Rwandan national, Ms Josiane Ayingeneye, hitch-hiked to South Africa to undertake her postgraduate studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the School of Chemistry and Physics.
After finishing school with a distinction at Nyamasheke Girls’ High School in the Western Province of Rwanda, Ayingeneye pursued her undergraduate degree at the National University of Rwanda with an interest in biochemistry.
In 2012, Ayingeneye completed her undergraduate degree with Honours in Bio-organic Chemistry. After reading about the excellent research facilities at the University KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Ayingeneye knew this was the institution she wanted to undertake her postgraduate studies at.
With insufficient funds for an air ticket, Ayingeneye hiked in 2015 from Rwanda to South Africa with the help of good Samaritans, to undertake her postgraduate studies at UKZN in the School of Chemistry and Physics. In addition to financial challenges, Ayingeneye could not communicate in English as French was the medium of communication in her home country. Undeterred by these obstacles, she enrolled for her Masters in Science.
Ayingeneye researched green chemistry, with a focus on alternative greener solvents which will substitute common solvents, which release harmful and volatile organic molecules in the air and environment. Her research involved the synthesis and application of “ionic liquids” as a medium for chemical reactions. Ionic liquids are salts which are liquids below 100 oC. Their low volatility, inflammability, high thermal stability, ability to dissolve a wide range of organic/inorganic compounds and recyclability make them more effective and preferable than common volatile organic solvents. The objective of the research was to synthesise useful alcohols by using a green solvent (a typical ionic liquid, 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium tetrafluoroborate, [BMIM]BF4).
Ayingeneye’s results showed that the design of new processes, which replace volatile organic solvents, was a promising and positive response to environmental pollution and human health detriments.
‘I am so proud and happy to be the first female in my family to complete a master’s degree,’ said Ayingeneye. She thanked her husband, Antoine Ayinkamiye, who despite having a low income, still managed to support her throughout her studies. During her study Ayingeneye was also blessed with a baby girl, named Dorcas Ishimwe Ayinkamiye.
‘All this success could not be achieved without the hard work, patience and scientific guidance of my supervisor, Professor Vincent Nyamori. His invaluable support will stay with me in my heart forever,’ said Ayingeneye.
Nyamori, of the School of Chemistry and Physics said: ‘Despite all the obstacles she encountered, Ayingeneye showed tenacity of spirit and made the 2018 list of graduates. I am very proud of her achievements. I can sum her journey as “Excellence is to do a noble common thing in an uncommon way”.’
Words: Leena Rajpal