College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

UKZN researchers, from left: Professor Onisimo Mutanga, Professor Andrew Green, Professor Jeff Smithers and Professor Francesco Petruccione.

UKZN Researchers Named as “Science Oscars” Finalists

Four UKZN academics at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science have been named as finalists for the prestigious National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-South32 Awards in the 2022-2023 cycle.

They are Professor Onisimo Mutanga, Professor Andrew Green, Professor Jeff Smithers and Professor Francesco Petruccione.

Initiated in 1998, the NSTF-South32 Awards – dubbed the Science Oscars of South Africa – recognise outstanding contributions to Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) and innovation in South Africa for researchers and other SET-related professionals.

Selection as a finalist is a considerable achievement given the growing profile of the awards, the quality of nominations and the competition nominees encounter.

A finalist in both the Lifetime Award category and the Engineering Research Capacity Development category, Mutanga – Professor of Remote Sensing at UKZN and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)/National Research Foundation (NRF)/South African Research Chair in Land Use Planning and Management – is an expert in vegetation (including agricultural crops) state analysis in the face of global change using remote sensing. He integrates ecology, biodiversity conservation and remote sensing to model the impact of forest fragmentation, pests and diseases and invasive species on agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Petruccione is the Interim Director of the National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences (NITheCS), the holder of the DSI/NRF South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication, and a Fractional Professor in UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics. Petruccione’s research interests lie in open quantum systems, quantum information processing and communication, quantum machine learning and quantum biology.

Smithers – Director of UKZN’s Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR) which was announced as a finalist for the NSTF Water Research Commission Award – is also the Umgeni Water Chair in Water Resources Management, Innovation and Research in UKZN’s School of Engineering. Research themes at the Centre include hydrological process studies, hydrological model development, agricultural water management, land and water research, and measuring and modelling. The CWRR also houses the uMngeni School of Water Governance.

Professor Andrew Green, a Professor of Marine Geology in UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, is a finalist for two awards – the TW Kambule-NSTF Researcher Award, and the Special Annual Theme Award, which this year is being awarded for an outstanding contribution to ocean sciences for sustainable development. Green’s research interests focus on marine geophysics, geomorphology, sedimentology and stratigraphy of coastal and marine environments.

The institution of the South32 Awards is part of the NSTF’s vision to work towards a transformed country where SET and innovation contribute to a higher quality of life for all South Africans, and where the profiles of SET professionals are representative of the population and where the education system, particularly for SET and innovation, is effective.

Winners will be announced on 13 July at gala dinners held in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Words: Sally Frost

Photographs: Supplied