Mother of Two Completes PhD in Two Years

Mother of Two Completes PhD in Two Years
Dr Mary Nabangala Ahuna celebrates her achievement with her husband, Michael, and son, Joel.

Kenyan academic, Dr Mary Nabangala Ahuna graduated with a PhD in Electronic Engineering in record time.

The mother of two who is a lecturer in Communication Systems at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK), completed the degree at UKZN in just two years. 

Her disseration, titled: A Modelling Approach to Rainfall Attenuation Prediction for Dynamic Rain Fade Mitigation, was supervised by Professor Thomas Afullo and Dr AA Alonge. During her fast-paced PhD, Ahuna published two journal papers and four conference proceedings.

Afullo explained: ‘Wireless communication links undergo deep fading during intense rain storms. Ahuna developed new rainfall exceedance parameters for intense storms, determining that the R0.01 parameter is double the recommended Itu-R value.

‘She determined the occurrence frequency of rain storms using the Markov chain approach. With the backpropagation neural network link for dynamic rain fade mitigation, she developed a model for the estimation of rain cell diameter for site diversity mitigation strategy.’

According to Ahuna’s research, data transmission on communication links operating at high frequencies in tens of GHz (Ku band and beyond) experience down time during medium and high-magnitude rainfall periods. ‘This calls for mechanisms to predict the link state for necessary dynamic fade mitigation techniques to be employed,’ explained Ahuna.

Among other tools, the artificial neural network was incorporated for prediction of attenuation.

Ahuna holds a Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree from the former Kenya Polytechnic University College (now known as the University of Nairobi), a BSc Honours degree in Computing and Information Systems from the University of London and a Master’s in Electronic Engineering degree cum laude from UKZN.

‘The motivation to pursue a PhD programme in telecommunication came from my passion for teaching,’ said Ahuna. ‘I enjoy discovering new knowledge for the purpose of transferring it to my students.’

The impact of her PhD research on society, says Ahuna, is realised in the delivery of quality content to consumers with minimum or zero interruption in the advent of a rain event. ‘Interruptions of programmes such as live matches and prime news don’t go well with sponsors,’ she said.

Ahuna found her PhD journey exciting and refreshing despite the challenges that came with doubling up as a wife and mother. She managed to overcome these by organising her life and ensuring she used her time wisely; spreading her energy between both family and studies.

Ahuna is currently a lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya and in the long-term, plans to continue her research work with the aim of achieving a professorship.

Her passion for teaching and research coupled with her life motto: ‘Focus and determination are the key to success’, will be central to her commitment to mentoring young girls and women to take up Engineering as a career.

Words: Christian Ishimwe 

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal

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Top Honours Student Drawn to Natural World

Top Honours Student Drawn to Natural World
Ms Aadila Moosa, BSc Honours summa cum laude graduate.

Ms Aadila Moosa, who received her BSc Honours degree in Biological Sciences from UKZN’s School of Life Sciences (SLS), has the distinction of being the only summa cum laude honours graduate in this year’s round of degree conferrals by the School.

Having a keen interest in the biological sciences, Moosa saw UKZN as the best choice to pursue her academic career. She said her future academic career plans motivated her to study for her BSc Honours degree, as a precursor for further studies in biological sciences.

‘Biological sciences is an incredibly diverse field; as such, throughout my undergraduate degree I had been exposed to a variety of study areas ranging from botany to zoology. An honours degree prepares me for higher-degree study, should I wish to pursue it at a later stage, and it also benefits me by enhancing my employability,’ she said.

While Moosa felt the pressure and intensity of her studies, she said in hindsight it was an incredible experience that had developed her skills and knowledge as a researcher. She found the friendships made along the journey just as valuable.

‘My honours year was incredible. It was very fast-paced and quite intense with a lot of work needing to be done in such a short space of time. However, the friends I made throughout the year and the relationships formed are undeniably the greatest takeaway for me. I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had,’ she said.

Moosa said that while there was no real secret to her academic success she would advise students to manage their time and, most importantly, to take breaks from studying to ‘relax and chill.’

‘I believe to be academically successful requires a combination of smart habits and the determination to always do your best,’ said Moosa.

At the recent College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science annual Awards function, Moosa received the School of Life Sciences Biology Award for the best Honours student in Biology for 2018.

Currently Moosa has embarked on an internship programme with the National Research Foundation (NRF). She hopes to follow a career in research and development in the future.

Words: Zolile Duma

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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PhD Unpacks Rainfall and its Impact on Telecoms Systems

PhD Unpacks Rainfall and its Impact on Telecoms Systems
Dr Djuma Sumbiri flanked by his family and friends after graduating with his PhD.

Rwandan national and UKZN Electronic Engineering PhD graduate Dr Djuma Sumbiri – whose doctoral study involved research on the impact rainfall has on telecommunication systems – is proud of his accomplishment and hard work.

Having received his BSc and MSc degrees from the former National University of Rwanda in 2009 and 2012 respectively, Sumbiri lectured in Electronics and headed the Department of Electrical and Electronic Technology at the Integrated Polytechnics Regional Centre (IPRC-SOUTH) in Butare from 2012 to 2015.

