College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Highlights from the Women in Science Breakfast hosted by UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics.

School of Chemistry and Physics Celebrates Women in Science

The School of Chemistry and Physics recently held an interactive networking breakfast under the theme: Bridging the Gap between Women in Industry and Academia.

Organising committee member, Professor Brenda Moodley commented: ‘We invited women from industry and academia so that they could share their ideas and build relationships. It was an opportunity for women to engage, inspire and share experiences.

‘The intention with hosting such events is to foster long-term collaborations with industry and to provide opportunities for both Chemistry and Physics graduates.’

The three keynote speakers from industry were Dr Maria Schuld, Dr Alta Ferreira and Dr Patience Mthunzi-Kufa.

Schuld works as a senior researcher for Xanadu, a Toronto-based quantum computing start-up where she specialises in the intersection of quantum computers and machine learning. She spoke about her journey from academia to industry, stating that when she was an undergraduate, she was unaware of the opportunities available to her. She said working in industry gave her more opportunities and expanded her research prospective.

‘This was an absolutely well-organised event, very timely and a fantastic opportunity for people to engage,’ said Schuld, who commended the School of Chemistry and Physics for a wonderful initiative and for making the event child-friendly so that she could bring her four-month-old baby along. ‘This meets the specific needs of women who are both caregivers and corporate figures,’ she said.

Mthunzi-Kufa is the group leader for biophotonics at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) National Laser Centre, specialising in advancing point-of-care diagnostics. She said she has always been passionate about Physics, referring to herself as the “hybrid scientist” because of the work she is doing at the CSIR.

Mthunzi-Kufa excelled in her studies, studying for both her master’s and PhD at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, simultaneously. She explained that she encourages her students to work on projects that will impact society.

‘The breakfast was a great initiative,’ she said. ‘I would like to see more collaboration between academia and industry, especially in trying to secure funding for common projects. UKZN’s Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS) is a step in the right direction in bringing academia and industry together.’

Dr Alta Ferreira, Senior Manager for Research and Technology Science Research Analytics at Sasol Energy Operations and Technology said: ‘Events such as this are important to bridge the gap through communication and collaboration. Teaching can help do that through collaboration between academia (learning) and industry (practical). Women provide significant insight into practical solutions for both industry and academia. Mentorship programmes are also important.’

Guests present at the breakfast included representatives from 25 industries such as Sasol, Umgeni Water, eThekwini Municipality, Tongaat Hulett, Sappi Saiccor, AECI and the CSIR, to name but a few. The networking session provided an opportunity to gain valuable lessons and insights into the skills that the industry considers marketable. ‘The invaluable feedback from industry was the focal point of this event,’ said Moodley.

Guests had the opportunity to engage and share their experiences in a relaxed environment while enjoying a hearty breakfast. They were also treated to some entertainment from the African Zebra Kings Dance Academy which showcased a fusion of South African Zulu dancing mixed with exciting, modern choreography and eye-popping acrobatic feats.

Attendees were unanimous in saying that the event was one of a kind, with an impressive array of speakers who inspired young women both in industry and academia.

Words and photographs: Londeka Makhoba