Astrophysics Postgraduates Excel

Astrophysics Postgraduates Excel
Newly-capped relativist Astrophysicists, who researched the nature and effects of gravity, (from left) Dr Apratim Ganguly, Mr Didier Kileba Matondo and Dr Maombi Mkenyeleye.

UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) has produced three exceptional Relativists who graduated with postgraduate Science degrees.

They are Mr Didier Kileba Matondo, Dr Maombi Mkenyeleye and Dr Apratim Ganguly.

Relativists are Astrophysicists who study the nature and effects of gravity.

Kileba Matondo, who received his MSc degree in Applied Mathematics cum laude, plans to read for a PhD and thereafter engage in post-doctoral research.  His research focused on the distribution of specific types of matter in outer space, a topic he chose because he found it ‘exciting to understand the behaviour of objects in space, the formation of stellar bodies, the evolution of the universe, and the nature of black holes’.

Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he initially found it challenging to integrate into his new environment but soon settled in. ‘My supervisors Professor Sunil Maharaj and Dr Rituparno Goswami, other staff members and fellow students provided a great deal of support,’ he said.

Mkenyeleye was awarded his PhD in Applied Mathematics based on his research on the collapse of stars, a subject which has interested him for a long time. ‘Studying this field has helped me understand that massive stars do undergo continual collapse under their own gravity, which may lead to either a naked singularity or a black hole - when the ultra-strong gravity regions are not visible to the external universe.’

Mkenyeleye, who was also supervised by Maharaj and Goswami, will continue to conduct research in this area while working as a Lecturer at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania, and later as a postdoctoral researcher.

Fellow PhD graduate in Applied Mathematics, Dr Apratim Ganguly, who is from India, has been offered the prestigious Claude Leon Postdoctoral Fellowship which he will take up at Rhodes University later this year. ‘This was a challenging journey but I received constant encouragement from my family and my supervisors, Professor Sunil Maharaj and Professor Subharthi Ray,’ said Ganguly.

‘It is wonderful to see three of our ACRU students - Apratim and Maombi with doctoral degrees, and Didier with a master’s degree - graduate at the same time on the Westville campus,’ said ACRU Director, Professor Sunil Maharaj. ‘They have produced excellent results in their studies reflecting their focus and commitment. We wish them all the best in their future research endeavours.’

 Strini Rajgopaul 


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UKZN Biochemistry PhD Graduate Continues Medicinal Plant Research in Nigeria

UKZN Biochemistry PhD Graduate Continues Medicinal Plant Research in Nigeria
Dr Animu Mohammed (right) with his supervisor, Professor Shahidul Islam.

Nigerian born Dr Aminu Mohammed was awarded his PhD in Biochemistry for his thesis which examined antioxidative and antidiabetic effects of some African medicinal plants in order to discover novel anti-diabetic compounds, which may be more effective with fewer side effects compared to conventional drugs.   Mohammed’s PhD topic was influenced by the increasing prevalence of diabetes worldwide, and the undesirable side effects being experienced by many patients currently on available synthetic drugs.  

‘I wanted to search for novel molecules from natural plant-based remedies, since fewer side effects have been reported with the use of plants in the treatment of different diseases,’ said Mohammed.  

‘Additionally, there is widespread interest from the pharmaceutical industry towards this area of research as plants contain an undiscovered wealth of potentially useful bioactive compounds for diabetes control, with relatively less adverse effects,’ he said. 

The research undertaken involved various in vitro and in vivo experiments to demonstrate the anti-diabetic activity of selected indigenous African medicinal plants as well as their mechanisms of action.  

‘In addition, the research work involved the challenging task of bio-assay guided isolation of the pure active compounds and the interpretation of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data,’ said Mohammed. 

Mohammed is grateful to his supervisor Professor Shahidul Islam, who he says constantly motivated and supported him during his studies.  

Among Mohammed’s achievements during his studies was the publication of five articles in ISI-rated journals.  Another eight articles are in various stages of preparation for publishing.. 

Mohammed has presented his research results at two international conferences in Jordan and Canada.  At the World Diabetes Congress in Canada he was awarded a prestigious travel grant from the International Diabetes Federation.  

Mohammed has now resumed his work as a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. ‘My PhD studies will surely contribute to the advancement of my career as I can now actively supervise undergraduate and postgraduate students working in similar research areas.’  

Leena Rajpal


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Busy Mum Finally Secures her PhD

Busy Mum Finally Secures her PhD
Newly-capped Dr Gill Hendry, who embarked on a PhD in Statistics.

After completing her master’s degree more than 40 years ago, Dr Gill Hendry took on studies for a PhD in Statistics at the prompting of fellow tennis player and UKZN academic, Professor Delia North.

North, who is Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at UKZN, interacted with Hendry at tennis events over a period spanning more than 10 years.

Spurred on by North, Hendry eventually decided to embark on the final phase of her academic journey.

Hendry originally graduated in the 1970s with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Applied Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics from the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). ‘I continued with my Honours degree in Operations Research and was extremely fortunate to study under Paul Fatti, one of South Africa’s foremost statisticians,’ said Hendry.

‘After graduating, I joined the lecturing staff in the Department of Applied Mathematics, Computer Science and Mathematical Statistics at Wits and, while lecturing, completed my masters under Paul Fatti and Michael Sears – now a crime writer!’ said Hendry.

With marriage to Keith Hendry and the arrival of two children, Neil and Liesl, Hendry continued teaching Mathematics at secondary level, and later lectured on data analysis for postgraduate students at the Durban University of Technology and UKZN. ‘Once again, I was able to explore the pleasures of statistics,’ she said. ‘I pursued my doctoral studies only after my two children graduated from university.’

Hendry’s doctoral thesis was titled: “The Management of Missing Categorical Data: Comparison of Multiple Imputation and Subset Correspondences Analysis”.

In 2004, Hendry had investigated the relationships in a set of asthma severity data gathered specifically for a study on the effects of air pollution on the respiratory health of children in the South Durban basin.

Hendry soon realised that a challenge to this data set was the missingness present. (In Statistics, missing data, or missing values, occur when no data value is stored for the variable in an observation.  Missing data are a common occurrence and can have a significant effect on the conclusions that can be drawn from the data.) Hendry decided to focus her attention on ways to analyse categorical data that suffers from missingness. Two methods (Multiple Imputation and the Subset Correspondence Analysis) were studied and their methodologies and results compared.

