Local researchers honoured at their ‘Oscars’

 national_science_awards_2_article Prof Helen Rees (middle on photo) is one of the medical researchers honoured at the “Oscars” of South African science last week. Here she is with Minister Naledi Pandor and President of South3, Mike Fraser. (Image: Department of Science and Technology)


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South African medical research institutes rank among the best in the world and are equal to internationally respected institutes, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said in handing out the National Science and Technology Forum Awards.

The success of medical research in South Africa was celebrated at the 2015 National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Awards on Thursday, 9 July. The awards ceremony was held at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park.

The annual NSTF Awards were established in 1998 to celebrate outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology and innovation in South Africa. They also encourage the involvement and participation of organisations in research while raising awareness in the general public of local research and its relevance.

They are often referred to as the “Oscars” of South African science.

This year there were over 50 finalists in all the categories, which include Emerging Researcher and Contribution of a Lifetime. Two new awards – GreenMatter and the Photonics – were also launched.

The GreenMatter Award is mainly for work in trans-disciplinary research or human capital development that promotes environmental sustainability within an academic or non-academic context. The Photonics Award has to do with research relating to photonics.

Innovation and engineering

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor delivered the keynote address at the ceremony. She said that medical research continued to do well in spite of the tough competition from other fields of research. “Bearing in mind that most of the categories in the NSTF Awards are for innovation and engineering, this is even more remarkable.”

She praised the renowned parade of researchers, particularly those on the South African Research Chairs Initiative. “Their achievements affirm the Department of Science and Technology’s commitment to the research chairs programme through the R2.2-billion allocated to this programme since 2008.”

The chair holders brought the best of research and innovation not only to South Africa, but the African continent. “We firmly believe that Prof Salim Karim’s Caprisa, Prof Valerie Mizrahi’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Prof Kelly Chibale’s Drug Discovery and Development Centre and Prof Helen Rees’ Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute rank among the best in the world and are equal to internationally respected institutes in the United States of America and the United Kingdom.”

Pandor said the government was committed to supporting the research chairs and hoped that they would attract local and international students, as well as international research funds and increased research supervisory capacity. “We look to them to establish new partnerships with institutions across the globe, to strengthen innovation in the southern hemisphere and to build a new cohort of productive researchers and scientists.”

Medical research in lead

The list of this year’s finalists indicates that medical research again took the lead. Reese, the executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, won the Contribution over a Lifetime by an Individual category.

She was awarded for her contributions in the fields of HIV prevention, reproductive health and vaccines, where she enjoys global recognition as a public health strategist with a unique ability to translate research into policy and practice.

Rees shared this award with Prof Robert Scholes, distinguished professor of ecology at Wits University, for his contribution to environmental science, systems ecology, savannah ecology, and global change.

Khilona Radia, chief executive officer and team leader of Atrium Biotech, received an award for Research Leading to Innovation by a Team or Individual in an SMME. Radia promoted and developed an accurate rapid test for extra-pulmonary tuberculosis that will save lives and reduce costs related to health care.

Other winners included Prof Zander Myburg of the University of Pretoria for his research into uncovering the genomic control of wood formation in fast-growing eucalyptus trees, which is significant for fuel production. He received the TW Kambule-NSTF Award for research outputs over the last five to 10 years.

Dr Thulani Makhalanyane also received the TW Kambule-NSTF Award in the category of emerging researcher for his exceptional performance and contribution to the field of microbial ecology of hot and cold deserts.

Source: Department of Science and Technology.