‘Working in academia influenced me and now, I like teaching and conducting research,’ said Sumbiri.

He decided to do his PhD at UKZN because of the facilities on offer and its engineering research reputation. 

Sumbiri researched microwave and millimetre radio wave propagation modelling for terrestrial line of sight links in central Africa.

‘The rapid expansion of global telecommunication has led to an exponential growth in the demand of wireless services,’ said Sumbiri. ‘This has led to the migration to higher frequency bands in the microwave and millimetre wave spectrum.

‘Research has shown that rainfall is the most dominant factor affecting the provision of network services in these bands. Rainfall attenuation is among the major factors often considered in the design of wireless networks operating at higher bands within the microwave and millimetre wave spectrum.

‘At tropical and equatorial locations, not only is the occurrence frequency of rainfall events of serious concern to terrestrial and satellite communication systems, but also the high intensity of rain rates and drop size distribution result in extreme fading of line of sight (LOS) systems during such events,’ he said.

During his research, Sumbiri obtained daily rainfall measurements from the Rwanda Meteorology Agency for 60 locations within equatorial Rwanda, to develop rain rate and rain attenuation maps for wireless radio links. From these long term annual rainfall measurements spanning a minimum of 10 years at these locations, rainfall rate statistics estimated from appropriate models were applied to determine fade margin for radio link availabilities between 99% and 99.999%.

Furthermore, specific attenuation estimates due to rainfall were proposed from International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recommendations at selected frequencies of the microwave and millimetre bands for the design of wireless networks.

Results obtained from this approach incorporating both rainfall rate zones and specific attenuation over Rwanda were presented as spatial contour map representations for different ranges of link availability.

Further, disdrometer data collected in Butare for a period of 32 months between 2012 and 2015 were used to develop a suitable model on drop size distribution in the region. Rainfall data were classified into four different regimes, i.e. drizzle, widespread, shower and thunderstorm.

Sumbiri believes his research has an impact on society because its efforts are geared towards developing a new paradigm for eliminating rain fades in communication networks.

‘Rainfall compromises the integrity and performance of transmission systems and thus requires urgent attention,’ he explained. ‘There is a need to understand properly the dynamics involved in the rainfall attenuation processed. The major thrust of my research is to help improve performances of network services during rainfall.’

‘Fun and educative’ was how Sumbiri described his time at UKZN. He was particularly grateful for the productive advice, guidance, suggestions and criticisms offered by Professor Thomas Afullo and Dr Akintude Alonge during his studies.

He also thanked Dr Mosalaosi Modisa, Dr Feyisa Debo Diba, Dr Efe Orumwense, Dr Mike Asiyo, Mr Afolayan Babajide, Mr Mathew Habyarimana, Mr Moza Kampire and Mr Jean Damascene Munyeshyaka for their support.

Words: Manqoba Hadebe 

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal

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Master’s for Provincial Government Executive

Master’s for Provincial Government Executive
Mr Thulani Mdadane graduated with a Master’s degree in Construction Studies.

KwaZulu-Natal Department of Public Works Deputy Director-General, Mr Thulani Mdadane, graduated from UKZN with a Master’s degree in Construction Studies.

Mdadane also holds a Bachelor of Information Science degree from UNISA, an Honours in Information Science degree from UKZN, a Master’s in Infrastructure Design from UCT, an MBA from MANCOSA, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Labour Law from the Graduate Institute of Management and Technology.

His latest master’s research project explored and investigated challenges experienced by small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) within the construction industry in the eThekwini region, with a special focus on public procurement. 

‘I work in the construction sector at management level, so I needed a deeper technical and professional understanding of construction management in order to provide proper leadership at the operational level,’ said Mdadane.

Mdadane was supervised by Professor Theodore Haupt, SARChI Chair in Sustainable Work, Education, Environment and Transformation (SWEET).

‘Thulani Mdadane is one of the most enthusiastic and determined postgraduate candidates I have ever supervised,’ said Haupt. ‘As a senior official in the KZN Department of Public Works he had to juggle the enormous responsibilities of his day-to-day job with having to complete a dissertation on a challenging topic.

‘I believe the findings of his study, if taken seriously, have the potential to improve the overall performance of the construction SMME sector, not only in KZN, but the country as a whole.’

Mdadane is currently reading for a PhD in Construction Studies at UKZN’s School of Engineering which he aims to complete within three years.

The avid book reader is passionate about academic excellence.

He believes his research findings will have a strong impact on economic development in the construction sector and within SMMEs in general.

Words: Christian Ishimwe 

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal

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Like Father, Like Son – Engineering is in the Genes!

Like Father, Like Son – Engineering is in the Genes!
Mechanical Engineering graduate, Mr Tyrone Bright with his proud father, Professor Glen Bright, UKZN Dean of Engineering.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Mr Tyrone Bright graduated from UKZN’s School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) degree. 

His father, Dean and Head of the School of Engineering, Professor Glen Bright, was elated. ‘Tyrone has been an outstanding university student who has accomplished academic success beyond expectations. He developed into a talented young Mechanical Engineering student at UKZN. His willingness to help and assist others in academia and promote engineering to scholars is exceptional.’