Multiple imputation is a relatively modern method for handling missing data. ‘The practical challenge in the application of multiple imputation, that was previously undocumented, was the identification of interactions needed for the imputation model. On the one hand, the data was needed to identify relevant interactions; on the other hand, the interactions are needed to impute the data. This dilemma was explored and a possible solution presented.’

Subset correspondence analysis is also a relatively new method. Dr Hendry stated: ‘Although applications to subsets of data have been published, its use on data with missingness was not well documented. Apart from applying this method to the asthma data, I showed how interactions could be included in an analysis with subset correspondence analysis. I further examined the effect that different missingness mechanisms have on subset correspondence analysis.’

Hendry’s study also identified the relationships between asthma severity and various environmental, behavioral, socio-economic and genetic factors.

Hendry plans to continue her research in the missing data field which she identified during her PhD studies. ‘I hope that I can use my knowledge from my work so that others can benefit from my experience in this field,’ she said.

‘While there were times of frustration, the excitement of achieving small steps in the process far outweighed the negatives. I was extremely lucky that I had the support of my family and friends and it was rather special to be doing postgraduate studies at the same time as both my children,’ said Dr Hendry.

Leena Rajpal


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Ambitious Goals Encourage Success

Ambitious Goals Encourage Success
David Shiller, proudly supported by his family, was awarded a summa cum laude Honours degree in Computer Science.

From when he was a youngster, summa cum laude graduate Mr David Shiller enjoyed the challenge of understanding how complex problems could be abstracted into simple concepts, so it was no surprise to anyone who knew him when after matriculating from Westville Boys High School he registered for a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in Computer Science at UKZN.

‘Getting a degree was always a dream of mine,’ said Shiller. ‘In my first year, however, I failed a maths module which took a massive psychological toll on me. To prove to myself and to my loved ones that I could achieve something, I decided to endure the pressures of late night studying. My dream was to make something of myself!’

After completing his degree in 2014, Shiller registered for a BSc Honours in Computer Science. ‘With the advancement in computing and technology, doing my Honours in Computer Science was always a must,’ he said.

Shiller’s research examined the hand gesture recognition for the interpretation of South African sign language (SASL). His main goal was to identify the viability of the Leap Motion depth camera for capturing and analysing static and dynamic hand postures to enable further research in the field of low cost sign language translation systems for developing third world countries.

Academic Leader for Computer Science, Professor Aderemi Adewumi, said he was fortunate to supervise Stiller. ‘He is an extremely hardworking and intelligent student. He carried out his work with utmost dedication and independence. I believe David will return to do a Master’s degree in Computer Science.’  

Currently, Shiller is working at 2Cana Solutions, a consulting firm in Umhlanga. ‘I get to challenge myself on an ongoing basis,’ he said. ‘Often I feel stupid, surrounded by people with years more experience and wisdom.  Each day I learn more and try to grow into someone who can eventually start his own company and help make South Africa a better place.’

Shiller lives his life to the following maxim: ‘Aim for the stars, and if you fall short you still hit the moon. If you aim for a pass you may get a pass, but if you aim for a 90 you will do a whole lot better.’

Leena Rajpal


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Developmental Lecturer Graduates with PhD in Financial Mathematics

Developmental Lecturer Graduates with PhD in Financial Mathematics
UKZN Developmental Lecturer, Dr Sivuyile Mgobhozi graduated with a PhD in Financial Mathematics.

“Combined Impulse Control and Optimal Stopping in Insurance and Interest Rate Theory”, was the title of Dr Sivuyile Mgobhozi’s PhD thesis.

Mgobhozi was introduced to the mathematics of Finance by Dr Sure Mataramvura of the School of Actuarial Science at UCT.

His Master’s degree in Financial Mathematics was supervised by Mataramvura. They worked on the completion of an incomplete market and pricing under incomplete markets.

Mgobhozi was later introduced to Dr Eriyoti Chikodza of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the Great Zimbabwe University by UKZN’s Professor Simon Mukwembi.  The two supervised him for his PhD thesis.

Said Mukwembi: ‘Just like any other school or department, getting a financial mathematician has always been a problem for us so we created the technique of developing our own. It was so difficult for us to secure a supervisor for Sivuyile. Fortunately, Dr Chikodza of Great Zimbabwe University kindly agreed to supervise him.’

‘Sivuyile has made us proud by his hard work, great focus and maturity,’ said Mukwembi. ‘I am sure that he will in turn give us more and more PhD graduates in the area of financial mathematics.’

Mukwembi said that owing to the uncertainty involved in real financial problems, this area of study was very difficult with new results being hard to find. ‘Sivuyile managed to make a breakthrough in optimising portfolios for an insurance company which pays dividends to its shareholders,’ he said. ‘This is a practical problem whose solution adds value to our contemporary world. I salute Sivuyile for his achievements. Well done.’

Mgobhozi was employed as a Developmental Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at UKZN in 2012. His areas of research focused on financial mathematics, stochastic processes, levy processes, uncertainty theory, uncertain stochastic processes and optimal control of insurance reserves.

He submitted four research papers for publication in international journals for his PhD thesis. The papers have been presented at South African Mathematics Society conferences in Johannesburg and Harare, and at the Quantitative Methods in Finance Conference in Australia.

Mgobhozi said the aim of his research papers was to find an optimal way of distributing dividends to shareholders while keeping the banking industry solvent. He came up with a solution of using optimal control theory under uncertain random indeterminacy.

He is currently working on acquiring an Actuarial Fellowship Qualification, to bring back Actuarial Science to his beloved School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science.  His ambition is to get UKZN accredited by the Actuarial Society of South Africa.

Mgobhozi dedicated his work to his mother, Nomusa, daughter, Avuyile, and family and friends. He also expressed his gratitude to the National Research Foundation for the Thuthuka Grant he received in 2015.

Leena Rajpal


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Engineer’s Doctoral Thesis will Assist in Water Resources Management

Engineer’s Doctoral Thesis will Assist in Water Resources Management
Dr Jaco Gericke graduated with a PhD in Bioresources Engineering.

A thesis on establishing accurate catchment response times required for flood estimations earned Dr Jaco Gericke his PhD in Bioresources Engineering from UKZN. 

Accurate assessments improve the estimation of catchment response times required for flood estimation, thus improving essential input for the design of hydraulic structures such as dams, culverts and drainage systems. 

An important aspect of estimating floods is the accurate estimation of catchment response times. The development of methods to do this has been constrained by limitations of adequate rainfall and runoff data, particularly in larger catchment areas. This has implications for the efficient design of hydraulic structures. 

