and warmer temperatures when establishing in new territories. In that sense, the management of invasive species should also take the bigger picture of climate change into consideration.</p><p>This point was reiterated by Prof. Belinda Gallardo from the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Spain who pointed out that proactive approaches are needed to protect national parks from the combined impacts of invasions and a changing climate.</p><p>Some of the participants in the workshop also emphasised the importance of recognising the role of humans, especially tourists, in introducing alien species to new environments. <a href="">Prof. Philip Hulme</a> from Lincoln University in New Zealand, emphasised ecotourism as an important pathway for the introduction of alien species into protected areas: “People underestimate how quickly the tourism pathway is evolving," he said.<br></p><p>​<br></p>
MSc student Francisca Darkoh recipient of prestigious Mandela Rhodes Scholarship student Francisca Darkoh recipient of prestigious Mandela Rhodes ScholarshipFaculty of Science (media & communication)<p></p><p>When Francisca Darkoh applied for yet another bursary to support her postgraduate studies in physiological sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) last year, she had no idea that the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, administered by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, is one of Nelson Mandela's three official legacy projects.</p><p>“I had no idea it was such a big thing! I thought it was just another bursary with Mandela's name attached to it, like so many other things out there," she laughs. The <a href="">Mandela Rhodes Scholarship</a> provides comprehensive funding, including tuition and registration fees, allowances for study materials, research and medical aid, accommodation and meals, as well as a personal and travel allowance.</p><p>Moreover, to her surprise she learned that the scholarship does not only involve financial support: “They do not just give you money for your studies, they actually have a programme in place to help you succeed in your studies," she explains.</p><p>Coming from a family that has struggled greatly financially, Francisca has become used to hustling to make ends meet. Taking inspiration from her Ghanaian mother, she has applied for a host of bursaries and established three businesses while studying – from offering personal training sessions to fellow students, to selling Jollof – a traditional rice dish from West Africa.</p><p>She is currently enrolled for an MSc in Physiological Sciences under the guidance of Dr Theo Nell and Professor Resia Pretorius in the <a href="/english/pgstudies/Pages/Science/Physiological-Sciences.aspx">Department of Physiological Sciences</a> at SU</p><p>Francisca, a former learner from <a href="">Stirling High School</a> in East London, initially came to Stellenbosch University on a sports scholarship, as she has been playing hockey on national level since U/16. During this time, she excelled in her studies and fulfilled several leadership roles, such as House Committee member of the women's residence, Erica, and Chairperson/Primaria of Huis Russell Botman House.</p><p>Her biggest and most unforeseen setback, however, came in the middle of her BScHonours year, when she was hospitalised for months at a time for sepsis. In the process, she suffered a partial foot amputation undergoing six surgeries over the span of five months. </p><p>“Fortunately, the physiotherapist taught me to walk again just before graduation, so that I could walk over the stage by myself."</p><p>An eternal optimist, she is now focusing her research on sepsis, with the hope of making a significant contribution to the early diagnosing and detection of sepsis in the African and South African context. </p><p>The title of her dissertation is “Characterizing hemostatic and vascular blood parameters in systemic inflammatory processes during sepsis: a multidimensional analysis".<br></p><p>On the photo above, MSc student Fransisca Darkoh on the Stellenbosch University campus. <em>Photo: Wiida Fourie-Basson</em><br></p><p>​<br></p>
Science faculty bids farewell to first female dean in its history faculty bids farewell to first female dean in its history Wiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​​In February 2014, Prof. Louise Warnich made history when she was appointed as the first female Dean of the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University.<br></p><p>For the past decade she was at the helm steering staff and students through the stormy waters of the COVID pandemic, the Fees-must-fall student protests, Day Zero and load shedding, as well as significant changes in the National Research Foundation's (NRF) funding model.</p><p>Looking back as her term comes to an end on 31 March 2024, she says she would never have considered applying for the position if she wasn't approached by colleagues in the science faculty. At the time, she was Vice-Dean and acting Dean in the Faculty of AgriSciences: “I then considered it a new challenge. I realised it offered new opportunities to play a role on a strategic level in the development of staff and students in the science faculty."