Bursary from Construction Company Helps Civil Engineering Student Graduate

Bursary from Construction Company Helps Civil Engineering Student Graduate
Ms Nozwelo Ndlovu graduated with a BScEng degree in Civil Engineering.

A bursary from a South African construction company enabled a young woman to complete her final year of a Civil Engineering degree at UKZN and graduate.

Ms Nozwelo Ndlovu won the bursary from Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon (WBHO), which is the holding company for a group of companies operating in several sectors including building contracting, civil engineering, roads and earthworks.

Ndlovu was initially interested in studying medicine, but when a delay occurred in her being accepted she remembered hearing at school about careers in engineering, a field which attracts relatively few women to its ranks.

Ndlovu registered for Civil Engineering at UKZN, but initially felt out of her comfort zone as the course was demanding and required considerable focus and good time management – big challenges for her when it came to balancing her social and academic life.

Nevertheless, she stayed the course and soon found it stimulating which made it easier to study. She enjoyed learning about the many aspects that could be further explored or specialised in.

‘Civil Engineering gives a bigger picture of what is happening in the world and how people working in that field are changing the world through daily things we take for granted, like running water and pipe networks,’ she said.

Ndlovu, the daughter of academic administrative officer in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Mrs Loveness Ndlovu, was due to finalise her studies in 2018, however she had to stay on to complete two modules.

With funding she had only covering four years, Ndlovu was left without resources to complete the modules causing her considerable anxiety.

WBHO came to her rescue awarding her a bursary to cover her tuition and accommodation for her final year.

Ndlovu now works for WBHO as a site engineer, helping with the running and productivity of sites that the company is working on. She is enjoying the opportunity to gain knowledge and cultivate her engineering skills, and hopes to progress, from site agent to perhaps, in the future, a director of her own company!

A career-oriented person, Ndlovu is motivated by being excellent at what she does, while also thinking about how she may have to one day balance her career with a family life.

Ndlovu is also considering pursuing further studies alongside her professional development, possibly doing a Master of Business Administration or a Master’s degree in Engineering.

The Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High alumnus enjoys playing guitar, watching movies and television series, listening to music, playing board and card games, reading articles on current issues, and spending time outdoors camping and going to the beach.

Ndlovu thanked her parents for their constant support and encouragement, and also members in the Discipline of Civil Engineering, her peers, friends and, most of all, God, for the motivation to persevere.

She encouraged anyone pursuing a career in Civil Engineering to be persistent, and to learn from their mistakes and to persevere when they encountered failure.

Words: Christine Cuénod   

Photograph: Supplied

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Green Chemistry PhD Focuses on New Sustainable Protocols

Green Chemistry PhD Focuses on New Sustainable Protocols
Dr Sandeep VHS Bhaskaruni received his PhD in Chemistry at UKZN’s virtual Graduation ceremony.

Dr Sandeep VHS Bhaskaruni earned his PhD in Chemistry for his design of new eco-friendly methodologies of synthesizing molecules that could potentially play a role in medicinal chemistry as anti-cancer, antimicrobial or antioxidant agents.

‘In an era of increasing concern about the environment and hazards of chemical products and processes, green chemistry emphasises the need to eliminate or reduce the use of hazardous substances that can potentially harm humans and the environment, and examines the better use of chemicals, their reuse, and the disposal of hazardous substances,’ said Bhaskaruni.

Using Zirconia supported mixed metal oxides as heterogeneous catalysts to accelerate the synthesis of various biologically interesting heterocyclic molecules, Bhaskaruni demonstrated the reusability of these compounds up to seven times.

He synthesised close to 60 novel heterocyclic scaffolds by using prepared catalysts, developed six novel synthesis protocols, and has published eight articles on his research.

‘It was particularly interesting identifying the reaction mechanisms on the metal surface of my prepared catalysts as well as experimentally identifying each and every reaction intermediate that participated in the reactions that we were focused on,’ said Bhaskaruni.

‘The most satisfying part for me was growing the crystals for many novel compounds and identifying their structures via single crystal XRD applications,’ he added.

He believes these findings could assist organic chemists by aiding understanding of the surface chemistry and the interactions of the zirconium oxide with the different transition metals used, which would contribute to the design of better environmental protocols using green chemistry principles.

From here, Bhaskaruni plans to design new catalytic systems for the synthesis of biologically important pharmaceutical drug components under greener conditions.

A qualified chemist, he was interested in this field because of its “puzzle-like” language and the fact that it defines the world around us.

‘Understanding this language, or secret code, is the key to developing modern technology and, essentially, helping to save lives and the environment,’ he said.

Originally from India, Bhaskaruni completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemistry and organic chemistry at India’s Acharya Nagarjuna University and GITAM University. After encountering the research of his PhD supervisor, Professor Sreekantha Jonnalagadda, Bhaskaruni was drawn to do his PhD at UKZN, arriving in 2016.

Bhaskaruni thanked Jonnalagadda for his constant support, encouragement and instruction, and his co-supervisor Professor Werner van Zyl for his time and contributions. He also thanked Mrs Rukmini Jonnalagadda for her support during his time in Durban.

Bhaskaruni thanked his family for their understanding and support, particularly his parents Mr Venkata Bhaskaruni and Mrs Hima Bhaskaruni, his younger brother Mr V.M. Sai Dileep Bhaskaruni, his uncle Mr Rangarao Bhaskaruni and cousins Mr Subbarao Nuthalapati and Mr Chakravarthi Nuthalapati.

He also acknowledged his lab colleagues Dr Surya Maddila, Dr Suresh Maddila, Dr Nagaraju Kerru, Ms Lalitha Gammidi, Dr Harinarayana Bandaru and Ms Maxime Pillay, saying they have become his second family.

Words: Christine Cuénod

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Summa Cum Laude Graduate Excels in Computer Science and IT

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Graduate Excels in Computer Science and IT
Mr Ntobeko Cele who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude.

Mr Ntobeko Cele graduated top of his class in Computer Science and Information Technology (IT), earning a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude.

Cele, who attended Menzi High School in Umlazi, Durban, said choosing to study Computer Science and IT was in line with his life-long fascination with the workings of computers. A keen gamer, Cele hinted that he is a formidable opponent in the PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS mobile game!

He enrolled at UKZN because he believes it is among the best Higher Education Institutions in the country for the course he chose.

Cele said studying at UKZN had been an enjoyable experience as his lecturers made his course content engaging and fun to learn through initiatives such as programming competitions and a pizza and coding fest. He thanked them for their efforts to make the course content interesting and practical.

Maintaining a healthy balance between work and “play” made time as a student even more enjoyable, and Cele said his three years at UKZN flew by.

Cele, who is keen to help others, said he was motivated to work well consistently because of his goal of assisting his family to improve their lifestyle.

