College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Highlights from the Women in Science luncheon hosted by the School of Chemistry and Physics.

Women Breaking Barriers Through Science

The UKZN School of Chemistry and Physics hosted a remarkable Women in Science Luncheon on 24 May 2023 at SmartGrid, under the theme Breaking Barriers in Science.

The event aimed to inspire young women to pursue degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Attended by esteemed guests, including the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC), Dean and Head of School, College Dean of Research, executives of science and technology institutes, chemists and physicists from industries, academics, school teachers, postgraduates and school learners, this event provided a platform for networking and discussion about the future of science.

During the event the DVC of the College, Professor Fathuwani Mudau delivered a noteworthy statistic that highlighted the significant progress in gender representation across all University Colleges. He proudly announced that in the recent Autumn Graduation, an astounding 65% of the graduates across all the University Colleges were women. This statistic demonstrates the remarkable strides being made towards achieving gender equality and inclusivity within the academic sphere. It reflects the growing recognition and empowerment of women in various disciplines, including STEM fields such as chemistry and physics. The DVC’s announcement serves as an inspiration for young women considering pursuing degrees in science, as it showcases the increasing opportunities and support available to them in their academic and professional journeys.

The event served as a gathering of chemistry and physics enthusiasts who engaged in conversations about the transformative power of the millennial generation in the field of science. Participants explored how platforms such as social media could be effectively utilised by UKZN to promote their STEM degrees, creating awareness and attracting more students to these disciplines. The intersection of science, innovation, and technology in the digital age offers unparalleled opportunities for collaboration, research, and growth.

The highlight of the event was the presence of Dr Thandeka Ellenson, the Chief Executive Officer of the Moses Kotane Institute. As the guest speaker, Ellenson delivered an inspiring speech that shed light on the invaluable contributions of women in breaking barriers through science. She emphasised their crucial role in driving economic stability and fostering societal progress. Ellenson brought attention to the current lack of commercialisation of research and innovation in South Africa, a disparity between developing and developed countries; and a disparity between the provinces. She highlighted that this disparity hinders the science industry from providing adequate solutions and slows down the much-needed reforms in academia, leading to a scarcity of skilled professionals.

Acknowledging the significance of highly ranked academic institutions such as UKZN, Ellenson urged them to prioritise research and innovation. She emphasised that these endeavours not only propel economies forward but also create new knowledge that improves education and the quality of life for all. Furthermore, Ellenson encouraged young women to pursue degrees in STEM, highlighting the transformative potential of science to uplift the economy and positively impact people’s lives.

The Women Chemists and Physicists Luncheon succeeded in its mission to celebrate women in science and inspire the next generation of female scientists. By fostering a collaborative environment and encouraging dialogue between academia and industry, the event provided a platform for envisioning a future where barriers between these two sectors are broken down, leading to a more inclusive and impactful scientific community.

In a survey conducted by the School, the event attendees continued to express their gratitude for being part of this remarkable event. These were some of the positive comments made by some of the attendees; ‘Ladies, I would like to express my gratitude for organising such a beautiful event and providing a valuable platform for networking. I am hopeful that this event will open doors for potential collaborations in various research areas that can bridge the gap between academia and industry, leading to commercialisation and contributing to the economy of South Africa. I believe that this effort will ensure that the research conducted at UKZN will have a positive impact on the country’s economy.’

And this is what one of the educators had to say ‘It was an amazing experience not only for the learners but as an educator I was inspired by the motivational speakers that were there. The hospitality of the Department of Physics and Chemistry were welcoming and we wish to experience another event to encourage not only women in adulthood but young women in schools and influence them to get into the science field.’

The UKZN School of Chemistry and Physics, along with its esteemed guests, expressed their commitment to fostering an inclusive and diverse scientific community that embraces the talent and potential of women. By empowering women in science, the event aimed to shape a future where their contributions are fully recognised and valued and where barriers between academia and industry are continually dismantled.

Words:  Siphesihle Shezi

Photographs: Albert Hirasen