Sharing his journey, Tyrone explained: ‘I went to Glenwood Preparatory School and on to Glenwood High where I matriculated. When I started high school, I was an average student but as I matured and moved through the grades, my interest in maths and science grew.

‘My dad always had robots and rockets at work and I loved working with them. I became more and more interested in how things worked and I wanted to be someone able to change the world in a significant way. Because of this, engineering seemed to be the best option as I saw how my dad as an academic was able to change and influence the lives of other people.’

However, completing a degree at South Africa’s leading engineering school was no easy task for Tyrone. ‘It was definitely the most challenging thing I have ever done. It was highly rewarding revealing interesting ideas and concepts and also taught me how to think of innovative and new ideas to solve problems.’

Tyrone is currently reading for his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at UKZN with a particular interest in Human-Robot Collaboration (HRC) for Advanced Manufacturing Systems. ‘To put it simply, it’s about creating an environment where humans and robots can work side by side to create products.’

Tyrone said his research area had the potential to significantly impact on society as it was a relatively new industry in Africa that would create highly skilled jobs, reduce unemployment and effectively improve the quality of life. This, he said, would be achieved through the development, construction and implementation of the HRC system that is part of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

His message to UKZN students is simple: ‘If people before you have done it, there is nothing stopping you from doing it. Only you can prevent yourself from achieving your goals.’

Words: Christian Ishimwe 

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal

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Summa Cum Laude for Mechanical Trio

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> for Mechanical Trio
Mechanical Engineering students (from left) Ms Emma Stubbs, Mr Daniel Kirkman and Mr Dhiven Naidoo all obtained BSc Mechanical Engineering degrees summa cum laude.

Graduating top of their class at UKZN, Mr Daniel Kirkman, Ms Emma Stubbs and Mr Dhiven Naidoo all earned Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) degrees summa cum laude.

For Kirkman, his degree earned him a place on Stellenbosch University’s master’s degree programme. ‘As a child, LEGO was always my favourite toy and my love for design developed from there,’ he said. ‘I also enjoyed Maths and Science through school so studying Mechanical Engineering was a logical next step. I still haven’t quite outgrown LEGO though!

‘I am very fortunate that I was able to study in a field I am passionate about so I really enjoyed the work although it was not without its challenges.’

Discussing his research, Kirkman said: ‘My final-year design project was an industry based one. My group was tasked with the redesign of electrode components for a fencing-mesh welder with the aim being to improve the performance of electrode components by designing them to be 3D printed from copper.’

Kirkman is also the recipient of the coveted Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) merit award presented annually to the top student in UKZN’s School of Engineering.

Stubbs, the top performing woman in her class, has enrolled for a Master’s in Biomedical Engineering degree at the University of Cape Town. ‘I always had a dream of integrating human biology, biomechanics and physiology with engineering principles to provide devices or systems to help society,’ said Stubbs. ‘I am very passionate about physical activity as well as science and mathematics, therefore, I am focusing my master’s on sports and rehabilitation engineering.’

Stubbs aims to make inroads in an industry that is relatively male dominated in South Africa and believes that a master’s degree will set her on course for designing systems and products such as artificial organs, artificial devices that replace or assist body parts, machines for diagnosing medical problems or devices that aid clinicians in performing procedures, thereby improving the healthcare system in South Africa.

Naidoo believes that consistency is key. ‘It’s a simple motto but it makes a lot of sense as you cannot accomplish everything in one day,’ he said.

He chose to study Engineering because he was interested in mechanical systems and wanted a career full of exciting opportunities. ‘It was difficult at times but it helps a person mature rapidly as an individual as engineering exposes one to scenarios encountered in the real world,’ he said.

Naidoo’s final-year project entailed designing a cold flow test rig for the SAFFIRE rocket engine being developed by Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). ‘My research was based on the test stand that will be used and designing a pressure vessel to enclose testing fluids during cold flow testing of the rocket engine,’ he explained.

‘I am currently working at eThekwini Municipality as a Mechanical Engineer in Training. I am looking to further my studies part-time once I find my feet in the working environment,’ said Naidoo.

The trio paid tribute to UKZN’s School of Engineering for equipping them with the necessary skills to be conscious and responsive in addressing the needs of society.

Words: Christian Ishimwe 

Photographs: Rajesh Jantilal

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Top Civil Engineering Graduate Follows in Family’s Footsteps

Top Civil Engineering Graduate Follows in Family’s Footsteps
Top Civil Engineering graduate Mr Sanav Singh is congratulated by his proud parents Sunil and Shamini for earning his BScEng degree summa cum laude.

It was a proud moment for graduate, Mr Sanav Singh, when he was awarded his BScEng degree in Civil Engineering summa cum laude – the only one in his class to receive the accolade.

Like many students, his academic journey has been a roller coaster experience.

‘The sheer amount and difficulty of the work itself contributed to many lengthy, exasperating nights,’ recalled Singh. ‘However, through collaborative learning, dedication and a genuine love for engineering, I was able to persevere and complete my degree summa cum laude.’