Cele advised other students to engage in self-reflection to confirm to themselves why they are studying, planning for the work they are doing, and aiming for consistency.

He explained his recipe for success: ‘If there’s going to be a soccer match there’s the preview in which the game is analysed before it starts, then there’s the live engagement when the game is on, and finally the post-game analysis where everything that happened is broken down in detail.’ said Cele. ‘I approached my studies in this fashion and made a personal time-table and stuck to it.’

Cele, who is on First National Bank’s graduate programme to help him gain industry experience, hopes to further his studies in the future.

He thanked his family and friends for their patience and support during his studies, and also those who had assisted him along the way.

Words: Christine Cuénod   

Photograph: Supplied

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Master’s Research Paves Way for IsiZulu Language Processing

Master’s Research Paves Way for IsiZulu Language Processing
A Master of Science degree in Computer Science was conferred on Mr Sibonelo Dlamini at UKZN’s virtual Graduation ceremony.

Research into isiZulu language processing has earned Mr Sibonelo Dlamini a Master of Science degree in Computer Science. 

Dlamini was supervised by Mr Edgar Jembere and Mr Anban Pillay.

Dlamini completed his schooling at George Campbell School of Technology in Durban after which he registered at UKZN for a degree in Electronic Engineering, soon realising, however, that he was more passionate about computer programming and switched to a BSc in Computer Sciences. ‘As I progressed through my undergraduate degree I fell more in love with the field of computer programming and have been ever since,’ he said.

After completing his BSc Honours degree in Computer Science, Dlamini progressed to masters level, focusing his research on Natural Language Processing. This field of study combines programming, machine learning and language – three areas Dlamini is passionate about. ‘It is exciting to do research in an area which is a key driver of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ he said.

In his research project, Dlamini dealt with isiZulu, which is an agglutinative language, meaning it has a complex internal structure which is constituted by numerous morphemes and thus makes it more difficult to develop language technologies for – unlike English which has a simpler internal structure. Dlamini tested the hypothesis that incorporating information about the internal structure of words of an agglutinative language would improve performance on the Word Sense Disambiguation (WSD) task. This is a machine-learning task which determines the correct sense of an ambiguous word in text.

Dlamini’s research goes a long way towards helping maintain the relevance of isiZulu in the current information age.  He explained that people stop using languages if they could not use technologies for tasks like voice recognition, information retrieval and grammar checking.  Through his research he hoped to develop state-of-the-art technologies for isiZulu, and thus preserve the Nguni language.

‘The motivation for my study was to stop the migration of language preference from isiZulu to English,’ he said. ‘It will preserve the invaluable cultural heritage that the language represents for a large section of South African society and retain access to indigenous knowledge which is encoded in the language.’

Dlamini explained that developing language technologies for a language was important because it maintained the relevance of the language in the information age. ‘If we don’t create space for indigenous African languages within this revolution, we may witness their rapid extinction and the erosion of African identity which will necessarily follow,’ he said. ‘Through my research, I hope to mitigate this potential hazard through the development of state-of-the-art technologies for agglutinative languages.’

Dlamini is currently continuing his research at PhD level, working towards creating an automatic speech recognition solution for isiZulu, ‘since speech is becoming an ubiquitous means of interfacing with computers.’ His future plans are to work full-time as an academic because of his passion in both research and teaching.

Dlamini’s supervisor, Mr Edgar Jembere, believes his work will serve as a benchmark for any future studies on WSD and isiZulu language processing.   ‘Sibonelo is a smart and hardworking student. I see him as a promising young Computer Scientist who will pursue a research career in Natural Language Processing,’ he said.

Some of Dlamini’s hobbies include reading, gym and jogging.

Words: Samantha Ngcongo    

Photograph: Supplied


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Summa Cum Laude Degree for Promising Astrophysicist

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Degree for Promising Astrophysicist
Mr Lushen Moodley (centre) with his proud parents, Savy and Mervin Moodley.

Mr Lushen Moodley has graduated with an MSc degree summa cum laude in Applied Mathematics. His dissertation focused on Hyperspheres of Static Charged Fluids in Standard and Modified Gravity.

Moodley grew up in the small town of Tongaat and his father spotted academic talent in the young boy at 18 months old when Lushen started solving block puzzles. Lushen began reading at the age of three and at four and a half he was solving long division problems!

Growing up in a family that struggled financially, he could not afford the luxury that many adolescent children were able to such as movies and going to the mall. Instead, his father would take him on walks to the library and it was during this time that he developed his fascination for Space after reading books on the subject.

Moodley was placed in the top 100 in the SA Mathematics Olympiad on three occasions while in high school, hence it was no surprise he chose to do a BSc degree in Applied Mathematics and Physics at UKZN.

‘I soon learned that the academic staff at UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science are exceptional,’ said Moodley. ‘It has definitely been an honour working with them.’  

Moodley completed his honours degree and immediately registered for his MSc in the field of Applied Mathematics. His master’s dissertation examined modelling stars and other cosmological fluids by modifying Einstein’s equations with certain impositions. He was led to the study of general relativity, first proposed by Einstein, by his inquiring mind and with the guidance of his supervisor, Professor Sudan Hansraj, was able to produce three publications from his master’s work.

‘Prof Hansraj has inspired me with his passion and insight into the field of relativity and has been my mentor for the past three years,’ said Moodley.  ‘I am very happy that he is supervising me for my PhD research.’

‘It is through research in relativity that we can gain a better understanding of the universe and what lies in it. These discoveries could answer the more controversial questions out there such as whether we are actually alone in the universe,’ explained Moodley.

Moodley described his master’s work as challenging at times. ‘The thing about research is that it is highly unpredictable and making new discoveries in the field is never easy,’ he said.

Moodley’s father, Mervin, was in disbelief when he heard of his son’s summa cum laude achievement. ‘It was exciting, especially as I’d never seen him overly stressed about his studies,’ he said.  ‘Lushen lives a balanced life and finds a way to excel academically and still hang out with his friends.’

In his spare time, Moodley enjoys online gaming and plays competitive blackball pool, for which he has obtained provincial colours.

Moodley hopes to continue with research and lecture in the field of Astrophysics. ‘I don’t see myself leaving in the near future,’ he said.

‘I believe that despite our circumstances growing up, we all have the power within us to change the direction of our life and be who we want to be,’ said Moodley.  

Words: Samantha Ngcongo    

Photograph: Supplied

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Quantum Computing Master’s Graduate Reaching New Heights in a “New World”!

Quantum Computing Master’s Graduate Reaching New Heights in a “New World”!
Ms Amira Abbas graduated with an MSc in Physics, cum laude.

Qualified actuarial scientist, Ms Amira Mahomed Abbas graduated cum laude with an MSc in Physics, specialising in Quantum Computing.