‘Gericke developed a new and consistent approach to estimate catchment response times in medium to large catchments in South Africa, using only observed streamflow data,’ said  his supervisor, Professor Jeff Smithers. 

‘This approach will enable more accurate estimates of catchment response times, both in South Africa and internationally, resulting in a more efficient design of hydraulic structures.’ 

Gericke’s work was described by one examiner as a ‘high quality and relevant piece of work of international standing’. 

Gericke began his academic journey with a National Diploma, going on to complete his master’s degree cum laude at Stellenbosch University. He completed his PhD part-time, during a period when his second and third daughters were born. 

He was able to show extreme dedication to his studies whilst maintaining a balance between work responsibilities, family life and research. 

Gericke is currently lecturing at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State where he is applying his 18 years of academic and professional experience in flood hydrology, water resources management and irrigation. 

He is representing CUT’s Department of Civil Engineering at the Water Research Commission (WRC) and the South African National Committee of Large Dams (SANCOLD), to contribute towards the implementation of a National Flood Studies Programme (NFSP). 

Gericke acknowledged CUT, the National Research Foundation and UKZN for funding his studies.  He also expressed gratitude to his supervisor for his guidance, to his reviewers, and to his family and colleagues for their support. 

Christine Cuénod


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UKZN Fellowship for Quantum Researcher

UKZN Fellowship for Quantum Researcher
Quantum information processing and communications expert, Professor Francesco Petruccione, was awarded a Fellowship by UKZN.

South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication, Professor Francesco Petruccione of UKZN’s Centre for Quantum Technology, was awarded a Fellowship of the University of KwaZulu-Natal during this year’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science's Graduation Ceremony.

Fellowships are awarded by the University’s Council in recognition of distinguished academic achievement, and are conferred for life. Numerous criteria, from the originality of research to significant publications to international standing in the relevant field, are taken into consideration in the award process.

Petruccione has directed the Centre for Quantum Technology research group since its Innovation Fund-supported inception in 2005.

Originally from Italy, he studied Physics at the University of Freiburg in Germany, receiving his PhD in 1988. Petruccione worked at that institution until 2003 before moving to South Africa to take up a Professorship in Theoretical Physics at UKZN. It was at UKZN where he achieved what is the highlight of his career - the establishment of the Centre for Quantum Technology from scratch.

Petruccione is well-published in quantum technology, with more than 150 papers to his name. He has given more than 100 presentations worldwide on the topic.

A notable accomplishment was being a co-author of a monograph on The Theory of Open Quantum Systems, which has been cited more than 4 000 times.

‘Quantum technologies will be at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ said Petruccione, speaking on the importance of this research. ‘We are contributing to develop the necessary skills to take part in the quantum future.’

Petruccione has contributed to the development of the theory of open quantum systems, and has worked on Quantum Information Processing and Communication (QIPC), concerning the storage, processing and communication of information according to laws of quantum physics. Petruccione says this enables quantum computers to perform tasks not possible with ordinary IT.

Petruccione has also worked on the realisation of a quantum key distribution system for Quantum Cryptography, involving the development of quantum devices. This contributed to Durban’s recognition in 2008 as the world’s first Quantum City, following the installation of a quantum communication security solution for eThekwini Municipality’s fibre-optic network.

‘The Fellowship is motivation to contribute even more to making UKZN a top institution,’ said Petruccione.

Christine Cuénod


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Mechanical Engineering Doctorate for Lecturer

Mechanical Engineering Doctorate for Lecturer
UKZN Lecturer Dr Jared Padayachee gained his PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

The development of methods for the design and evolution of reconfigurable cellular manufacturing systems was the subject of Dr Jared Padayachee’s dissertation, which earned him a PhD degree in Mechanical Engineering. 

Padayachee, who was supervised by Professor Glen Bright, is a member of the vigorous Mechatronics and Robotics Research Group situated within UKZN’s Discipline of Mechanical Engineering. 

Padayachee explained that a reconfigurable cellular manufacturing system (RCMS) is an emerging manufacturing system paradigm where the configuration of manufacturing cells evolve in response to the introduction of new products and changing market demand.  

Padayachee has developed methods for the design of a RCMS to support configuration changes to the structure of manufacturing cells. He has also developed multi-period reconfiguration planning methods that determine how cells should evolve in a manner that maximises the profitability of the production system. 

With work colleagues and friends serving as his inspiration Padayachee is looking forward to advancing his research in the area of advanced manufacturing systems and innovative machine design.  

‘I chose to do a PhD in order to pursue a career in academia,’ he said.  ‘The freedom to create new technologies and explore new things is what attracted me.’ 

‘Completing my PhD was extremely challenging and often frustrating. With a PhD, success does not exclusively depend on the amount of work you put it. In the effort to make a novel contribution to the field there are many “dead end” ideas that a researcher may invest time in, without coming up with a conclusive result.  It takes a lot of patience and perseverance until that day comes when you have a “Eureka moment”,’ he said.

 Prashina Budree


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UKZN Geologist Skips Straight to PhD

UKZN Geologist Skips Straight to PhD
Lauren Hoyer’s family were her most enthusiastic supporters when she gained a PhD in Geology.

Dr Lauren Hoyer graduated with her PhD in Geology after her Master’s degree research was upgraded.

Her thesis was titled: “Rock Fabric of Karoo Dolerite Sills along the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, South Africa: Implications for the Magma Source”.

Hoyer currently teaches Structural Geology at UKZN, where she completed her undergraduate and honours studies.

She described the institution as being the ideal environment for her academic growth, thanks to its proximity to her research field area. Having started her master’s studies in 2010, her project grew to a much larger study than originally envisioned, allowing Hoyer to expand her work to a doctoral study with better-defined constraints.

For her PhD, Hoyer investigated the origin of basaltic melts in the form of horizontal intrusions (sills) that intrude into rocks along the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast. By analysing these structures, Hoyer concluded that there were two distinct generations of sills that formed by different intrusive mechanisms, with the intruding magmas possibly originating from separate mantle-melting geological events.

Hoyer’s fascination with earth sciences began in the stars, her early love of astronomy leading her to look for a more tangible science closer to home. This led her to Geology, which has taught her how the solar system formed, the dynamics of the planets and the constant geological processes occurring on Earth.

A passion for academia has been instilled in Hoyer, who hopes to attain a full-time position at a South African university. Interaction with eager students, who she advises to work hard and cultivate a hunger for knowledge, is one of the highlights of working in tertiary education for Hoyer.

Hoyer credited her husband, also a Geologist, for his invaluable support and understanding in the pursuit of her PhD.

