College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Achieving Summa Cum Laude Despite Loss – Chemistry Graduate’s Masters Triumph

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Ms Athandwe Paca graduated summa cum laude with Masters in Chemistry and had her work, which she completed within a year, published, despite losing her father late last year.

Paca’s research project focused on the synthesis, optical and structural studies of iron sulphide nanomaterials. She explored methods of preparing these materials to tune their unique optical and structural properties for biomedical applications.

Paca’s passion for science and a sense of curiosity for chemistry was sparked by a visit to the annual science festival in Grahamstown during her high school years. She pursued her BSc in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Rhodes University, which she completed in 2014. She later did her Honours in Chemistry at the University of Fort Hare, thanks to a National Research Foundation (NRF) Innovation Scholarship. She received her honours cum laude.

The ambitious student chose to enrol at UKZN in 2017 because of the Institution’s state-of-the-art facilities in the School of Chemistry and Physics. One of her greatest achievements, she said, was being able to complete her masters in one year to graduate summa cum laude, and have two papers from her research published in the journals of Nanomaterials and Materials Chemistry and Physics. She also presented part of her research at a national conference in Cape Town.

Paca benefited from a NRF Innovation Masters Scholarship. She said completing the project stimulated her desire to engage in research where she is able to contribute her knowledge in the field of nanotechnology to the on-going quest for new and effective drugs for treatment of drug resistant diseases, especially in developing countries like South Africa.

‘I see nanotechnology as a discipline possessing great promise for engineering innovative tools to curb diseases posing a threat to the socio-economic well-being for the people of South Africa and the African continent,’ she said.

Paca is enrolled for a PhD in Chemistry at UKZN, pursuing research focused on the development of novel functionalised hybrid core-shell microgel nanocomposites as therapeutic agents for cancer treatment. She said the microgels were among the most promising nanomaterials applied in drug delivery systems. Her work is based on the supposition that metal-containing microgels could be engineered to deliver and release drugs in a regulated manner to prolong their activity in a biological environment.

Paca thanked her family for being a strong support system during her studies, and also thanked her supervisor, Professor Peter Ajibade, for his support and guidance.

‘Mostly, I would like to thank God for giving me strength to undertake this research,’ she said.

‘Athandwe is focused, hardworking and dependable as a researcher,’ said Ajibade.

‘She will continue to grow within the academic milieu if given the opportunities to develop to her full potential, and is a tremendous asset to any university. She is extremely passionate about her research, and cannot attempt any experiment without precise planning, implementing it with enthusiasm and scientific judgment. She is one of the best I have seen in recent years!’

Words: Christine Cuénod