After matriculating at Eden College in Durban, Abbas enrolled at the University of Cape Town where she completed an Actuarial Science degree before being appointed to a position in the financial sector. 

She passed all three Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) board exams in 18 months and won the CFA Institute Women’s Scholarship Award in June 2018. Still yearning for something more challenging, she began research into quantum physics!

While employed in the financial industry Abbas pioneered several projects involving artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and socially responsible investments. She realised that her passion lay in the intersection of science and artificial intelligence, so she resigned from her job to pursue full time research into quantum machine learning, ‘which integrates physics, mathematics, statistics, machine learning and programming.’

Abbas was attracted to UKZN to study for her master’s degree because of the reputation of South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing, Professor Francesco Petruccione, who is based in the School of Chemistry and Physics, and his Quantum Research Group.

‘Researchers are working hard to build quantum computers that can be used to do advanced calculations,’ said Abbas. ‘My work involves looking at how these calculations can be used to perform human-like tasks (Artificial Intelligence-AI) in order to help us in our lives.’

Abbas said quantum computing research could lead to new types of medicine, more efficient systems in logistics, better financial modelling and many other applications that span multiple domains. ‘Quantum computing will give African researchers the opportunity to be at the forefront of the next computational revolution,’ she said.

Abbas described the research experience as rewarding and said she was extremely grateful to UKZN and her supervisors Petruccione and Dr Maria Schuld for supporting her studies.

‘Amira’s MSc is the perfect example of a rapidly changing academia,’ said Petruccione. ‘Until a few years ago such a trajectory would not have been possible. Amira is a good example why researchers from different backgrounds should work together to solve relevant problems. The boundaries between the traditional academic silos are disappearing fast and I believe Amira’s career path, starting in Accounting and completing an MSc in Theoretical Physics will be the new norm in the world that will emerge from the crisis we are in.’ 

‘Amira came in to UKZN like a whirlwind,’ said Schuld. ‘Her unusual biography and energetic personality made her approach things very differently, and it was amazing to see how quickly she grasped the concepts of quantum computing. We are extremely proud that she is planning to stay with us for her PhD, and I’m sure there are great things yet to come from her!’

Abbas is doing an internship at International Business Machines (IBM) in Switzerland, as a member of the company’s quantum computing research team. Research undertaken there will contribute to her PhD.

Words:  Leena Rajpal    

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PhD Graduate Investigates Chemical Compounds with Antibacterial Promise

PhD Graduate Investigates Chemical Compounds with Antibacterial Promise
PhD in Chemistry graduate, Dr Neha Manhas.

Drug molecules which could contribute to combatting drug-resistant bacteria in an era of increasing antibiotic resistance were researched by Dr Neha Manhas for her PhD in Chemistry.

Supervised by Professor Neil Koorbanally, Manhas used the concept of molecular hybridisation to develop new Schiff bases of quinazoline-4-ones, testing their biological activity against a range of pathogenic bacterial strains.

The work is important because of the need to develop new drug molecules with more efficacy and novel mechanisms of action to target bacteria, as antibiotics are losing their potency against the defensive mechanisms adopted by bacterial species.

Manhas completed undergraduate studies in pharmacy at the Punjab Technical University in India, where she is a registered pharmacist and this experience fuelled her desire for a career in drug design and discovery. The experience she then gained while pursuing her Master’s degree in Chemistry at the Durban University of Technology also motivated her interest in this particular research topic.

Manhas’s results revealed several quinazoline-4-one couplings that produced promising compounds   with broad spectrum activity and selectivity against gram-negative bacterial strains, with one compound demonstrating considerably superior activity compared to the antibiotic ampicillin against the multidrug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria strain.

She also revealed the role of hydrophobic forces in stabilising these complexes, and the potential of these compounds to be developed further as anti-bacterial drugs. She also discovered where the fusion of quinazolin-4-one with quinoline, thiophene and indole moieties negatively influenced anti-bacterial activity.

Manhas believes this work, which is due to be published in peer-reviewed journals, will advance research in the direction of new drug compounds. She said that further derivatisation of these compounds holds promise for new potent anti-bacterial drugs with optimal pharmacological activity profiles.

Manhas hopes to continue her career as a researcher, and is currently investigating opportunities for postdoctoral research at UKZN.

Having moved from India to South Africa in 2013 to join her husband – senior lecturer in the School of Chemistry and Physics Dr Parvesh Singh – she found being far away from her family a challenge while completing her studies.  An additional pressure was that she had to adapt to acclimatising to a new culture, new people and languages, and a new environment, but she said South Africa was now like a second home to her. She credited the support of her husband, family and friends for ensuring her success in her studies and supporting her through the tireless work and hours she put into her research.

Manhas dedicated her PhD to her father, brother, sister-in-law and especially her mother, Ms Kiran Manhas, whose sacrifices and motivation, she said, enabled her to persevere to the point she is at now. She also thanked the Dunster family for their love, guidance, care and moral support in South Africa, saying their presence made adapting to life in the country relatively easy.

Words: Christine Cuénod   

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PhD for Hard Working Lecturer and Doting Mom!

PhD for Hard Working Lecturer and Doting Mom!
Dr Hloniphile Sithole-Mthethwa who graduated with a PhD in Applied Mathematics.

Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science Dr Hloniphile Sithole-Mthethwa graduated with a PhD in Applied Mathematics in minimum time, despite working as a lecturer and being a mom to two children – son, Khwezi, and daughter, Bhukosi.

Sithole-Mthethwa, who completed her matric at Edendale Technical High School near Pietermaritzburg, says her passion for mathematics was sparked by two brilliant teachers, Mrs Thandeka Nene and Dr Pinky Mthembu.

She registered for a BSc majoring in Applied Mathematics and Statistics at UKZN because the University’s Discipline of Mathematics had impressed her.

Sithole-Mthethwa then completed her BSc Honours degree with a focus on Biomathematics at Stellenbosch University, where the one-year programme is run in conjunction with the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS) in Cape Town.  It aims to meet the growing demand from molecular biology, systems biology, bioinformatics, ecology, and biomedical science for students and researchers with solid mathematical skills.

She then returned to UKZN to do her master’s degree where she started her first teaching job in the Science Foundation Programme.

After completing her MSc, she was employed as a developmental lecturer in the Accelerated Academic Development Programme (AADP) at UKZN. AADP posts are aimed at young aspiring academics with no or limited experience in academia but with potential and interest to pursue an academic career. Candidates are expected to register for a PhD.

Sithole-Mthethwa’s doctoral thesis was from a theoretical study she did on determining the accuracy and efficiency of recent local linearization methods combined with spectral techniques for solving boundary value problems. Boundary layer flow, heat and mass transport in various non-Newtonian nanofluids were intensively studied. The particular application was on complex non-Newtonian nanofluid models in various geometries and boundary conditions, leading to highly nonlinear, coupled differential equations. The robustness of the techniques was proved and the physical results quantify and show the influence of fluid and surface parameters on the fluid properties, including heat and mass transport. 