Christine Cuénod


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For the Love of Elephants

For the Love of Elephants
Dr Jeanetta Selier gained her PhD in Biology for research done on the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area elephant population.

Choosing to work with wildlife was a childhood dream come true for newly-capped Dr Jeanetta Selier, who is employed as a Senior Scientist with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) in Pretoria. 

Specialising in elephants, however, was a coincidence.  ‘After working briefly with a delinquent juvenile herd during my Honours year, I was captivated by them,’ she explained.  

UKZN awarded Selier a PhD in Biology for research she conducted on the challenges and opportunities in conserving wide-ranging cross border species and, in particular, on her case study of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA) elephant population. 

Selier was supervised by UKZN’s Professor Rob Slotow as well as Dr Enrico di Minin and Mr Bruce Page, who are both honorary affiliates of UKZN’s School of Life Sciences. 

‘Rob and Bruce have vast experience in elephants and Enrico has extensive knowledge in applied conservation issues and specifically the various modelling methods required for my study,’ said Selier.  ‘This made studying at UKZN a logical choice.’ 

Selier said that establishing a long-term research project on a mostly unknown wild population of elephants that moved freely between three southern African countries - South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana - was a challenging but rewarding experience. 

‘Elephants are not only amazing creatures to work with but the challenges facing these wide-ranging, trans-boundary, high value species are complex,’ said Selier.  ‘My PhD research provided a great opportunity to contribute to their conservation.’  

For her PhD, Selier followed a trans-disciplinary approach to assess the challenges and opportunities facing the conservation and management of the African elephant population within the GMTFCA, which both occupied human-modified landscapes and spanned administrative and political boundaries. 

‘I showed that the current rate of trophy hunting of bull elephant in the GMTFCA is unsustainable,’ said Selier. ‘I recommended that no more than 10 trophy bulls be hunted annually throughout the GMTFCA.’ 

Selier further showed that both ecological factors such as vegetation productivity and human disturbances such as trophy hunting influenced the abundance of elephant at different scales. 

‘On the landscape scale elephants make the decision on where to be in the landscape, while at the site level they decide on how to utilise the available resources,’ she explained. ‘Trophy hunting, as well as other localised human activities, affected the distribution of elephant within sites, forcing them to trade-off between disturbance avoidance and good food and water availability.’ 

Selier’s study further highlighted the importance of socio-economic factors and confirmed that poverty was an important factor affecting elephant abundance at a country level and at a local level, anthropogenic disturbances (i.e. that caused or influenced by humans, such as increasing human densities) played a crucial role. 

As part of her research Selier explored the essential elements of organising wildlife law and policy at the trans-boundary level, by drawing on European experiences regarding the management of populations of gray wolf (Canis lupus) and of the pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus). 

This was followed by an analysis of applicable global, regional, trilateral and national law and policy as pertaining to Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and to what degree the trans-boundary population level approach has been incorporated in respective laws and policies. 

‘While at the international level, a significant body of law and policy relevant to elephant conservation exists, I found that there was little co-operation among Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe and a lack of implementation of these provisions on a national and trilateral level,’ she said. 

As well as suggesting a revision of the current hunting quotas within each country, Selier advocated the establishment of a single multi-jurisdictional (cross-border) management authority to regulate the hunting of elephant and other high value cross border species. In order to reduce the impact of increasing human populations and agricultural expansion, she recommended the development of co-ordinated legislation and policies to improve land use planning, and the development of conservation corridors to link current protected areas. 

‘Management of elephants is always contentious,’ said Professor Slotow. ‘When you add in three different countries, with different laws and approaches, the elephants are caught in the middle.’  Slotow said Selier approached a complex problem and broke it down into component parts, and used evidence to address the problem. 

‘Her various recommendations are robust and sound, and provide for a strong impetus towards a collective approach to management of trans-frontier areas.’ 

Slotow said Selier’s work provided a framework for engagement for the managers in the three countries involved.  ‘Her project leaves a strong legacy, which will improve the quality of conservation management in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe and may lead to persistence of elephants in this landscape.’ 

Selier thanked the numerous people who played an important role in her study, including the government of Botswana, everyone that participated in the total aerial counts that were conducted over a 12-year period, Mashatu Game Reserve, her parents and last but not least, her supervisors, ‘who patiently guided me and mentored me’. 

 Sally Frost


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Heather Prince is off to Princeton!

Heather Prince is off to Princeton!
MSc cum laude graduate, Ms Heather Prince is flanked by her father Colin and husband Andrew.

UKZN Astrophysics student Ms Heather Prince, who graduated with a Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics (cum laude), leaves for Princeton University in the United States soon to pursue a PhD in Astrophysics.

Prince’s lifelong passion for science and maths has resulted in her gaining entrance into one of the most prestigious universities in the world!

She matriculated at Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School in 2009 and was among the top 10 learners in the National Senior Certificate examinations. She completed a BSc degree at Rhodes University with distinctions in Physics and Mathematics before joining the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) at UKZN in 2013 for a BSc Honours degree.

Prince has worked diligently at her studies throughout her academic career and has received numerous awards including the Vincent Maphai Scholarship (awarded to the top-ranked master’s student at UKZN based on Honours results), the Rhodes University Foundation Scholarship (awarded to the top student graduating with a Bachelor’s degree from Rhodes University) and a bursary from the Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA) organisation.

Prince credits her master’s supervisor, Professor Kavilan Moodley, with being a huge source of support during her studies. She also expressed her gratitude to the SKA SA organisation for funding her research.

Prince believes her curious nature helped her succeed. ‘I chose astrophysics because it provides me with the satisfaction of finding solutions to unique problems. ‘I also enjoy being able to meet fascinating researchers and travelling,’ she said.

Prince leaves for Princeton University later in the year and on her return plans to follow a career in academia and research.

She had this advice for others wanting to follow her career path: ‘Choose an interesting topic. That will make the research much easier. You need to have a strong work ethic but also take time to relax!’

Strini Rajgopaul


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East Coast Algae Under the Microscope in Master’s Research

East Coast Algae Under the Microscope in Master’s Research
Ms Judie Magura, with her family, received an MSc in Chemistry cum laude.

Ms Judie Magura graduated with an MSc in Chemistry (cum laude) degree after investigating and analysing the biochemical properties of selected seaweeds from the east coast of South Africa. 

Magura assessed the toxicity risks associated with consumption of seaweed, with one of her notable findings being that consumption of edible seaweed Sargassum elegans could significantly increase dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic. Long-term exposure to arsenic can cause adverse health conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

Her study was not limited to one type of seaweed. Magura said it was interesting that although there were about 270 species along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, the average local she encountered was not aware of what seaweed was. 

