UKZN new and existing ASSAf members at the 2019 annual awards ceremony. From left are professors Paramu Mafongoya, Sabiha Essack, Sunil Maharaj (back), Bice Martincigh, Tricia Naicker, Cristina Trois, and Albert Modi.

ASSAf Membership for UKZN Academics

Seven academics from UKZN were among 23 of the country’s leading scholars and scientists who were inaugurated as members of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) at the academy’s (ASSAf) annual awards ceremony this week.

Honorary Professor Martin Bucher, Professor Paramu Mafongoya, Professor Brij Maharaj, Professor Bice Martincigh, Professor Albert Modi and Professor Cristina Trois from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) made the cut, while Professor Tricia Naicker from the College of Health Sciences was elected to SAYAS.

ASSAf prioritises inclusion of the country’s top scholars in its membership and emphasises the importance of multi-disciplinarity in its cohort of members. Elected annually by other members, close to 400 (ASSAf members) come from more than 10 scientific fields.

In September 2011, the academy launched SAYAS to provide a voice to South Africa’s young scientists and to enable them to fully participate in local and internationally relevant research and development agendas.

Bucher, Fractional Research Professor in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) is also the Centre national de la recherche scientifique Directeur de Recherche based at Université Paris-Diderot. Bucher was previously SW Hawking Fellow of Mathematical Sciences and College Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He has authored numerous articles on theoretical and observational cosmology and was part of the European Space Agency Planck Cosmic Microwave Background Mission team which received the 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize.

Mafongoya is the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Rural Agronomy and Development and holds a PhD in Agroforestry from the University of Florida. He has over 30 years’ experience working with various international organisations and universities in the areas of agricultural research, development, education, and integrated natural resources management. He has published 292 papers including 190 refereed journal articles, 49 refereed book chapters and two books.

Maharaj is a Senior Professor of Geography in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) who has received widespread recognition for his research on urban politics, mega-events, segregation, local economic development, xenophobia and human rights, migration and diasporas, religion, philanthropy and development. He has published over 150 scholarly papers in numerous renowned journals as well as five co-edited book collections. He is Chairperson of the South African National Committee of the International Geographical Union (IGU), former President of the Society of South African Geographers, and is a regular media commentator on topical issues as part of his commitment to public intellectualism.

Martincigh attained her BSc (Hons) and PhD degrees from the former University of Natal, going on to teach at the former Technikon Natal (now Durban University of Technology) before joining her alma mater where she is Professor in Physical Chemistry. She served as President of the South African Chemical Institute (SACI) from 2015 to 2017, and has been recognised as a Distinguished Teacher at UKZN, and as a Fellow of SACI and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Martincigh’s expertise lies in the areas of photochemistry, solution thermodynamics and environmental chemistry.

Modi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of CAES, is a crop scientist by training – completing his studies at the University of Fort Hare, former University of Natal (now UKZN) and Ohio State University. In 2008, he established the Moses Kotane Institute for Science and Technology, serving as its first CEO. He was Dean and Head of SAEES from 2011 – 2016. The C2 NRF-rated researcher has focused his research on traditional/indigenous crops, field crop management, plant physiology, sustainable agriculture, seed science and more. At UKZN, he has focused on curriculum development and received a Distinguished Teachers’ Award from the University in 2016 as well as a Research Award from the Water Research Commission for human capacity development.

Trois is the SARChI Chair in Waste and Climate Change, and in her more than 20 years at UKZN has made considerable contributions to research and teaching in her field of Environmental Engineering in South Africa. She has graduated more than 45 postgraduate students, and her expertise has also led to innovations around waste management and wastewater engineering and treatment in the eThekwini Municipality and to initiatives that encourage the participation of women and girls in science and engineering. Amongst her many international and local partnerships, Trois is part of the International Waste Working Group-Southern Africa Regional Branch that promotes best practice in waste management and builds capacity in the sector. This year, Trois was awarded the highest honour that an Italian citizen can receive from their country: a knighthood and attendant title of Cavaliere del lavoro.

Naicker, Associate Professor and Director of the Catalysis and Peptide Research Unit in the Discipline of Pharmaceutical Science has a PhD from UKZN. In 2008, she was presented with the Department of Science and Technology’s Women in Science PhD Award. In 2018, Naicker was recognised as a top performing young researcher at UKZN (40 years and younger). Her research interests are focused towards new methodologies in asymmetric organocatalysis for application in the synthesis of new drugs and enhancement of old drugs within the field of HIV/TB.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photograph: Supplied