Sithole-Mthethwa attributes her success to the strong support structure of colleagues, supervisors Professor Precious Sibanda and Professor Sandile Motsa, and family. ‘I am thankful to my Sithole and Mthethwa families for their support. Moreover, I am thankful for my husband Buzani Mthethwa for his support during this whole period,’ she said.

Said Buzani Mthethwa: ‘My wife is a lovely person. She loves God and her family and has a passion for mathematics. She manages to balance her social and academic life and is a good mother and wife. She likes to help other people in maths, cherishing a dream to see more women become mathematicians in South Africa. Through her journey I was also inspired to further my own studies.’

Sithole-Mthethwa thanked the Legion of Mary (IButho likaMaria) within the Catholic Church, for their support and prayers when she was experiencing health problems. She said she was proud of her achievements, which included supervising postgraduate students and having four publications accepted for Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) recognised journals.

She acknowledged the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA), AIMS, UKZN, the University Capacity Development Programme, Teaching Development Grants and her supervisors for various forms of funding and training.

Sithole-Mthethwa aims to continue to excel as an academic, researcher and supervisor in UKZN’s College Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).

Words: Leena Rajpal 

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MSc Research into Statistical Model for Crude Oil Market

MSc Research into Statistical Model for Crude Oil Market
Ms Nompilo Mabaso received her Master’s degree in Statistics, summa cum laude.

Crude oil, the price of which is currently at an all-time low, was the focus of research by Ms Nompilo Mabaso for her Master’s degree in Statistics.

Mabaso’s investigations were rewarded when she received her degree summa cum laude during UKZN’s 2020 virtual Graduation ceremony.

The aim of her research was to obtain a precise and reliable statistical model that could assess the risk associated with this market. She says her investigations made her realise statistical knowledge was in high demand in the field of finance as financial risk has a huge impact on lives.

While still a young girl at Siphakeme High School in Ngomeni, Greytown, Mabaso set her heart on studying at UKZN… and with five distinctions in matric she was on her way!

Mabaso sailed through her undergraduate BSc degree, majoring in Applied Mathematics and Statistics, before progressing to a BSc Honours degree in Statistics, which she completed in 2018.

‘My MSc research gives insight for investors, particularly in the crude oil market, on evaluating risks of potential loss that could impact their decision making. This loss can also help portfolio managers be prepared for any potential loss their companies may face,’ she said.

Mabaso says she thoroughly enjoyed her master’s degree study.  ‘It made me think out the box. The fact that I could study for a deeper understanding of a topic and come up with a solution that could be applied in the real world, was an eye opener.’

Her masters study was supervised by Dr Knowledge Chinhamu and Dr Retius Chifurira.

‘Nompilo demonstrated a deep understanding of the research problem, rigorous statistical analytical skills, and exceptional report writing skills,’ said Chinhamu.  ‘She is hardworking and brings in innovative ideas.’

Chifurira added: ‘We used to give Nompilo tasks to do in a specified time frame and she would always complete them as suggested and on time. She really made our task of supervising easy.’

Mabaso, who has already summarised her MSc dissertation for submission to an applied statistics journal, said her future career interests lay in academia. She is currently lecturing at North West University and has plans to pursue a PhD.

Mabaso said that she owed her success to God.  ‘Above all, God is the main driver of my career path. This achievement is the response of His faithful words.’

Outside of academics, Mabaso enjoys singing and reading.

Words: Samantha Ngcongo   

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Heightening Awareness about Diabetes at the Core of MSc Research

Heightening Awareness about Diabetes at the Core of MSc Research
Summa cum laude graduate, Ms Nina Grundlingh with her proud parents, Mrs Elma and Dr Theo Grundlingh.

Research aimed at raising awareness about diabetes so that more testing can be done and measures put in place to help sufferers, formed the backbone of Ms Nina Grundlingh’s summa cum laude MSc degree in Statistics.

After completing her secondary education at St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls in Kloof, Grundlingh registered at UKZN with the intention of majoring in pure and applied mathematics. However, in her second year she was attracted to statistics and its application in other fields, going on to graduate with a BSc majoring in Applied Mathematics and Statistics.

She did her honours degree in 2018, being one of the first to undertake a project in Data Science which enabled her to delve into unstructured real-world data for the first time. Her results were presented to Altech Netstar, which she found hugely rewarding and motivated her to pursue an MSc in Statistics.

After being exposed to the Data Science project during her honours work, and having two parents working in the medical field, it was natural Grundlingh was drawn towards biostatistics.

Grundlingh’s master’s degree involved working with survey data and applied machine learning techniques (decision tree, random forest and Bayesian neural network) to evaluate the risk factors and classification of diabetic status.

Her research was funded by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and supervised by Professor Temesgen Zewotir and Ms Danielle Roberts.

Grundlingh explained that a large percentage of South Africans were pre-diabetic or diabetic and unaware of this status. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder and it has recently been found that those with metabolic disorders suffer worse if infected with diseases such as COVID-19 than those who do not have a metabolic disorder.

Grundlingh’s research aim was to raise awareness of diabetes so that more testing could be done and measures put in place to help those with pre-diabetes and diabetes. She attributed her success to having a balanced life, which included a good support structure of family and friends and a healthy dose of triathlon that helped to refresh the mind.

Zewotir praised Grundlingh for her hard work and passion displayed throughout her undergraduate and postgraduate studies. ‘Within a year she successfully completed her MSc studies summa cum laude and her research was conditionally accepted for publication in a Q1 international public health journal,’ he said. 

‘Nina was a pleasure to supervise and has a very bright future ahead of her,’ agreed Roberts.

Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Professor Delia North said Grundlingh excelled during her honours year, winning second prize in the National South African Statistical Association Honours Project Competition in 2019.  ‘Nina is very focused and hard-working, which coupled with her insight and excellent statistical ability, has led to her receiving many accolades. We are very proud of her achievements and look forward to watching as she blossoms into a world class Data Scientist,’ said North.

Grundlingh has been accepted for a PhD in Analytics and Data Science at Kennesaw State University in the United States starting in August 2020. She is looking forward to connecting with other academics outside the realm of statistics, so she can bring these skills back to South Africa to advance data science education at the tertiary level.

She is currently working at Master Maths as a Grade 11 and 12 tutor and enjoys the time spent with learners.

Grundlingh thanked UKZN’s Discipline of Statistics for affording her all the opportunities that have inspired her to keep pursuing academia.

Words: Leena Rajpal   

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Doctoral Graduate Attracted to UKZN by its Excellent Engineering Programme

Doctoral Graduate Attracted to UKZN by its Excellent Engineering Programme
Dr Inbanathan Govender was awarded his PhD in Chemical Engineering.