Magura found that some species were highly nutritious, and hopes her research will add to the knowledge of the chemical composition and benefits of the seaweed. 

‘Judie is an extremely dedicated student who was steadfast in her commitment to achieving her master’s degree in the minimum possible time and with flying colours,’ said Dr Roshila Moodley. ‘As her supervisors, we are extremely proud of her.’ 

Magura hopes to pursue a career in laboratory research in the food or drug industry, and plans to study for her PhD. She was drawn to studying Chemistry because she found it a fascinating science that permeates everyday life. 

‘When frying an egg, Chemistry explains why the pan is non-stick; when washing clothes, Chemistry explains how the detergent cleans your clothes,’ said Magura. ‘To me, it is a science I can relate to because I can see it right in my home.’ 

Magura, originally from Zimbabwe, gave credit to her husband Joe and children Israel and Sophia for their love and support, and said her supervisors, Professor Sreekantha Jonnalagadda and Dr Moodley, and colleagues encouraged her throughout her research. 

A deeply spiritual person, Magura said that the Holy Spirit made her feel limitless in achieving her goals. She advised other students to set short-term goals and work hard to achieve them in order to do well.

Christine Cuénod


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Kashmeel Bisseru Graduates Top of his Chemical Engineering Class

Kashmeel Bisseru Graduates Top of his Chemical Engineering Class
Top student in the Discipline of Chemical Engineering and summa cum laude graduate Mr Kashmeel Bisseru.

Chemical Engineering student, Kashmeel Bisseru graduated summa cum laude, the only student in his class to achieve such honours. 

Bisseru developed a passion for engineering from a very young age and was determined his career would be in that field. 

‘From research I conducted in high school, I found that engineering in general was a degree that combined my aptitude for mathematics and scientific creativity into a comprehensive package,’ he said. ‘My choice of chemical engineering in particular, was that it unlocked several doorways allowing one access to a diverse number of industries.’ 

With his parents as his role models, Bisseru said that while the degree was tough he learned a lot about himself and is grateful for the experience.  Now he is looking forward to the world of work and gaining the necessary experience in the engineering industry.  

Playing and watching soccer helped Bisseru relax in between studying for the notoriously demanding degree.  He also set time aside to assist his younger brother, Nikyle, who registered for a Mechanical Engineering degree at UKZN this year.  Both brothers are former pupils of Durban High School and were Dux of the school and top achievers within KwaZulu-Natal for their matric exams.  

Prashina Budree


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Lecturer’s PhD Research Focuses on Factories of the Future

Lecturer’s PhD Research Focuses on Factories of the Future
UKZN Lecturer and Mechanical Engineering PhD graduate, Dr Shaniel Davrajh (left) with his supervisor Professor Glen Bright.

Lecturer Dr Shaniel Davrajh, who graduated with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, described the achievement as a ‘process of handling doubt’, while admitting it was not an easy task.  He says the excellent support structure he had during his studies helped him pull through.  

‘I have always been a practical person who loved solving problems, irrespective of their nature,’ said Davrajh. ‘Mechanical Engineering is the broadest field of Engineering and its application has always fascinated me.  I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of this field and chose to pursue postgraduate degrees.’ 

Davrajh said his degrees had forced his thinking capacity to evolve to a much more abstract level than industry would have required from him. 

Davrajh’s research, supervised by Professor Glen Bright and Professor Riaan Stopforth, examined the evolution of quality requirements for Factories of the Future (FOF), as a system of customers and manufacturers operating over the same set space, as opposed to previously distinct spaces. ‘Customers will require more input into a product design and will therefore have a direct effect on the layout of a manufacturing system,’ said Davrajh. ‘Manufacturers need to gain market share by giving customers exactly what they want whilst enabling feasible production of components.’ 

The deliverables of Davrajh’s research were tools used to determine what features needed inspection, namely, the inspection equipment, the optimal allocation of the inspection equipment, and the frequency of inspection within a FOF. ‘These tools can be implemented by a manufacturer in defending their market share by providing high quality products whilst keeping profit erosion to a minimum,’ he said. 

Many people served as role models for Davrajh during his studies, including his parents and professors.  

He advised aspiring mechanical engineers, to never give up: ‘Realise that it is you and only you who can control your path in life,’ he said. ‘Take responsibility for this path. If you want to be an engineer then behave like one.’   

Asked about his future plans, he said: ‘I want to increase my perception and push my potential to the highest level that is possible for me, no matter where I am.’

Prashina Budree


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Setting Trends in Construction

Setting Trends in Construction
Mr Neil Sirbadhoo graduated with an MSc degree in Construction Management.

Mr Neil Sirbadhoo graduated with a Master of Science degree in Construction Management after researching the impacts of implementing lean tools and techniques by construction project managers during the construction phase of public sector projects, which are aimed at achieving the successful delivery of the programme. 

Sibardhoo was supervised by Professor Theodore Haupt and Dr Nishani Harinarain. 

Why did he decide to pursue a postgraduate degree in Construction Management? ‘After completing my BSc (Hons) in Construction Management at UKZN in 2008, I published a number of research papers at peer-reviewed conferences around the globe. Owing to my passion for academic research I am always motivated to contribute to the academic body of knowledge. As a result and through the support of my supervisors Professor Haupt and Dr Harinarain, I decided to do an MSc in Construction Management.’ 

Sirbadhoo says his mother, Sherina, is his role model, always motivating him to excel in all aspects of his life.  He is currently employed by the LDM Group as a professionally registered Construction Project Manager. 

‘From a career perspective and as a young professional in the Built Environment, I want to start my own project management company in the near future. From an academic perspective, I would like to consider pursuing my PhD in a few years.’ 

Sirbadhoo says there are a variety of career options open to students in the built environment sector.  ‘Graduates can branch off into an array of available career paths relating to property, construction, quantity surveying and project management, to name a few,’ he said. 

‘As a professional who has been in the industry for 10 years, I believe the construction industry in South Africa is positive,’ said Sirbadhoo. ‘Whilst there are challenges in the public sector towards achieving targeted service delivery of planned construction projects, the public sector together with committed built environment professionals have made considerable improvements through the successful delivery of construction projects throughout the country.’ 

Prashina Budree


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Research on Embryonic Development of the Eye Leads to MSc

Research on Embryonic Development of the Eye Leads to MSc
MSc in Biology cum laude graduate, Ms Michel Bengston.