Singh chose UKZN because of its ranking as one of the best South African institutions for engineering and physics. ‘In addition, my father and sister both completed their degrees in Civil Engineering at UKZN so it seemed right to follow in their footsteps,’ he said.

Singh’s dissertation concentrated on the impact of green retrofitting on water consumption, energy usage and associated carbon emissions of office type buildings. He used Chatsworth SAPS Police Station for his case study.

Singh said his parents were his role models because of their exceptional hard work. ‘It is only through their unwavering support and resolute encouragement that I remained persistently inspired to achieve my goals,’ he said.

Singh wants to grow within the Engineering field. ‘I am currently working for Singh Govender and Associates as a consulting civil/structural engineer,’ he said. ‘In this position, I hope to grow and expand my knowledge in all facets of civil and structural engineering design. I aspire to become a professionally registered engineer and to be the lead designer on multi-disciplinary projects.’

‘Sanav has always performed exceptionally well ever since his early childhood years,’ said proud father, Sunil. ‘As a parent, I would consider his greatest attribute to be his down-to-earth attitude, combined with his humility. It also gives me great pleasure as a professional Civil Engineer and fellow alumnus and graduate of Natal University to see Sanav following in the footsteps of his elder sister who obtained a summa cum laude for her Master’s degree in Structural Engineering. Engineering is in the Singh genes it seems!’

His mother, Shamini, agreed: ‘Congratulations Sanav on your exemplary performance!’

Dr Georgios Drosopoulos, who supervised Singh for his fourth-year structural design project, said Singh’s performance during each phase of the demanding project had been outstanding. ‘Sanav is an efficient civil engineer, ready to face and overcome every possible engineering challenge,’ he said.

Fellow academic, Dr Elena Friedrich, said with an overall average of 88%, Singh excelled in all modules during his studies and his overall performance as a student was exceptional. ‘He is a polite and hardworking student, who produced an outstanding dissertation on water and energy efficiency in buildings,’ she said. ‘His work showed that important savings can be made by adopting different measures, some of them simple but efficient. Through this work, he shows commitment to improving the functional and environmental performance of buildings, bettering our surroundings and society in general.’

Singh offered this advice to aspiring Engineering students: ‘Engineering is one of the most difficult and demanding courses at university. There will be times when you question your decision to pursue the degree and whether or not to continue pushing. Don’t choose Engineering because your parents told you to do it or because all your friends are doing it – you’ll be wasting your time.

‘Having said that, if Engineering is truly your passion, do not let anything deter you from achieving your goals. If you have the right mindset, there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained and incredible people to connect with. At the end, you will look back and genuinely appreciate your determination, making your success all the sweeter.’

Words: Manqoba Hadebe 

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal

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Childhood Fascination with Electric Gadgets Culminates in Cum Laude

Childhood Fascination with Electric Gadgets Culminates in <em>Cum Laude</em>
Mr Peter Anuoluwapo Gbadega graduated with an MSc degree cum laude in Electrical Engineering.

Enthusiasm to understand the mystery behind the design and operation of electrical and electronic gadgets as a child led to cum laude MSc graduate, Mr Peter Anuoluwapo Gbadega, choosing Electrical Engineering as his field of study in later life.

A native of Nigeria, Gbadega completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Lagos and believes this gave him the necessary skills set to explore his field of interest and hone his academic strengths.

‘During my undergraduate studies, I learned more about automation and control systems, electric motor drives, power electronics, and industrial process control,’ explained Gbadega. ‘Besides building theoretical concepts, I always enjoyed long hours in the labs to correlate theory to practical observation and I gained a sound technical base. I accomplished the skills of teamwork, for example, by leading my group in the design and construction of a traffic lighting system.’

At the University of Lagos, Gbadega also worked on a research project that investigated energy saving potentials in an academic institution.

He enrolled at UKZN to do an MSc in Electrical Engineering under the supervision of Professor Akshay Saha, focusing on power losses in HVDC converter stations.

‘My study investigated the determination and evaluation of power losses of various topologies of HVDC technologies (LCC-based, two-level, three-level and Modular Multilevel Converter VSC-based HVDC systems) using both analytical and simulation approaches to validate the results and the feasibility of the HVDC loss study,’ said Gbadega.

‘The motivation behind this research was that there is a constant search for various methods to reduce cost, improve reliability, minimise the environmental impact of power lines and minimise power loss during transmission,’ Gbadega explained.

‘The above problems could be addressed and solved if the transmitted power from the sending end could be monitored to prevent a large amount of power being consumed by some of the equipment on the electrical networks.’

Gbadega described his master’s degree journey as ‘arduous and immensely solitary’. Two factors kept him going however: ‘The first was the time expended during the process of research and the most important was the support, compassion and gentle prodding of those around.

‘I am immensely grateful to engineer Babatunde Olubayo who is currently studying towards his PhD degree at the Tshwane University of Technology; engineer Awogbemi Omojola who is doing his PhD degree at UKZN; and to Deborah Gbadega, my sibling.’

Gbadega singled out his supervisor, Professor Akshay Kumar Saha, whom he described as his role model, for guidance and counselling throughout his MSc.