UKZN’s highly rated Engineering programme attracted Dr Inbanathan Govender to study at the Institution and now he has graduated with a PhD in Chemical Engineering.

Said Govender: ‘I enrolled for my BSc Chemical Engineering degree at UKZN in 2008. In my final undergraduate year, Prof Deresh Ramjugernath gave a lecture on the value to society of postgraduate studies, and more broadly, research. From that point on, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in research.’

Govender wasted no time and started his MSc in Chemical Engineering in 2012, based in Ramjugernath’s Thermodynamics Research Unit (TRU). Having completed his masters, he was approached in 2015 by the Fluorochemical Expansion Initiative (FEI) to pursue his PhD.

‘The FEI is seen by the government as a means to drive beneficiation of South Africa’s rich mineral resources. That was a value proposition that appealed to me,’ said Govender.

Govender’s PhD research was titled: Application of Surface Fluorination Techniques for the Improvement of Barrier Properties of HDPE Bottles, and involved studying the effects of fluorinating plastic bottles on the bottle’s barrier properties.

‘A common example of a fluorinated material is a jerry can,’ said Govender. ‘In order to minimise permeation (loss of petrol through the can walls), the can is fluorinated. In the fluorination process, fluorine gas – usually mixed with nitrogen – reacts with the surface of the jerry can. The fluorine replaces hydrogen on the surface of the can and forms C-F bonds. These bonds give the can improved barrier properties.’

Looking back on his time at UKZN, Govender said: ‘Above all else, the process was deeply rewarding, although long hours on the plant collecting data did not seem rewarding at the time. During my PhD, I experienced several difficulties – delays in procurement, experiments not going as planned – but I pushed through. A PhD by definition means that you are doing something no-one else has done before. That in itself was enough motivation to get me across the finish line.’

Govender thanked his partner for her love and understanding as well as his parents for their support and encouragement over the many years of his education journey.

‘I come from a family with very humble beginnings. My dad worked as a labourer and my mum was a home executive. I was the first in my family to attend university full time and subsequently obtain a degree. Despite facing economic challenges, my parents were able to send me to university. I am eternally grateful for that.’

Govender thanked his PhD supervisors, Professor David Lokhat, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, Dr Matthew Lasich and Dr Lesotlho Kock for their guidance and motivation.

‘It is great to see how the project developed in the hands of Inbanathan,’ said Lokhat. ‘It is also a great exemplar of a collaborative effort across three institutions and two provinces. I recall putting the initial concept note together but never imagined at that stage what an impact the research could have. Inbanathan is definitely one of the most positively motivated, intellectually capable and well-grounded individuals I have had the opportunity of supervising.’

Govender is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Nuclear Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) where his current work involves the design of novel processes in the energy storage space. He is also training to obtain professional engineer status.

Words: Zolile Duma    

Photograph: Supplied

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High Achiever Aims for Career as Data Scientist

High Achiever Aims for Career as Data Scientist
Mr Leenane Makurumure graduated summa cum laude with a BSc in Computer Science and Information Technology.

Mr Leenane Makurumure graduated with a BSc in Computer Science and Information Technology (IT) summa cum laude after earning several scholarships during his undergraduate years that enabled him to complete his studies and set him on a path towards his goal of becoming a data scientist.

Makurumure first encountered IT in his Grade 10 year at Alexandra High School in Pietermaritzburg, at first simply doing it as a seventh subject but growing to love the problem-solving aspect and its use as a tool to apply solutions.

Having decided on a university close to home that offered the majors he wanted, Makurumure enrolled at UKZN but funding was a significant challenge and he was unsure how he would pay for his studies as his family could not afford it and he had no external income.

In his first year, he applied for and was granted an entrant merit scholarship from UKZN in recognition of his five distinctions in his matric year. Being placed among the top five performing students in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science in his first year earned Makurumure a Malegapuru William Makgoba Scholarship for the remainder of his undergraduate studies.

Makurumure said it was his parents who motivated him to do well as a student. ‘They believed in me, and in return I believed in myself and wanted to succeed. My folks also taught me not to aim for average.’

Makurumure earned several accolades during his undergraduate studies, including more than 20 merit certificates, book prizes for being the top computer science student in first and second-year, the SA National Space Agency Award for being the top student in first-year of Physics, and Dean’s Commendations for each semester of study.

His advice to students was to work hard because in the end, the effort pays off.

Makurumure says lecturers at UKZN are well informed and experienced, and he enjoyed learning from them and receiving mentorship in his growth as a computer science student. He also mentored younger students following him.

Makurumure is doing his honours degree and also working as a junior systems developer at the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health. He hopes to progress to a career as a data scientist.

He thanked his parents for their belief in him that saw him through his studies, and also his friends and lecturers, particularly Mrs Rosanne Els who, he says, saw his potential and encouraged him to do even better than he thought he could.

Words: Christine Cuénod   

Photograph: Supplied

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Master’s Graduate Focuses on Accent Recognition Using Deep Learning

Master’s Graduate Focuses on Accent Recognition Using Deep Learning
Cum laude MSc graduate, Ms Yuvika Singh with her parents, Mr and Mrs Pravin and Asha Singh.

Ms Yuvika Singh has graduated with a cum laude MSc degree in Computer Science, specialising in accent recognition using deep learning.

After completing matric with flying colours, Singh left her home town of Richards Bay to study for a Bachelor of Science degree at UKZN – her choice of institution directed by the outstanding quality of research and superior level of academia in the University’s Computer Science discipline.

With her BSc in the bag, she completed a BSc Honours degree in Computer Science summa cum laude. Now at a crossroads with various options presented to her by other institutions, research facilities and software companies, her focused determination and appreciation of the excellent standard of Computer Science at UKZN made the choice of pursuing her MSc degree at the University an obvious one.

Singh’s Masters research – supervised by Mr Anban Pillay and Mr Edgar Jembere – focused on accent recognition using deep learning.  She had found that a broad spectrum of voice accents were not well received by existing Automatic Speech Recognition systems, so decided to investigate automated computational methodologies which helped determine the native language that a person spoke, by listening to their voice. This meant that the system could identify the home-language of an individual by their accent, which improved speech recognition by first identifying the accent of an individual, and then switching to an accent-specific speech recogniser.

‘Studying full-time comes with its challenges,’ said Singh.  ‘However, it is important never to lose hope in one’s endeavours but instead to pursue objectives in order to accomplish goals.’

She thanked God, her parents and siblings, her supervisor and co-supervisor, peers, colleagues and staff in the School of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science (MSCS).

Singh believes that Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are at the forefront of technology. ‘The domains in which AI can reach, with the backing of Computer Science, are vast,’ she said. ‘Under the existing global circumstances, it is technology that virtually connects people and countries together. It makes drug development faster and has the ability to predict a future that can allow planning for foreseeable events.’