MSc in Biology cum laude graduate Ms Michel Bengston’s keen interest in genetics and molecular biology was ignited during biology lessons at Northlands Girls’ High School. 

This interest grew when she underwent spinal surgery on several occasions, including once while studying for her degree. 

In hospital, Bengston became intrigued by the work done in the medical field of laboratory diagnostics and genetics.  

This fascination spurred Bengston’s decision to pursue her master’s research in the laboratory of her supervisor, Dr Paula Sommer, with a project which involved creating a model of the embryonic development of the eye. 

Bengston mapped the expression of three key genes involved in the proper development of the eye. Her research output provided valuable insight into the molecular mechanisms required for normal eye development. 

‘My research allowed me to gain different skills while working in the laboratory in areas such as cell culture, animal work, gene and protein expression analyses, microscopy and cloning,’ said Bengston. ‘I am very thankful for the hands on experience I gained in Dr Sommer’s Biotechnology laboratory.’  

Bengston says her master’s experience was demanding but rewarding both personally and as a scientist. ‘It gave me the chance to work more independently in the laboratory and drive my research in the direction that interested me,’ she said. 

Her supervisor was full of praise for the cum laude student.  ‘Michel was a very hard working student who was an absolute pleasure to supervise,’ said Sommer. ‘She has gone on to pursue a PhD in The Netherlands.’ 

Bengston is registered for her PhD at the Delft University of Technology at the Kavli Institute of Nano-Biotechnology in The Netherlands working on the detection of infectious diseases using point of care diagnostics. She is confident that after her PhD studies abroad, she will return to South Africa to contribute to the wealth of knowledge in the field of molecular biology. 

PhD student and Bengston’s laboratory colleague, Ms Nimisha Singh, was equally complimentary:   ‘I first met Michel during her undergraduate studies in the capacity of a mentor during the practical components. From the start it was clear to see the determination, enthusiasm and passion Michel had for the Science field. Michel was always willing to seek advice from her colleagues to better herself and her knowledge in performing the role of a good scientist. 

‘I have been with Michel through all the hardships and rewards of research as well as her time during her second surgery. Even though she should have been resting, her drive for research was still there and was empowering her mind.’

Leena Rajpal


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Harmful Effects of Polluted Air on Young Children Assessed in Doctoral Thesis

Harmful Effects of Polluted Air on Young Children Assessed in Doctoral Thesis
Dr Siphiwe Gumede is congratulated by his supervisor, Professor Mike Savage.

A PhD degree in Environmental Science was awarded to Dr Siphiwe Gumede for his research on the potentially harmful effects suffered by young children who breathe in polluted air. 

Gumede’s study is the first to focus on the effects on the respiratory health of children aged between six and 12 who live within a 2km radius of Durban’s Bisasar Road landfill site, which is one of the biggest in Africa. 

‘I was interested in hearing the voices of the community which experiences the impact of the landfill site on a daily basis; voices of the sufferers which are often unheard,’ said Gumede. 

His interest in promoting social justice led him to do research among the most vulnerable in this community, the children who are susceptible to suffering as a result of particulate matter from the landfill. 

Gumede’s research revealed that in homes where fine particle concentration was high, most children reported respiratory health symptoms. Proximity to the landfill site placed children at greater risk of respiratory health conditions from wheezing and asthma to more serious conditions. 

This research re-emphasises the importance of establishing landfill sites away from communities to avoid negative repercussions. 

Gumede, who is Deputy Director and Senior Researcher of the Teaching and Learning Development Centre (TLDC) of the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban, completed his PhD part-time. 

He began his academic career with a National Diploma in Environmental Health, then later did a BTech, continuing to his master’s degree and PhD studies, which he believes are imperative for anyone considering work in academia. 

With his PhD complete, Gumede plans to write further articles for scientific journals and to do conference presentations, while continuing to promote justice. 

His supervisor, Professor Mike Savage of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, commended Gumede for the enormous effort he put into gathering and analysing as much information as possible to assess air quality and human health. 

Gumede thanked his family and Professor Savage for their support. 

Christine Cuénod


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Obsession with Gaming Led to Passion for Computers

Obsession with Gaming Led to Passion for Computers
Mr Andrew Clark’s obsession with gaming contributed to his study success - a summa cum laude BSc Honours degree in Computer Science.

From the age of five when his father walked in with an old computer, Mr Andrew Clark has been obsessed with games and intrigued by how they were made. That fascination with things electronic paid big dividends. 

After matriculating from Westville Boys High School, Clark registered for his Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Computer Science which he completed in record time, going on to be awarded a BSc Honours degree in Computer Science. 

‘After my undergraduate years, I felt I had only received the basics needed to survive in the real world. I heard that in Honours you could learn about more cutting-edge principles and even contribute somewhat to the field,’ said Clark. 

Clark’s Honours research focused on a practical method for real-time static gesture recognition for virtual reality environments. In simpler terms, his research focused on allowing a person wearing a virtual reality headset (example the Oculus Rift), to use their hands to interact with the world around them. ‘This provides a much more intuitive means to interact with objects, as opposed to using a keyboard and mouse,’ said Clark. 

Clark used a camera known as the Leap Motion Controller to capture key features about the user’s hands and using this data he had to make the computer recognise which particular gesture (i.e. a wave or thumbs up) was being made by the user. 

To make the computer recognise a gesture, he needed to use an algorithm that was both fast and simple, so that the user would not be able to perceive any delay when they were making gestures. He then decided to use the K-Nearest-Neighbour algorithm to do this, as it fitted the requirements. 

The outcome was a gesture recognition accuracy of 87.5%, and the classification process was so quick that it ran from start to finish in 0.057ms on average.  ‘A major part of this project was to create an interactive virtual world that users could control using gestures,’ he said. ‘The world in question placed the user in space, and they could use gestures to view data (such as temperature and luminosity) about the stars surrounding them. They could rotate the stars around, pull them in, push them away and rearrange them using gestures only. 

‘My honours studies in Computer Science can only be summed up as exciting and eye-opening,’ he said.   

Clark is now registered for a Master’s in Computer Science degree at UKZN during which he will expand his Honours research using several different combinations of algorithms to see which perform well in a given environment.   Clark’s outlook for mankind is succinct: ‘Virtual reality is the future!’ 

Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Dr Deshen Moodley, who supervised Clark’s Honours research, commented: ‘Andrew is one of the brightest students I have taught and supervised.  He has a passion for learning about 3D virtual reality environments and has followed through via his master’s research which is now on the brink of developing new technologies and solutions in this exciting area.’