‘Nothing is impossible in life,’ said Gbadega. ‘I strongly believe in enjoying what we do and having the passion to pursue it. Thus we can ultimately achieve our destination, no matter how much effort is needed.’

Gbadega is passionate about academia and has chosen this as his life long career path, with an interest in teaching and research. He aims to complete his PhD and publish scientific research in reputable journals.

‘A degree in Engineering enhances the nation’s economic productivity and improves the quality of life worldwide,’ said Gbadega. ‘The world is facing significant environmental challenges and there is a great opportunity for engineering to serve as a force to help society solve the problems associated with these challenges.’

Words: Manqoba Hadebe

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal

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From Engineer to Astrophysicist

From Engineer to Astrophysicist
Mr Scott Eyono, who graduated with a BSc Computer Engineering degree, accesses the backend of a radio telescope.

Mr Scott Eyono was fascinated with computers and technology from a young age and with his father being a professor of Computer Science, technological problem solving became almost a family hobby! Thus it is no surprise that the young Eyono is now a proud UKZN BScEng (Computer Engineering) graduate.

Arriving at UKZN fresh from high school at Highway College in Pinetown, Eyono enjoyed his studies in the School of Engineering. ‘My undergraduate degree prepared me mentally, physically and emotionally. Although demanding and difficult, it has made a big impact on my life and opportunities,’ he said.

Eyono became adept at solving problems – both scientific and technological – and this growing interest in the interaction between technology and science has now led him to postgraduate studies in Astrophysics. He has registered for an MSc degree, specialising in astrophysics and, in particular, radio telescopes.

The main goal of Eyono’s current MSc project is to develop an Artificial Intelligence model that can drastically reduce radio signal noise by using a combination of machine learning techniques and big data analytics algorithms. He hopes the model he aims to build will have a wide range of applications on various hardware platforms, including radio telescopes.

‘I enjoy working on meaningful and impactful projects,’ said Eyono. ‘The HIRAX (Hydrogen Intensity and Real-time Analysis eXperiment) project is one where my research can effectively contribute towards the overall objective. My work will influence how future telescopes are calibrated and facilitate future telescope prototypes.

‘In addition, it will help bridge the gap between astronomy and computer engineering.’

Said academic leader for teaching and learning in the School of Engineering, Professor Jules-Raymond Tapamo: ‘Eyono’s punctuality and willingness in always answering questions in lectures, along with his behaviour and excellent performance during his undergraduate studies, have convinced me that he is on the right path to becoming a good collaborative engineer and scientist.

‘He won the prize for the best final year Computer Engineering student for the year 2018 and has now been awarded a prestigious MSc bursary from the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)

‘Eyono is a humble young man who is willing to help others and I am very glad to be among those accompanying him in his scientific endeavour.’

During his spare time, Eyono enjoys playing football, travelling, composing music with his brothers and sometimes baking.

He lives by the words: ‘Success is the result of consistent hard work, patience and persistence.’ 

He is grateful to his family and friends who have supported and guided him throughout his student career.

Words: Leena Rajpal 

Photograph: Supplied

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Remote Sensing Used to Determine Health of Mdloti Estuary

Remote Sensing Used to Determine Health of Mdloti Estuary
Nature enthusiast, Mr Matthew Ellero, studied the health of the Mdloti Estuary for his MSc Environmental Science thesis.

Nature enthusiast, Mr Matthew Ellero, graduated with an MSc degree in Environmental Science from UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

After successfully completing a BSc degree and his Honours in Environmental Science, Ellero chose to incorporate two of his passions for his MSc research – Environmental Science and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

‘I knew from my first module that GIS and remote sensing was a field I would love to specialise in,’ said Ellero. ‘I would not have chosen a master’s in any other field. Since estuaries were a hot topic during my undergrad biology modules, research for the degree allowed me to combine my passion for biology and GIS/remote sensing.’

In his research, which was supervised by Dr Michael T Gebreslasie, Ellero used remote sensing imagery from Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 remote sensors to estimate a wide variety of physico-chemical parameters present within the water of the Mdloti Estuary near Durban. He developed algorithms to estimate the parameters present.

‘While my master’s would need to be greatly expanded upon to be of more use, there is certainly potential,’ said Ellero. ‘If the algorithms can be further refined over a long period of time, there will be benefits. These may mostly eliminate the need for expensive and time consuming lab and field testing and sampling. It may also allow for a rapid and easy to use early warning system to check up on the health of the estuary. This would allow for quick action to be taken to improve on its health.’

Ellero hopes to build a lifelong career in the GIS and remote sensing industry. ‘I am currently looking for a job so I can start enjoying the fruits of all my hard work. Who knows, maybe one day I will have a remote sensor named after me,’ he quipped.

Words: Zolile Duma 

Photo: Supplied

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High Performing Self Starter Graduates Top of her Class

High Performing Self Starter Graduates Top of her Class
Geologist, Ms Nombuso Maduna, graduated top of her class with a BSc Honours degree cum laude.