Said her supervisor Anban Pillay: ‘It is with great pride that the Academic Leader of Computer Science, Professor Serestina Viriri and staff congratulate Yuvika on her outstanding achievement. She has been one of our exceptional students since she began her academic career here in 2015. Her hard work, dedication and perseverance have enabled her to produce excellent results.  Ms Singh is an inspiration to women in science.’

Singh is currently an ad-hoc lecturer to third-year Computer Science students at UKZN. She is also pursuing her PhD in Computer Science at the Institution. Her research topic relates to Artificial Intelligence in healthcare – an automated response to cancer diagnosis. In addition, Singh is currently contributing towards COVID-19 research by creating a dashboard for South African specific cases.

Singh still manages to enjoy some of her hobbies which include sport, meditation, learning about different religions, cultures and countries, and following world events.

Proud parents, Asha and Pravin Singh said: ‘Yuvika has upheld the exceptionally high academic standards set out by her two elder siblings. Her discipline, dedicated work ethic and ambition are unwavering, and that is what we are proud of. Our thanks go to the Discipline of Computer Science for delivering excellence.’

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Supplied

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Double Cause for Celebration as Computer Science Twins Graduate

Double Cause for Celebration as Computer Science Twins Graduate
The Mbatha twins – Sandile (left) and Siyanda graduated with BSc degrees in Computer Science and Information Technology at UKZN’s virtual Graduation ceremony.

It was cause for a double celebration in the Mbatha household when twins Sandile and Siyanda graduated with Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees majoring in Computer Science and Information Technology.

The Mbatha twins attended Bhekathina High School in Emvundlweni, a rural area 30km outside Escourt, characterised by people carrying firewood, fetching drinking water in the valley, high unemployment rates and a large dependence on social grants. To reach the village situated beneath the Ntabamhlophe mountain requires travelling along a 5km gravel road.

The Mbatha twins learnt responsibility very quickly as their lives revolved around attending school, herding the cattle and fetching water. Owing to the conditions experienced in Emvundlweni, their mother had to seek employment outside the community and the twins stayed with their grandparents, an aunt and four other children. Everyone depended on the grandparents’ pension for food and clothing.  Although it was a struggle, their grandparents managed to take care of everyone under their roof. 

Sandile’s interaction with teachers and friends at school helped boost his confidence levels and he quickly realised the value of hard work and dedication. ‘If you believe in yourself and that you can achieve anything you want in life, good things happen to you.’

Siyanda agreed that his self-discipline, dedication and work ethic came from his experience at high school. Support from teachers and fellow learners inspired him to excel. 

It was through career guidance and career exhibitions that were organised by their school that the Mbatha twins decided to pursue Bachelor of Science degrees specialising in Computer Science and Information Technology. They chose UKZN because of its position as one of the top five universities in South Africa committed to academic excellence and quality education. When accepted to study at UKZN, the twins’ grandmother and a teacher, Mr A Mdluli – now the principal of Bhekathina High School – managed to pay the acceptance fee of R500 each for the boys.

It was inevitable that both brothers would study Computer Science however, while Siyanda gravitated towards problem-solving and logical thinking, Sandile grew more curious about the digital systems age.

Although both brothers undertook the same modules, they describe their undergraduate experience very differently. For Sandile, his undergraduate years helped him to be more outgoing and sociable. ‘Every person is unique with regards to his or her studies but with dedication, hard work and passion, anything is possible,’ he said. 

For Siyanda, the key role played by certain academics in bringing out his educational and personal strengths and interests was what was important. ‘My educational journey allowed me to attain a better understanding of virtues such as patience and perseverance, both of which I had very little of in the early stages of my educational development,’ he said. ‘My advice is to surround yourself with success-oriented peers who are committed to their university studies.’

The twins visit their former school as often as possible to encourage learners to pursue careers in science. Their message is that if the learners are dedicated and work hard, they too can graduate in science. ‘As tough as it is in our community, education is becoming more fashionable, and more people have a hunger to improve themselves through education,’ said Siyanda.  ‘Lifting others up is our passion as we know how it is to be in a position of disadvantage. Our success is everyone’s success in the village – we will always ensure that we encourage everyone to consider Computer Science when choosing a career path.’

Lecturer in Computer Science Mr Anban Pillay said: ‘The Discipline of Computer Science is justifiably proud of the achievements of these young men. Through hard work and perseverance, they overcame challenging circumstances and completed their BSc CSIT degrees. The Academic Leader of the Discipline, Professor Serestina Viriri and the staff, congratulate both Siyanda and Sandile on their excellent achievement and we wish them well in their future.’

Currently the twins are registered for their BSc Honours degrees in Computer Science at UKZN. After completion, both brothers hope to secure employment at a top tech company.

Words: Leena Rajpal   

Photograph: Melusi Dlamuka

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Two New Doctors in the House!

Two New Doctors in the House!
Husband and wife PhD graduates Dr Rasoul Hassanalizadeh (right) and Dr Parisa Doubra.

Husband and wife Rasoul Hassanalizadeh and Parisa Doubra have graduated with doctoral degrees in Chemical Engineering from UKZN.

The couple, who met in Iran six years ago while studying for their Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering at Mazandran University of Science and Technology, agree that the immeasurable amount of combined effort, commitment and hard work they put into their degrees may help make the world a better place.

Asked about why they chose UKZN for PhD studies, the couple singled out the excellent international reputation of the Institution’s Thermodynamics Research Unit (TRU). ‘Studying for a PhD is not just about contributions to science but also developing your own career pathway,’ said Hassanalizadeh. ‘Because of its capacity in science production around the globe and its size, UKZN attracted me, however, it must be noted that in joining TRU – a globally distinguished pioneering research group –the main motive was to pursue my PhD studies at UKZN.’ Doubra was in agreement, adding that the quality of supervision at UKZN offered by highly acclaimed scientists motivated her.

As a part of his MSc thesis, Hassanalizadeh designed a petroleum transportation line in an ultra-deep-sea petroleum production field of the Caspian Sea. Among other accomplishments, he has published a book related to his MSc studies. ‘I received several compliments for the amount of work done from authorities, and a grade point average equivalent to summa cum laude,’ he said.

Hassanalizadeh’s doctoral research focused on an alternate separation route for purifying Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). ‘Nitrogen trifluoride is an important gas used in the electrical industry required at high purity (99.999 – 99.9999 %), however, its purification is difficult and expensive using traditional technologies,’ he said.

Hassanalizadeh was motivated to pursue his PhD by the belief that the world requires energy efficient technologies to overcome the problems it faces. He believes that thermodynamics is essential for this. 

