Graduates Benefit Through Development Sabbatical Programme
The School of Chemistry and Physics has assisted two of its Lecturers to graduate with their PhDs through its “development sabbatical” programme which lessens the teaching load on candidates in order to give them the time to complete their research and submit their PhDs.
Dr Siphamandla Sithebe received his doctorate in Chemistry and Dr Sibusiso Mthembu his doctorate in Physics – they were the first to do so under this programme.
Sithebe, who began his undergraduate career studying Dietetics, had always wanted to be a doctor. However, during his first year, his interest switched to Chemistry, leading him to take up chemistry and chemical technology in his second and third years. He managed to obtain three Certificates of Merit during his undergraduate studies thanks to his commitment to his work.
‘I enjoyed this field because it kept me on my feet and it required my brain to be active all the time, which was a bit challenging,’ said Sithebe.
His PhD thesis focused on “synthesis of organoboron compounds (specifically diazaborole compounds) and their Suzuki-Miyaura cross-coupling reactions”. The study consisted of converting alkenes into diazaborole compounds through a reaction called hydroboration, followed by the reaction of diazaboroles compounds with aryl halides (Suzuki-Miyaura cross-coupling reaction).
‘The importance of this project was to reveal the stability as well as the high reactivity of substituted 1,3,2-benzodiazaborole in the coupling reaction,’ said Professor Ross Robinson, Sithebe’s supervisor. ‘This study also extended the scope of organoboron coupling partners that can be used in the Suzuki-Miyaura cross-coupling reactions. Research from these studies has been published in three internationally rated peer-review journals.’
During his studies, Sithebe spent six months in the United States at Emory University where he met and worked with renowned Chemists Professor Lanny Liebeskind and Professor Dennis Liotta.
Sithebe is passionate about research and teaching and says he would love to increase his expertise in research and development either at a university or in the private sector. He thanked his supervisor, Professor Robinson as well as Dr S W Hadebe for motivating and mentoring him in his career aspirations.
Sithebe says that achieving this degree inspires him because, as South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, there shouldn’t be anything that stops anyone from achieving what they really want.
‘The higher up the educational ladder you climb, the wiser you become and the easier it gets,’ said Sithebe.
Mthembu, who graduated with his PhD in experimental Physics, completed his thesis research looking at the atmospheric wave dynamical interaction in the mesosphere-lower thermosphere (MLT) region using SuperDARN HF radars data situated at Halley, SANAE and Syowa.
He has investigated the seasonal and inter-annual variations of tides, interaction between planetary waves and tides, and the coupling between Ionosphere and neutral atmosphere. His work is sponsored by the SA National Space Agency.
Before entering the programme, Mthembu was working part-time and, as a novice Lecturer, required more time to prepare his teaching material. The programme made this possible for him.
‘My love for Physics started when I was a child,’ said Mthembu. ‘My father had a workshop where he manufactured various things and we often had to fix the machinery, which gave me a basic knowledge of electronics and made me curious about finding out how things worked.’ Mthembu enrolled at the former University of Natal in 1999, where he completed his undergraduate, Honours and Masters degrees in Physics.
Professor Siva Venkataraman, Mthembu’s supervisor, provided him with much of the assistance he needed. ‘Venkataraman supplied academic guidance of a high standard and always had time for his students,’ said Mthembu.
Mthembu plans to continue with research and lecturing at the School.
- Christine Cuénod