Ms Nombuso Maduna graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Geology, scooping the prestigious DMT Kai Batla Prize for the best Honours student in Geological Sciences for 2018 at UKZN.

Matriculating at Danville Park Girls’ High School, Durban born and bred Maduna knew early on that she wanted to study at UKZN and her passion for Geology grew throughout her undergraduate studies. After graduating with a BSc, she realised the importance of continuing to Honours level in Geology in order to progress in the industry in future.

Maduna’s honours project investigated diamonds found off shore at Elizabeth Bay, a mining town on the southern coast of Namibia. Her research evaluated the processes that allowed for the potential accumulation of diamonds in the area.

Describing her honours year as tough, Maduna said her hard work paid off as she felt a great sense of accomplishment after the last exam had been written and her final research project submitted. ‘Finishing something you set out to do is extremely rewarding.’

Maduna thanked her family, friends and supervisor, Professor Andrew Green, who supported her throughout her studies. Most importantly, she was grateful to God who helped all the way through her journey.

Said Green: ‘I initially met Nombuso during first-year registration and was immediately impressed. My thoughts were that this is a person who will go far.

‘During her honours project, she took a shine to research and demonstrated an ability to act independently and intelligently. Her work was performed to the highest of her abilities and with a level of diligence that was outstanding. 

‘I was very impressed with how well she delved into the topic, her level of understanding of the geophysical tools used, and her ability to digest the literature and place her own results in context. I showed her work to many colleagues overseas and they were stunned that it was for an honours thesis,’ said Green.

Maduna is currently enrolled for an MSc at the University of Witwatersrand after which she intends to go into the working world.

Said her mother, Mrs Mamello Maduna: ‘Nombuso is a hardworking, responsible daughter whose strong will and perseverance makes her achieve the goals she sets for herself.

‘We are super proud of her for challenging adversity and achieving her honours degree top of her class. We look forward to greater achievements from her. Well done, my daughter, you are much loved.’

In her spare time, Maduna enjoys reading novels, playing the guitar, drawing and going to the movies.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Genetics in the Genes for Summa Cum Laude Graduate

Genetics in the Genes for <em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Graduate
Ms Devina Chetty, who was awarded her Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude, pictured with her family.

Not only was Ms Devina Chetty the best third-year student in Genetics for 2018, earning herself the coveted MERCK Award, she also graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude with majors in Genetics and Cell Biology.

It was a natural choice for Chetty to study at UKZN as she is essentially a “home bird”. ‘Family has always provided me with support and guidance in every aspect of my life therefore when transitioning from matric to university, UKZN was my first choice simply because it’s close to home,’ she said.

‘Genetics has always been a fascinating subject for me. I would love to do research one day that reveals new information about our DNA and its functions. Genetics is a field with a lot of potential for finding cures for diseases that affect billions of people and each graduate in the field is one more person who can use the knowledge to accomplish these goals.’

Looking to the future, Chetty hopes to obtain an internship with a local or international organisation to gain experience before registering for a Master’s in Genetics.

She thanked her parents for their support. ‘They have always been there to guide me in my decisions and I am thankful for all countless sacrifices they’ve made to get me to where I am today,’ she said.

In her spare time, Chetty enjoys working out, cooking, reading, playing table tennis and listening to music.

Words: Sally Frost 

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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Secret World of Africa’s Small Carnivores Explored in PhD Research

Secret World of Africa’s Small Carnivores Explored in PhD Research
Dr David Mills sets a camera trap to monitor the small carnivores of Kibale National Park in Uganda.

The African golden cat (Caracal aurata) is an elusive, rare and seldom studied small carnivore endemic to tropical Africa. Increasingly threatened by habitat degradation, loss and fragmentation, and by unsustainable hunting, it caught the attention of conservationist and researcher, Dr David Mills, whose subsequent research earned him a doctorate. 

Under the supervision of UKZN’s Dr Luke Hunter and Professor Rob Slotow, Mills was awarded his PhD in Conservation Ecology for work done on the Ecology and Conservation of the African Forest Carnivores: Niche Partitioning in the Absence of Apex Predators.

Mills studied the small carnivore community in the tropical forest ecosystem of Kibale National Park, Uganda, where his work focused on African golden cats which are only found in the tropical forests of Africa. ‘We know very little about golden cats,’ said Mills. ‘The African forest carnivore community as a whole is relatively unstudied, so we were starting with a nearly blank slate.’

African golden cats are related to, and look very similar to, caracals which are found in South Africa.

His study was based on remotely triggered camera trap surveys and vegetation surveys. First, he documented habitat preferences for each species and the time of day each was most active. Then he looked at interactions between golden cats and the other carnivores in the forest. ‘Leopards are no longer found in Kibale,’ explained Mills. ‘Golden cats are therefore the largest remaining mammalian carnivore.

‘Larger carnivore species can sometimes interfere with the behaviour of smaller ones, forcing them to use other habitats, to be active at different times of day, or to avoid areas all together,’ said Mills. He compared similar species – golden cats and servals, two species of genets, and three species of mongoose – to see if similar species were segregating their use of space and time. ‘We found that smaller species do not appear predictively to avoid golden cats by avoiding certain areas or times of day,’ said Mills. ‘They probably avoid them in a more reactive way when they sense their presence. Habitat and temporal partitioning was more prevalent between similar species.’