Doubra started her PhD a mere two months after being awarded her MSc. Like her husband, she is fascinated by thermodynamics, believing it to be an essential field of chemical engineering.  As part of her research she developed an experimental apparatus, employing a new technology – gas hydrate – to overcome the constraints of the current technology used to produce sugar.

Sugar is conventionally produced via energy-intensive evaporation technology and substantial damages to the sugar constituents lead to a significant revenue loss in this method. 

Calculations linked to Doubra’s ground-breaking research showed a decrease of 20% in energy requirements along with the elimination of damage to the final product.  ‘My research directly impacts society because the disadvantages of current sugar production plants are a relatively high energy cost and sucrose loss, as well as the cost and time required to clean the heat transfer surfaces, which need to be mechanically or chemically cleaned every few weeks,’ said Doubra. ‘The South African sugar industry struggles with low prices and a severe glut in the international sugar market. The implementation of the new method proposed in my thesis could positively impact these problems.’

Doubra made special mention of her late mother, who passed away from skin cancer in 2017 aged 53.  ‘She was my role model, who taught me patience and fortitude. Her passing left me broken but the feeling of her spiritual presence gave me the strength to fulfil my studies in the best possible form.’

The dynamic couple thanked their families, their supervisors – Professor Prathieka Naidoo, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath and Dr Wayne Nelson – and most importantly each other for all the support and motivation they received.

Words: Swastika Maney and Saneh Mahlase  

Photograph: Supplied

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Sisters in Science Doing it Together… and For Each Other

Sisters in Science Doing it Together… and For Each Other
Fraser sisters, Stephanie (left) and Gillean.

Chemistry runs thick in the veins of the Fraser family – Gillean graduated with an MSc in Chemistry cum laude, while sister Stephanie graduated summa cum laude with a BSc Chemistry Honours degree.

Both sisters matriculated at Northlands Girls’ High School in Durban and enrolled at UKZN.

Gillean sailed through her BSc and BSc Chemistry Honours degrees with outstanding results, before moving on to a Master’s degree in Organic Synthesis, under the supervision of Professor Neil Koorbanally.

Her master's course involved three major sections: the synthesis of nine novel quinoline chalcone compounds, characterisation and complex nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) analysis of these compounds and finally, antibacterial testing of these compounds. She said she enjoyed the NMR techniques the most, as ‘it’s very much like a puzzle so it really gets the cogs turning.’

The impact of Gillean’s research work is that the compounds she synthesized are novel, and the antibacterial activity impressive. These compounds can be explored in future development of antibacterial drugs.

‘Gillean has always been an exceptionally hardworking student,’ said Koorbanally.  ‘Her interest in medicinal chemistry and passion for discovering new drugs has led to her success during her masters. She has a bright future ahead of her.’ 

Currently working as a data insights analyst at Touchsides, Gillean attributes her ability to branch out and thrive in the business world to her background in science

Younger sister Stephanie registered for a BSc degree at UKZN as she felt the Institution gave all students an equal opportunity to succeed regardless of their background. She praised her lecturers’ scientific advancement and commitment to tackling global changes, citing this as her inspiration to pursue a similar scientific career path.

Stephanie says her honours degree was a transformative year, where through an intense period of learning and development, she was able to establish a clearer vision of a career in research.  Her project: Preparation of Cellulose-Based Nanocomposite Thin Films and their Application as Alternative luminescent Conducting Materials, is under review for the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journal, Materials Advances.

With the help of a National Research Foundation grant, Stephanie is currently studying towards a Master’s degree in Chemistry, investigating the design of nanocomposite materials for application as sustainable biosensors under the supervision of Professor Werner van Zyl.

The sisters, who both play the violin and piano in their spare time, credit their success to God and family.

Proud parents David and Leigh-Anne said it had been a great pleasure for them, both UKZN alumni, to see their two eldest children following Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) qualifications which equipped the young women so well for career options in the world.

‘It has been thrilling to have Professor Koorbanally, who was a fellow student with us, now supervise our eldest daughter Gillean’s postgrad research and also be deeply involved in our second daughter Stephanie’s undergrad and honours work. He is a first-rate researcher and inspiring leader,’ said David.

‘We are thankful that the University has provided our girls with a high-quality, world-class education that measures up with the best anywhere.’

Words: Leena Rajpal 

Photograph: Supplied

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Top of the Class!

Top of the Class!
Summa cum laude Mechanical Engineering graduates (from left): Mr Thesan Appalsamy, Mr Nikyle Bisseru, Dr Sarisha Harrylal and Mr Jared Sabbagha.

Four of UKZN’s 48 Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) graduates received their degrees summa cum laude.

They were Mr Thesan Appalsamy, Mr Nikyle Bisseru, Dr Sarisha Harrylal and Mr Jared Sabbagha.

‘The four of us worked closely together over the past four years and if you ask anyone of us we will all say the others played a part in our success,’ said Bisseru.

Advice sought from UKZN lecturers led Bisseru to study Mechanical Engineering and now with a first class pass in his pocket, he is currently employed as a mechanical engineer at Royal HaskoningDHV – an independent project management and engineering consultancy firm that offers professional services to clients locally and internationally.

‘I decided to work in consulting after meeting several industry professionals who convinced me of the benefits,’ he said. ‘I plan to progress within the mining industry and earn my professional engineering certification.’

Bisseru had some wise words to offer current students in the School of Engineering: ‘At times during your degree, you may feel despondent and want to throw in the towel but just remember the end goal and where you want to be in the future. If you are struggling, seek help. Always push yourself to the limit and do your best in every test, tutorial, practical and exam. It is the small successes that add up and pay off in the end. I am testament to that.’

For Appalsamy graduating has provided a sense of gratification not only for him but also for all those who have helped him through his journey. ‘Graduating shows that this investment has paid great dividends and also signifies a new beginning as a metaphorical stepping stone towards future endeavours,’ he said.

Appalsamy’s goal has been not only to learn but also to contribute. This led to his participation in many different science fairs, developing projects that targeted areas such as renewable and alternative energy. ‘Being able to develop solutions to prevalent problems intrigued me, but on a deeper level, I always wanted to create something to help others,’ he said.

Appalsamy said former UKZN lecturer and Astrophysicist Dr Megandhren Govender (aka ‘Dr G’) had significantly impacted his thinking. ‘From when I was in primary school, Dr G would host science classes to encourage students to get involved. He cultivated a strong love for science in me and inspired me to continue learning and to improve myself.’

Appalsamy is currently part of the CSIR’s graduate training programme.

Harrylal already holds an MBChB degree awarded to her from UKZN. ‘Working as a medical doctor exposed me to some of the struggles faced by the majority of South Africans,’ said Harrylal. ‘This is where my eagerness to pursue a career in engineering developed. I believe engineers have the tools to develop solutions that can potentially have an impact on a large number of people.’

Harrylal plans to work in research and development in the field of either biomedical engineering or renewable energy.

