UKZN Researchers Win International Science Fellowships
Two PhD students at UKZN have won 2013 L'Oreal-UNESCO fellowships for women in sub-Saharan Africa who have excelled in science.
They are Ms Adriana Marais and Ms Aline Saraiva Okello who each received 15 000 Euros (R195 000) to put towards their PhD studies.
A total of 10 inspiring women scientists in the region were honoured for their work in the scientific field.
The scientific research areas covered by this year’s fellows were varied, and include studies in the fields of nanotechnology, materials science, computer science, hydrology, human physiology, chemistry and natural products chemistry, genetics and the relatively new and emerging scientific field of quantum biology.
Marais is currently studying towards her PhD in the Quantum Research Group at UKZN. Her research, titled: “Quantum Effects in Photosynthesis” is an investigation of the early stages of photosynthesis”.
The impact of the research extends from shedding light on the intriguing question as to whether living organisms use quantum mechanics to optimise their functioning to the development of highly efficient biologically-inspired solar cells with the potential to contribute to green energy technology.
‘So far, my research has focused on the theoretical modelling of energy and charge transfer in photosynthesis, both processes where quantum effects have been shown to play a role. We have proposed open quantum systems models showing how certain features of an environment can assist energy transfer within parameter regimes relevant for photosynthesis,’ said Marais.
This work has already been published in prestigious journals, and Marais and the team she works with is currently preparing to publish further work on environment-assisted electron transfer in photosynthesis.
Marais said she was honoured to have been awarded a FWIS fellowship.
Okello, meanwhile, completed her BSc in Civil Engineering at ISUTC – an engineering institute in her hometown Maputo in Mozambique. Following this, she worked as a Lecturer until 2008 and it was during this time she felt the need to do more scientific research in an effort to help people improve their livelihoods. This resulted in her being named a Ford Foundation Scholar and being awarded a scholarship to study for her masters degree in hydrology at UNESCO-IHE in Delft in The Netherlands. She successfully graduated in 2010 with a distinction.
Okello is currently pursuing a PhD degree in hydrology at the UNESCO-IHE. Her research study focuses on hydrology and water resources management and is being conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Water Resources Research at UKZN.
‘I’m using tracers, remote sensing and hydrological modelling to better understand hydrological processes in the Inkomati River Basin, particularly those related with runoff generation processes, to inform and support improved operational water management in the basin,’ said Okello. ‘This will improve water management and governance, and ultimately contribute to reducing the vulnerability of several stakeholders who depend on water for their food security and the ecosystem services of the river for their livelihoods.’
Her work is being undertaken as part of the RISKOMAN (Risk-based Operational Water Management for the Inkomati River Basin) project, which aims to improve water management in the transboundary Inkomati River Basin in southern Africa. It’s anticipated the project will help reduce water disputes, strengthen collaboration between riparian countries and mitigate the impact on the environment through joint, dynamic risk management of the river basin.
Okello believes the FWIS fellowship highlights the value of her research and is a positive platform through which to encourage other women to pursue their science and research dreams. ‘The award will also help me finish my PhD research, as my funds are almost depleted and I’m a year behind schedule due to maternity leave,’ she said. ‘Now I’ll be able to finish my fieldwork and work more intensively on my final research outputs.’
*The L’Oréal-UNESCO Regional Fellowships for Women in Science in sub-Saharan Africa is open to all women scientists up to the age of 40 across sub-Saharan Africa who are working towards their PhD in all fields of science. It was first piloted in 2010, when five female scientists were awarded fellowships to help them complete their PhD research projects. Following the overwhelming success of the initial programme, the L’Oréal Foundation doubled the number of fellows to 10 in 2011 – a number that has since been maintained in the programme.
Mr Bertrand de Laleu, L’Oréal South Africa Managing Director, says the chief objective of the regional fellowship is to increase the participation of women in the field of science.
- UKZNDABAonline Team