Mills explained that one of the main threats to all species in African forests was deforestation. His study took place in a forest that was entirely surrounded by deforested farmland. ‘I looked at the carnivore community inside the forest and in farmland to determine which species could adapt to deforestation and whether or not they changed their behaviour to survive in farmland,’ said Mills.

He found that the carnivore community changed significantly across this hard forest boundary. Golden cats were the most sensitive species and were not found in farmland, whilst African civets were the most adaptable and were found in both habitats. His conclusion was that deforestation completely reshaped the small carnivore community.

As part of his research, Mills also calculated the population densities of golden cats and civets. To do this, he surveyed another forest in Uganda where leopards still existed, as these predators in particular kill golden cats and he wanted to see if their absence in Kibale had an impact on the population size. However, contrary to similar studies in North America, he found no evidence that leopards significantly impacted golden cat or civet populations.

Mills was motivated to study golden cats because of the deficit of research done on them to date. He soon discovered a similar paucity of scientific research on other species in the forest, including African palm civets, servaline genets, and even African civets, which are found across Africa. ‘I spent several years studying leopards in the desert in Botswana,’ said Mills. ‘But, I love the African rain forest and wanted to fill some of these knowledge gaps in a guild that has always fascinated me, in a habitat that I love.’

His study highlighted the need to maintain a minimum of forest habitat for small carnivore species. ‘While some of these species are resilient and can survive when forest is converted to farmland, some of them, particularly golden cats, are highly sensitive to deforestation and are extirpated when forest is removed,’ he explained. ‘Maintaining intact African forest carnivore communities will require designating connected forest patches of significant size. They need relatively undisturbed areas within forests in order to move freely.’

‘The small carnivore community endemic to Africa’s tropical forests is extremely diverse and poorly understood. I hope this study inspires others to investigate more species and carnivore communities endemic to the Congo basin,’ said Mills.

Looking to the future, Mills has set his sights on a career in conservation management. Having spent six years in Khutse Game Reserve, Botswana, working with human wildlife conflict, he plans to take the scientific skills he has acquired and apply them to developing robust conflict resolution and management practice.

Mills acknowledged Panthera for providing funding and equipment and WCS Uganda for funding and logistical support during his research. He also thanked Andy Plumptre and the WCS team, and his research assistant, Sam Isoke ‘who did an amazing job helping me to place and monitor cameras and supervising vegetation data collection.’

Finally, Mills singled out his parents for always supporting his ‘crazy dreams of working with wildlife in Africa’.

In his spare time, Mills enjoys wildlife photography, while hiking and being out in nature rank high on his list of favourite leisure activities.

*The species in the image are: A) African golden cat Caracal aurata, B) Serval Leptailurus serval, C) African civet Civettictis civetta, D) African palm civet Nandinia binotata, E) Servaline genet Genetta servalina, F) Rusty-spotted genet Genetta maculata, G) Large grey mongoose Herpestes ichneumon, H) Marsh mongoose Atilax paludinosus, I) Slender mongoose Herpestes sanguineus.

Words:Sally Frost 

Photographs: Sebastian Kennerknecht and David Mills/Panthera/WCS

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Smallholder Irrigation Schemes Vital for Food Security – Master’s Research Finds

Smallholder Irrigation Schemes Vital for Food Security – Master’s Research Finds
Mr Tinashe Lindel Dirwai conducted research to improve water productivity and management strategies to sustain smallholder irrigation schemes.

Research by Mr Tinashe Lindel Dirwai to improve water productivity and uncover new water management strategies to sustain smallholder irrigation farming was rewarded when he graduated with a Master’s degree in Agricultural Engineering.

With the rise in food insecurity experienced in Africa in recent years, Dirwai believes that smallholder irrigation schemes are key to attaining food security at village and small-scale farming level.

‘My desire to diagnose the underlying factors that hinder growth and development drive my passion for poverty alleviation,’ said Dirwai.

His research focused on water governance in smallholder irrigation schemes with the major problem identified being poor institutional integration.

The study also revealed that smallholder irrigation schemes do not exist in a vacuum. ‘There is an idealised governance and there are arrangements that work,’ said Dirwai. ‘So if recommendations from the study are taken up, we can slowly and ultimately move towards an approach where we have hybridised smallholder irrigation scheme governance models that balance the formal and informal policy arrangements.’

Dirwai, who holds a Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Zimbabwe, chose UKZN for his postgraduate studies because of the Institution’s research culture and the quality of the graduates it produces.

He is currently enrolled for a PhD in UKZN’s School of Engineering.

‘My master’s studies were a cocktail of experiences - good, bad and ugly. I believe in God, so I weathered both the social and academic storms and I enjoyed it,’ said Dirwai.

Dirwai has published three journal articles and has received the Best Young Scientist Presenter Award - under the Water Governance theme - at the Waternet Regional Symposium in Namibia (2017) and Zambia (2018) respectively.