Sabbagha was home schooled using the Cambridge syllabus owing to his family being on the move a lot. He passed his International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) exams, obtaining distinctions for his A levels through self-study. He was motivated to study engineering by his late grandfather who was a civil engineer.

Sabbagha is currently doing a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, working within UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). ‘I am doing research and design work in the areas of aeroelasticity - that is the intersection of aerodynamics and structural dynamics,’ he said.

All four students said they received excellent guidance from their lecturers Dr Jared Padayachee and Professor Michael Brooks. They thanked their families as well as friends in Mechanical Engineering for making the degree a little easier and a whole lot more enjoyable.

Words: Saneh Mahlase    

Photographs: Supplied

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No One Road to Success - PhD Graduate

No One Road to Success - PhD Graduate
Dr Thokozani Ngema’s PhD in Chemical Engineering focused on desalination.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again is the maxim of Dr Thokozani Ngema.

Initially not meeting UKZN’s minimum requirements, Ngema took another route that would eventually lead to the fulfilment of his dream… he enrolled at DUT, where he completed his BTech and MTech degrees in Chemical Engineering, going on to complete an MSc Engineering at UKZN and now a PhD in Chemical Engineering.

‘There is no one road to success. You must find your own route,’ he said of his achievement.

‘UKZN is one of the highest-ranking universities on the continent, it was my passion to study here.’

In both his PhD as well as his MSc, Ngema’s research focused on desalination – the removal of salts in seawater and industrial wastewater – using a new technology called gas hydrate.

‘The gas hydrate was formed using fluorinated refrigerants as well as the presence of a promoter,’ he said. ‘Finally the equation of state was developed, namely, the Hydrate Electrolytes Cubic Plus Association (HE-CPA).’

Ngema chose to concentrate his research in the area of thermodynamics because he enjoys challenges. ‘Most students run away from thermodynamics because it is so difficult,’ he said. ‘For my PhD I chose the CPA equation of scale, which is the most difficult section!’

After having been warned about the difficulties of this area of study, Ngema persevered and sacrificed time and energy day and night as he had his mind set on achieving his goal.

Ngema is currently at DUT where he lectures thermodynamics, among other modules.  He plans to pursue an academic career and become a professor and supervise his own masters and PhD students.  He would also like to work in industry and take an active role in community projects. 

Ngema thanked his supervisors, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, Professor Amir Mohammadi, Professor Prathieka Naidoo, Dr Suresh Ramsuroop and Mr Siyabonga Buthelezi for playing an important role in getting him to where he is now as well as Higher Degrees Officer Ms Ausie Luthuli for her warm-hearted encouragement.

Words: Saneh Mahlase

Photograph:  Supplied

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Research into Biogas for Rural Waste Management and Energy Solutions Secures Cum Laude Degree

Research into Biogas for Rural Waste Management and Energy Solutions Secures <em>Cum Laude</em> Degree
Mr Jonathan Olal Ogwang with his mother, Mrs Christine Ogwang.

Mr Jonathan Olal Ogwang received his Master’s degree cum laude in Civil Engineering for research that involved investigating biogas as a waste management and energy solution among rural South African communities.

Ogwang did his research under the umbrella of his supervisor Professor Cristina Trois’s South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Waste and Climate Change, which is funded by the National Research Foundation.

Growing up in Uganda in a scientific family, Ogwang developed a keen interest in environmental engineering thanks to its potential to improve quality of life. After completing his international high school curriculum, he decided to study in South Africa, choosing UKZN because of its good reputation in Engineering.

During his postgraduate studies, Ogwang was motivated by the rapidly developing biogas industry in Uganda to do research on the topic. Having seen a small biogas project when he was in high school, and having the opportunity to conduct his studies in the field, Ogwang said he was pleased to be able to use his knowledge to advance the fledgling industry in South Africa.

He set out to develop the best practice model of biogas provision at small and medium scale levels in South Africa. During the course of his research, Ogwang was involved with a National Lottery-funded project to design and implement an improved model of biogas provision at five crèches in KwaZulu-Natal, in conjunction with the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) and Khanyisa Projects.

His research involved restoration of 26 anaerobic digesters, developing an optimised model for biogas provision in South Africa, biochemically characterising locally available organic waste substrates and their energy potential, and designing and implementing an optimised anaerobic digestion system. Ogwang’s successful new digester design produced 10% more biogas than the control at a high organic loading rate, with his ambition and drive enabling him to complete his research in a year.

‘Current digester designs have a limit to which one can load them with organic waste, such as sewage or food waste,’ said Ogwang. ‘The new design enables more people to benefit because one can load it with more waste without the digester failing.  Amongst many optimisations, it mixes itself without any mechanical parts and can be heated using a unique energy efficient solar heater design.’

This work will, he believes, enable more people to obtain free clean energy and dispose of their waste in an environmentally friendly manner.

Ogwang said he found the process of completing a master’s degree to be valuable for the experience and expertise gained in the field of environmental engineering. He currently works with Defy and UKZN on a project to develop a new biogas stove purpose-built for South Africa and after the lockdown will progress to working as a junior environmental engineer with Defy, where he will engineer systems for pollution control, waste management, sustainability, water resource management and energy efficiency.

A keen athlete, Ogwang balanced his studies with participation in sprinting, basketball, powerlifting, strongman sport, soccer and jumping, and recently won the Ford Ranger Deadlift in Hillcrest. He is also a guitarist, having played in a band for a time.

Ogwang thanked Trois, his supervisor Dr Marc Kalina and his family for their invaluable support during his studies.

Words: Christine Cuénod 

 Photograph: Supplied

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Summa Cum Laude Degree in the Bag for Talented Student

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Degree in the Bag for Talented Student
Mr Nikhiel Bansi has been awarded a Bachelor of Science in Engineering summa cum laude.

Gaming and sports fanatic with a passion for maths and science, Mr Nikhiel Bansi has graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Chemical Engineering) degree, summa cum laude.

Bansi says he always enjoys a challenge. ‘I found Chemical Engineering combined all of my interests, and is an enabler for change in society. UKZN is one of the highest-rated South African universities in engineering and the sciences, so it was an obvious choice for me.’

Bansi, the winner of the 2018 Best Third Year Chemical Engineering Student Award, is currently studying towards an MSc Chemical Engineering degree, with his research topic on the kinetic modelling of alkene metathesis. ‘The understanding of alkene metathesis opens up doors for the production of chemicals using greener, less energy intensive methods,’ he explained.

What motivated him to pursue this research and career field? ‘During my undergraduate years, I found that I had a strong interest in problem solving and simulation. These areas have immense importance, and will become even more significant as technology progresses.

‘Concerning my future plans, I will try to put my skills to use in innovative ways to make a difference in society,’ he said.

Words: Zolile Duma 

Photograph:  Supplied

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