Leena Rajpal


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UKZN’s First Woman Land Surveying PhD

UKZN’s First Woman Land Surveying PhD
UKZN Lecturer Dr Mayshree Bejaichand is the first female to be awarded a PhD in Land Surveying.

UKZN Lecturer Dr Mayshree Bejaichand is UKZN’s first woman to graduate with a PhD in Land Surveying and Mapping. 

Bejaichand thanked UKZN, the National Research Foundation and her various collaborators.  ‘I was fortunate to have been mentored by many kind and successful people throughout my career. My father was always hard working and believed that education and financial independence were very important in a woman’s life,’ said Bejaichand. 

‘A major part of my professional career was developed at the Council for Geoscience in Pretoria. My mentors guided me in the art of a successful project. I collaborated with many successful scientists who emphasised the need for quality in outputs and integrity in research.’ 

Supervised by Dr Molemwa Akombelwa, Bejaichand’s research focused on seismic sources, seismotectonics and earthquake recurrence for KwaZulu-Natal coastal regions. 

She developed a seismotectonic model for seismic hazard and risk assessments. The model, produced from an investigation of the earthquake record, the geological and geophysical environments and the structural regime, has increased resolution from previous studies and provides an important starting point for future higher resolution studies of seismic hazard and risk for critical structures such as bridges, dams and power plants. 

Bejaichand paid tribute to the support she received from her mother who died last year, and also other family members and friends. 

Bejaichand is keen to pursue her research further. ‘I want to increase the resolution of the seismotectonic model with an increased amount of geological, geodetic and geophysical field surveys. I would also like to create an automated process for the modelling itself. This work needs to be done in collaboration with stakeholders such as disaster management centres, engineers and municipalities in order to facilitate trans-disciplinary research and serve the needs of the community,’ said Bejaichand. 

Discussing her history-making achievement she said: ‘I have never considered that being a woman was a limitation. I believe that men and women have similar capabilities in the workplace. When we collaborate or interact on a research level one only looks at the capabilities and skills of the individual and not the gender.’ 

Bejaichand said while women were certainly under-represented in senior posts in the field, their numbers were growing.  ‘I still believe that in general women have more responsibilities, especially having to juggle family life and their career. At the same time attitudes are changing in terms of home responsibilities being shared and this is having a positive impact in the workplace.’

Prashina Budree


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UKZN Solar Car Stars Power through Master’s Degrees at CERN

UKZN Solar Car Stars Power through Master’s Degrees at CERN
Proud supervisor Dr Clinton Bemont (left) with Shuvay Singh and Peter Sinclair (right).

Mechanical Engineering students Mr Peter Sinclair and Mr Shuvay Singh powered through their MSc degrees in Mechanical Engineering, graduating with distinction after only a year! 

Singh graduated summa cum laude and Sinclair cum laude. 

Both completed their master’s research working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) situated at CERN in Switzerland.  CERN is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.  The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, the largest, most complex experimental facility ever built, and the largest single machine in the world. 

The duo had previously worked together on UKZN’s Solar Car project, iKlwa, which was the first South African entry home in the 2014 SA Solar Car Challenge and which successfully competed in the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge in Australia as the revamped Hulamin – the first time a South African team has entered this prestigious race. 

For their master’s research, Sinclair and Singh worked on designing components to install an upgraded version of the New Small Wheel (NSW), a large muon detector on the ATLAS experiment at CERN (ATLAS is one of seven particle detector experiments being undertaken). 

The principle difficulties lay in designing this process and its required components around very tight spaces available underground and the very small mechanical and thermal tolerances required by such sensitive equipment. 

Sinclair, who was supervised by Dr Clint Bemont, Dr Sahal Yacoob and Ms Kirsty Veale, was principally responsible for designing the assembly process, system and components for assembling the “wedge” sectors, as well as certain components that form part of the sectors.  Singh, who was supervised by Bemont and Yacoob, was responsible for similar aspects relating to the assembly of the complete NSW. 

Bemont was full of praise for both students and their excellent achievements: ‘I am very proud of my two ATLAS postgrads, who were lauded by our colleagues at CERN in Switzerland, and made a significant engineering contribution towards our understanding of the universe and experimental validation of the Standard Model in physics, the closest mankind has got to a “Theory of Everything”,’ he said. 

‘You might wonder how they achieved this in one year, while also being core members of UKZN’s 2015 World Solar Challenge team!’

Prashina Budree


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ECSA Award Goes to Summa Cum Laude Mechanical Engineer

ECSA Award Goes to <em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Mechanical Engineer
Mr Lance Oom received the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) award for the best Engineering student.

A stellar academic career, is how one would describe the achievements of Mr Lance Oom whilst at UKZN.  Oom graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering at the School of Engineering’s graduation ceremony. Oom was also announced as the proud recipient of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) award for best student in 2015. 

Upon entering UKZN in his first year of study, Oom received both the Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship and the LC Robinson Scholarship.  His love for Mathematics and Physics at secondary school level encouraged him to pursue an Engineering degree.  During his high school career Oom was always assisted by his uncle, who was his role model, on various projects and assignments.  Taking his lead from his uncle, a Chemical Engineer by profession, he decided to pursue an Engineering degree. 

He describes his journey while completing his degree as challenging yet rewarding.  ‘Graduating summa cum laude feels fantastic!’ said Oom.  

Oom is not lost to UKZN as he is now pursuing his Master’s degree in Mechanical engineering. 

Prashina Budree  


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CEO of Engineering Council of South Africa Inspires New Generation of Graduating Engineers

CEO of Engineering Council of South Africa Inspires New Generation of Graduating Engineers
Mr Sipho Madonsela, CEO of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) was the guest speaker at UKZN’s School of Engineering Graduation ceremony.

Mr Sipho Madonsela, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) since October 2014, was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony of UKZN’s School of Engineering. As a mechanical engineering alumni of the university, it was fitting that Madonsela could share his experience and advice with the newest generation of aspiring Engineers. 

‘We as ECSA wish to congratulate the UKZN Engineering class of 2015 for successfully completing your degrees and diplomas as required by the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science,’ he said. ‘I am always elated as I notice that there is a concerted effort, as is the case here today, to advance engineering education in theory and in practice.’ 

Madonsela quoted Prakhar Srivastav who said:  ‘Engineering is not just the study of 45 subjects, but is the moral study of intellectual life.’  Madonsela told his audience that this meant that whilst bringing economic benefits, engineering activity has potential adverse consequences and must therefore be carried out responsibly and ethically. 