‘Mr Dirwai is a sharp, hardworking young man with loads of energy,’ reported his supervisors Dr Aidan Senzanje and Dr Maxwell Mudhara. ‘He always approached the research challenges we threw at him with gusto and enthusiasm and went the extra mile. We are impressed that his research resulted in three journal articles!’

Sharing his recipe for academic success, Dirwai said: ‘It’s never easy but the trick is to stay focused and do everything one step at a time. Do not worry about the circumstances. Setbacks are temporary.’

Words: Christian Ishimwe 

Photographs: Rajesh Jantilal and Supplied

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Property Developer Graduates Top of his Class

Property Developer Graduates Top of his Class
Mr Umar Bassa graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Property Development summa cum laude.

BSc Property Development graduate, Mr Umar Bassa, holds the distinction of being the only summa cum laude graduate in his class. 

Bassa decided to study property development because of his desire to obtain a high level of understanding in a field of study which he is passionate about.

‘I realised that UKZN offered one of the better property development courses in South Africa and was unique in the sense that it attempted to bridge the gap between the antiquated techniques of the old system with new and upcoming technological advancements,’ said Bassa.

Prior to his degree, Bassa obtained a certificate in political and societal studies at Dallas College in Cape Town, which is where he realised his passion for understanding the built environment.

‘As the author DH Lawrence put it: “I have a desire to build a world and an eagerness to become familiar with the architecture and construction of buildings as a reflection of the time we live in”,’ said Bassa.

Bassa described his course of study as amazing and fascinating. ‘We learnt a bit about everything, from covering the built environment and the various professions in which it functions to relevant aspects of law and accounting.

‘For me, property development is so versatile, perhaps one of the most versatile, professions. One is never constrained to a single area or workspace and can work as a consultant for construction companies, for development companies or, if crazy enough, a financial institution,’ he said.

Bassa lives by the African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.’

‘Everyone who has become successful knows that success goes further than one’s own abilities,’ he said. ‘Success often follows after the dedication of those around us – our family, teachers, friends and even colleagues. I think that without the combination of hard work and incredible support I would not be where I am today.’

‘A very great professor of mine once said the root of the word study comes from the Latin “studium”, which means “to persevere”. This is what it is. There is no great student, only one who preserves and one who doesn’t.’

Bassa plans to continue studying and working while living in Cape Town.

Words: Manqoba Hadebe

Photograph: Supplied

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Blind Graduate Provides New Insights into Seed Recalcitrance

Blind Graduate Provides New Insights into Seed Recalcitrance
Blind graduate, Dr Ashley Subbiah, was awarded a PhD in Biology.

Blind graduate, Dr Ashley Subbiah, received a standing ovation after he was awarded his PhD in Biology at the Life Sciences graduation ceremony of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.

Subbiah’s thesis quantified desiccation sensitivity in recalcitrant seeds and was supervised by Professor Norman Pammenter, Professor Sershen Naidoo, Dr Boby Varghese and the late Professor Pat Berjak.

Recalcitrant seeds are seeds that do not survive drying and freezing during ex-situ (off-site) conservation and vice-versa. By and large, these seeds cannot resist the effects of drying or temperatures less than 10°C; thus they cannot be stored for long periods like orthodox seeds because they can lose their viability.

‘Many plant species in the tropics and subtropics produce recalcitrant seeds, which unlike orthodox types are desiccation sensitive and cannot be stored using conventional methods,’ said his supervisors. 

‘Subbiah’s study provided new insights into the physiological and evolutionary factors governing seed recalcitrance and offered valuable quantitative tools for seed conservation.

‘This multidisciplinary study represents a triumph not just for Ashley, but also for students with disabilities across South Africa.’

Words: Sally Frost 

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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A Doctor at One Score and Four!

A Doctor at One Score and Four!
At the tender age of 24, Dr Sulaiman Saleem Patel has been awarded a PhD in Electronic Engineering.

Twenty-four-year old Dr Sulaiman Saleem Patel is the youngest graduate to be awarded a PhD in Electronic Engineering at UKZN.

Patel’s lightening progression through academic portals can be attributed to focus, tenacity and hard work.

Having earned his BSc Engineering degree, Patel registered for a Master’s in Electronic Engineering. When the time came to submit however, the standard of his work was so high examiners recommended he convert to a PhD.

His thesis, supervised by Dr Tahmid Quazi and Professor Hongjun Xu, was titled: Uncoded Space-Time Labelling Diversity: Data Rate and Reliability Enhancements and Application to Real-World Satellite Broadcasting.

‘Dr Patel proposed enhancements to the recent terrestrial Uncoded Space-Time Labelling Diversity scheme and its adaptation to satellite systems,’ his supervisors explained. ‘The proposed enhancements increase spectral efficiency of the original system and link reliability, making it applicable to real-world satellite broadcasting systems.’

Postgraduate Administrative Officer, Ms Ausie Luthuli, congratulated Patel: ‘Well done, Sulaiman. It is not often that a master’s is deemed to be of such a high standard that the student progresses straight through to PhD research. You are one of the very few who has been able to do so.’

Words: Sally Frost 

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal

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