</p><p>She says at the time the Faculty of Science was already making an excellent contribution to the University's teaching and research outputs: “However, I realised that we were too reliant on funding from the NRF and warned about it. Yet, when the funding model changed, it hit us even harder than expected, especially when combined with the coming to end of more than one South African research chair (SARCHi) and Centres of Excellence.</p><p>“Thankfully we came through this and other challenges because of the excellent cooperation of staff and students and their 'can-do' attitude," she adds.</p><p>Her advice for future deans?</p><p>That would be the same as that given by her mentor, the late Prof. Doug Rawlings, namely: “Appoint the right people, support them, and then leave them alone – they will thrive!"</p><p>She believes there are many more opportunities than challenges in the higher education sector: “There is so much that can be done, especially in South Africa and on this continent. We have unique opportunities and excellent people. But experience has taught me that few opportunities simply fall into one's lap. You must keep your eyes open, grab that opportunity when it comes along, and then work hard on its successful delivery."</p><p>Over the years, she followed this approach more than once. In cultivating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, for example, the Faculty of Science currently leads the score board with the roll-out of nine spin-out companies since 2018 and a growing list of patents.</p><p>Realising the importance of the emerging field of bioinformatics in modern biology, she led the process to establish a Centre for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB). With the status of an academic department, the CBCB's work now successfully spans over three faculties.</p><p>In spite of many challenges, the faculty has maintained a fairly constant research output, delivering a record number of 68 PhD students in 2019. In 2022, the first structured MSc in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence was established in the Applied Mathematics Division. In the spirit of continuous programme renewal and addressing the needs of the job market, new undergraduate focus areas in the fields of applied medicinal chemistry, biomathematics, and biomedical mathematical sciences were introduced, as well as a BSc in Computer Science and the interdisciplinary Bachelor of Data Science degree.</p><p>Prof. Warnich also prides herself on having made a number of excellent appointments and some progress with diversity. The number of female academics has increased from 20% in 2015 to 41% in 2023, including the first Black and Coloured female professors.</p><p>Other highlights include closer relations with the Natural Science Student Committee, the promotion of science communication through initiatives such as the Stellenbosch Science Café, as well as a centenary gala in 2018 to celebrate and launch the coffee-table book, <em>A Particular Frame of Mind: Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, 1918-2018</em>, covering a hundred years of natural sciences at SU. </p><p>In her first presentation to the Faculty Board meeting in 2013, she showed an image of a snow avalanche, indicative of the potential of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) to disrupt the very essence of universities. “Ten years later, we know that while MOOCs have a place in higher education, the predicted disruption did not come about. Artificial intelligence now presents a similar challenge, but I am positive about the contribution AI can make to higher education without necessarily disrupting everything. Only time will tell!"</p><p>In the end, it requires “clear leadership, a platform for excellence and an innovative approach to challenges and opportunities if you want to remain at the helm of this faculty", she concludes.</p><p>Having worked with Prof. Warnich over the past decade as Vice-Dean: Teaching and Learning, Prof. Ingrid Rewitzky says her participatory management style helped navigate many a tumultuous phase: “Her honesty, fairness, compassion, loyalty and passion for her work has been a strength throughout her tenure and instilled trust among her colleagues. On behalf of the Faculty of Science, I would like to express our gratitude for her significant contribution to leading the growth and development of staff and students, and for leading the faculty to greater heights despite challenges beyond our control."</p><p>Prof. Sibusiso Moyo, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, says while she has been working with Prof. Warnich only since September 2022, they have tackled major projects and national initiatives. This includes realising the establishment of the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Science at SU, as well as the German Research Chair programme together with the Africa Institute for Mathematical Sciences (supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research).</p><p>“Indeed, the Faculty of Science is one of the most active in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship," she adds.</p><p>Prof. Warnich willnow  return to her academic home in the Faculty of AgriSciences, where she will tackle special projects across faculties, such as training for new heads of departments, revision of practicals in the biological sciences and much more. </p><p>Last, but not least, she hopes to leave a legacy in the form of the Catalyst Fund for Science to support postgraduate students. While there is currently R13 million in the fund, the first bursaries can only be awarded when it reaches R40 million – <a href="/english/faculty/science/donate#:~:text=Through%20the%20Catalyst%20Fund%20we,South%20Africa%20and%20the%20world.">Click here</a> if you would like to make a contribution towards that goal.</p><p>Hopefully this hard-working dean will now spend less time behind her desk and more time on hobbies such as long hikes in nature and travelling.</p><p>Wishing her the very best in her new endeavours and in the journey forward.<br></p><p>​<br></p>
