College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Chemist Grows her Collection of Distinctions

Ms Stephanie Fraser graduated with her Master of Science in Chemistry summa cum laude. She also received her BSc and BSc Honours degrees summa cum laude.

Consumer demand for affordable, high-quality commodities has resulted in modern society relying heavily on petroleum-based materials, with devastating environmental consequences. It was for this reason that Fraser’s research focused on exploring alternative technologies that promote a more sustainable future.

Cellulose is the most abundant natural polymer on Earth and, as a primary component of the cell wall, it provides structural support to plants. Fraser’s study revolved around the development of nanoscopic cellulose derivatives as sustainable platforms for the development of high-performance materials. She designed and fabricated cellulose-based, electrically conductive hydrogels using “green” synthetic protocols and used these materials to construct wearable sensors capable of real-time human motion detection.

Fraser thanked her supervisor, Professor Werner van Zyl, who supported her and ensured she had the resources required to conduct high-quality research. She added that the publication of her first peer-reviewed journal article marked a significant milestone in her career. She was also fortunate to participate in the Green Chemistry Postgraduate Summer School held in Venice earlier this year, where she was awarded a prize for her presentation.

Fraser acknowledged her family, especially her parents, who have supported her throughout her academic career. ‘The unrelenting curiosity and passion that my parents have for their own specialisations, both of whom hold a PhD in STEM fields, has also been highly influential in my decision to pursue a career in scientific research,’ she added.

If things go as planned, Fraser hopes to pursue a PhD overseas with the long-term goal of securing a position in academia.

Van Zyl was one of the lecturers who taught Fraser from her undergraduate years. He said: ‘I was fortunate that she decided to join my research group for her MSc studies in 2020. Stephanie is not someone one really supervises; once she has a general idea of what the project is about, she can be left to explore and come up with solutions to solve the problem on her own. We only had a few meetings to touch base. She is also an incomparable oral and written communicator of her science at this level.’

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Supplied