Staff, students and guests gather for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s ninth annual Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium on the Westville campus.

Research Day a Platform for Student Research and Innovation

Innovative research projects being undertaken by masters and doctoral students were on show at the annual Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS) staged by the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) on the Westville campus.

Hosted by the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS) in collaboration with the College Public Relations team, the symposium’s theme was on Big Data and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

There were more than 700 delegates, including students from across the College’s five Schools, University staff and industry partners.

‘At UKZN, we want our research to be cutting-edge, at the forefront of innovation,’ said Professor Neil Koorbanally, who highlighted that research was being done collaboratively with a variety of supervisors, partners, technicians, and industry representatives, among others.

In his welcome address, Chair of the organising committee, Professor Henry Mwambi said: ‘Our activities and lifestyles are becoming more and more dependent on the application of science and technology. This is precisely where the importance of research lies – it is only research that can produce new knowledge and new methods and procedures to change the lives of people, and specifically to face the challenges of the 4IR.’

Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, welcomed delegates saying: ‘This event has been extremely successful in growing the research endeavours of the College, which is one of the main contributors to the research outputs of UKZN.’

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s NextGen Enterprises and Institutions’ Executive Manager Professor Fulufhelo Nelwamondo delivered a keynote address in which he challenged and inspired the audience, offering an industry perspective on how the world is changing in an era of big and small data in the 4IR.

Students delivered 60 oral presentations in parallel sessions, while 191 posters were on display with students available to inform guests about their research and its importance.

A record number of more than 250 abstracts were accepted for the event.

On display were a variety of research projects from the Schools of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental SciencesChemistry and PhysicsEngineeringLife Sciences and Mathematics, Statistic and Computer Science, with prizes for students who delivered the best presentations in their category.

‘This event highlights the world class research being done by our postgraduate students and provides them with an opportunity to present their work to peers, academic staff and research partners,’ said UKZN Vice-Chancellor Professor Nana Poku. ‘Written and verbal communication are critical skills required by scientists in order to make their work relevant and accessible. This day presents an opportunity for students to develop and refine their communication skills.’

The UKZN InQubate Technology Transfer Office Intellectual Property and Commercialisation workshop ran concurrently with the main programme promoting a culture of innovation. Presentations were made by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), Adams and Adams AttorneysElsevierAnonaya Gardens, the South African National Energy Development Institute, the South African National Accreditation SystemARTsolar, and DataQuantify.

In addition to this programme, 31 companies and organisations exhibited information about their organisations and products to inform students about career options available to them.

Also on show as part of the Science Meets Art initiative were displays from the Neptune Project, a creative initiative of the South African Research Chair in Waste and Climate Change that uses art to draw attention to the effects of pollution on the environment and to convey ideas for solutions emerging from high-quality scientific research conducted under the Chair.

Closing the symposium, Professor Francesco Petruccione highlighted the work of UKZN’s Research Flagships, particularly Big Data projects, which he said helped achieve the goals of the other research flagships. He thanked the 49 UKZN and 31 other sponsors who helped make the day a success.

The Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium – a major highlight on the University’s calendar – is a collaborative effort between almost 30 internal research units, groups, centres, Schools, Research Chairs and about 50 individual researchers. The organising committee comprises 20 staff members, with between 10 and 15 staff from each of the five Schools assisting with judging duties. External stakeholders and sponsors include 2CanaAmazon.com, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (KZNDARD), TIA and Umgeni Water.

Awards went to the top PhD and masters oral and poster presentations from each School. The value of each PhD award was R16 000 to be used towards attending an international conference, while masters awards were R8 000 towards attendance at a local conference.

*Award winners:

SAEES (KZNDARD award):

First prize oral category PhD candidate: Phindile Ndlovu

First prize poster category PhD: Hillary Mugiyo

First prize oral category Masters: Sinegugu Shude

First prize poster category Masters: Lateef Bello

Engineering:

First prize oral category PhD candidate: Mduduzi Khumalo

First prize poster category PhD: Abha Dargar

First prize oral category Masters: Divina Govender

First prize poster category Masters: Ernest Igbineweka

School of Chemistry and Physics:

First prize oral category PhD candidate: Oluwafisayo Akintemi

First prize poster category PhD: Gregarious Muungani

First prize oral category Masters: Shriya Misra

First prize poster category Masters: Aishwarya Bantho

Life Sciences:

First prize oral category PhD candidate: Ashrenee Govender

First prize poster category PhD: Oluwatosin Adu

First prize oral category Masters: Thando Maseko

First prize poster category Masters: Kareshma Doolabh

School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science:

First prize oral category PhD candidate: Chevarra Hansraj

First prize poster category PhD: Ashenafi Yirga

First prize oral category Masters: Nina Grundlingh

First prize poster category Masters: Asad Jeewa

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Albert Hirasen