SU’s Faculty of Science awards four joint international degrees’s Faculty of Science awards four joint international degreesWiida Fourie-Basson (Media: Faculty of Science)<p>​​Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Science this week awarded four joint PhD degrees with universities in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy in the fields of chemistry, physics, microbiology, and zoology.<br></p><p>A joint degree means that the students were co-supervised by a researcher from both universities, spending time at each institution to work on their research. Based on an agreement between the two universities, the degree is then awarded by both institutions.</p><p>Dr Dina Miora was awarded a PhD in physics from SU and the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany; Dr Wessel Myburgh a PhD in microbiology from SU and the University of Padova, Italy; Dr Gestél Kuyler a PhD in polymer science and molecular pharmacology from SU and Coventry University in the United Kingdom; and Dr Laurie Araspin a PhD in Botany and Zoology from SU and the <em>Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle</em> (MNHN) in France.</p><p>Altogether 37 PhD, 75 MSc, and nine BScHonours degrees were awarded at the graduation ceremony on 26 March 2024 at the Coetzenburg Centre in Stellenbosch.<br></p><p>Myburgh says his research benefited immensely from the international exposure: “The expertise of the two groups complemented each other perfectly. In my case, Prof. Lorenzo Favaro's research group has experience in converting waste to energy using microbial technologies based on anaerobic digestion. They also have a wealth of knowledge in bioplastic production. Both these fields were lacking in our group. We, on the other hand, have a very strong background in recombinant yeast expression systems for fungal hydrolase production. I would not have been able to make so much progress in my PhD if it was done at either of the institutions alone."</p><p>Kuyler says her experience was both transformative and challenging: “Pursuing a dual-award PhD with the goal of bridging the disciplines of Polymer Science and Molecular Pharmacology was a daunting task, especially considering my limited prior knowledge in the latter. I am immensely thankful for this invaluable opportunity that has enabled me to expand my knowledge and develop into a versatile, multidisciplinary scientist."</p><p>Araspin's study leader, Prof. John Measey, says the joint degree came about as an extension of an ongoing collaboration between himself and Dr Anthony Harrell at the MNHN in France: “We were interested in finding out extreme differences between populations of frogs that live natively in South Africa and invasive populations in France. The biggest advantage was certainly for the student to have spent time in both countries, working on a topic important to both countries." Measey is a senior researcher at the Centre for Invasion Biology at SU.</p><p>Miora, who is also an alumnus of the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, says the experience in Germany gave her the opportunity to work in an advanced and fully equipped laboratory: “It was rather quick to fix any work-related problems given the extensive human and materials resources at hand. At SU, each student project is quite different, even though we are all working in photonics. While it takes longer to solve an issue, because only my supervisor fully understands the problem, it also provides us with valuable skills to solve most problems by ourselves. In the end, being able to both work in a team and independently are valuable career skills," she says.</p><p>Despite having to cope with new languages and cultures, as well as the significant additional administrative burden of navigating the systems and requirements of another university, the students agree that it was a worthwhile and life-changing experience. </p><p>Prof. Louise Warnich, Dean of the Faculty of Science at SU, says international partnerships and joint degrees are very important for a research-intensive faculty: “It strengthens our ability to tackle important issues by joining forces with international specialists. It also offers an opportunity for our PhD students to become part of international networks early in their careers, and to gain access to specialist knowledge and facilities."</p><p>Both Kuyler and Myburgh's research also led to the registration of international patents and the establishment of spin-out companies <a href="">Nanosene</a> and <a href="">Urobo Biotech</a>. Miora is currently a postdoctoral fellow and image analyst at the Medical Research Council (MRC) <a href="">Laboratory of Molecular Biology</a> (LMB) in Cambridge, England.<br></p><p>On the photo above, from left to right, Dr Gestél Kuyler, Dr Wessel Myburgh, and Dr Dina Miora. <em>Pho</em><em>to: Stefan Els</em><br></p><p>​<br></p>