‘As a graduand in the engineering field, you are moral beings and therefore should learn to use available resources efficiently and economically, safeguard health and safety and be environmentally sound. This is a practical expression of an “intellectual life.”’ 

Madonsela is a former Executive Chairman of Emzansi Engineers, a multidisciplinary engineering firm which he founded and has managed for over 16 years. His core disciplines include roads infrastructure, water applications, steam application, materials and transportation handling, air-conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration, pumping applications and general industrial services. 

Mandonsela has a wealth of management experience in the engineering discipline including corporate governance, strategy and strategic leadership. For the duration of his career life, Madonsela has continued to prove his leadership prodigy within several portfolios in the South African engineering landscape. 

UKZN’s School of Engineering conferred an impressive 397 degrees, including 18 PhDs and covering the disciplines of Chemical, Mechanical, Civil, Electrical, Electronic, Computer and Agricultural Engineering, as well as Land Surveying, Construction and Property Development. 

Sally Frost


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Hard Work Overcomes Obstacles

Hard Work Overcomes Obstacles
Mr Denver Naidoo received his BSc in Applied Chemistry in record time.

With hard work and determination, even the toughest obstacles can be overcome. 

Mr Denver Naidoo was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Chemistry at a graduation ceremony of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science held at the Westville campus. 

Naidoo’s achievement can by placed squarely at the door of tenacious purpose and commitment. 

A NSFAS (financial aid) student, Naidoo’s father specifically requested his employer at the clothing factory where he works to increase his hours – until 22h00 – so that he could pay his son’s registration fees and part of his tuition.  Naidoo also worked in the Verulam market to supplement his income whilst studying. 

‘Denver is a student with extra-ordinary motivation and focus,’ said UKZN staff member, Mrs Anitha Ramiah.  Despite severe financial hardship, Naidoo still managed to complete his three year degree in the stipulated time. 

Naidoo hopes that with a degree behind him he will be better placed to pay back those who helped him and support his ailing parents. 

Sally Frost


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Summa Cum Laude Graduate has Computing in his Blood

<em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Graduate has Computing in his Blood
Mr Brandon Koekemoer is congratulated by Professor Ross Robinson on the conferment of his BSc Honours degree in Computer Science summa cum laude.

Mr Brandon Koekemoer’s passion for computers started at the tender age of four after which he was captivated whenever his father added new hardware to their system. 

‘I would sit and stare, trying to figure out how it all worked,’ said Koekemoer. Soon he owned his own computer and there was no looking back after that. 

‘It became a dream of mine to fully understand computers and design different software applications that would impress other people,’ said Koekemoer. 

Koekemoer registered at UKZN to study a BSc in Computer Science after matriculating from Queensburgh High School and then went on to his Honours degree. ‘The whole idea of working with new technology and exploring something I hadn’t seen before was fascinating,’ he said. 

Koekemoer’s Honours research involved exploring path finding algorithms while working with new technologies. The research involved designing and building a lego robot using a Lego Mindstorms Kit. Thereafter the robot had to be programmed to be able to move around and deliver ‘packages’ on a rectangular grid. New packages could arrive while the robot was doing the deliveries, and then the robot would have to go back to the start and pick up the new packages. This required the robot to recalculate the best paths multiple times to save on costs. 

The bulk of the research was exploring different path finding algorithms i.e. discovering techniques to find the shortest path to deliver all the packages in a reasonable amount of time. ‘We had briefly discussed the different types of algorithms in lectures before, and finally being able to properly research them was mind blowing,’ he said. 

Ms Rosanne Els, a Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science and Koekemoer’s Honours project supervisor, said: ‘Brandon clearly has a passion for programming. It was a pleasure to supervise him.’ 

Koekemoer was equally complimentary. ‘Ms Els was incredibly helpful with my Honours project and made it a very enjoyable experience for me.’ 

Koekemoer also acknowledged his family and friends for their complete support and encouragement throughout his academic years. 

Currently Koekemoer is working for ThoroughTec Technologies in Umhlanga. His plan is to gain a few years’ experience before returning to study part-time for his master’s degree. ‘My ultimate goal is to eventually achieve my Doctorate in Computer Science,’ he said.

Leena Rajpal


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Female Scientist’s Star Shines Brightly

Female Scientist’s Star Shines Brightly
With her proud parents as her biggest fans, Astrophysicist Dr Kenda Knowles already has a string of prestigious awards under her belt.

A fascination with the night sky led UKZN PhD graduate Dr Kenda Knowles to pursue astronomy as a career.

The former Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School student studied BSc and BSc Honours degrees at UKZN, achieving them both summa cum laude. She then studied for a Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics at the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU) at UKZN, which was later upgraded to a PhD.

Knowles’s academic career consists of ground-breaking work, such as being part of an international team of astronomers which determined the distribution of dark matter in a galaxy cluster using data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Her PhD research included a paper that she led as first author, on the discovery of a new radio halo in a galaxy cluster. The paper has been accepted for publication in an international peer-reviewed astronomy journal. In addition, Knowles has received bursaries from the Square Kilometre Array South Africa project, won in the Doctoral Fellowship category at the 2015 Women in Science Awards and was selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany last year, where she engaged with other leading young international scientists.

‘Research is a long, hard journey but with a lot of great times thrown in for good measure. It’s incredibly worth it in the end,’ said Knowles. ‘I was motivated to work hard because of the pride my family, specifically my Grandad, had in me. I wanted to make sure I finished my PhD while he was still around to see it. I also received a great deal of support from my best friend (and fellow PhD student) Susan Wilson, and my supervisor Professor Kavilan Moodley, who was always willing to advise me and help me get back on track when I faced an obstacle.’

Knowles is currently a Claude Leon Postdoctoral Fellow based at ACRU. She is working with data from the MUSTANG telescope, which will allow researchers to study the behaviour of gas within galaxy clusters. She hopes to work with the SKA SA project in the future.

Strini Rajgopaul


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Banana Bat Takes Centre Stage in PhD Thesis

Banana Bat Takes Centre Stage in PhD Thesis
Supervisors Professor Corrie Schoeman and Dr Dalene Vosloo were full of praise for Samantha Naidoo (centre), who received her PhD in Biology.

Newly-capped PhD graduand, Dr Samantha Naidoo, has always been fascinated by the remarkable life that has evolved on earth and this led to her doctorate in Biology, focusing on the the effect of wastewater treatment works on the foraging ecology, haematology, detoxification organs and reproduction in an urban adapter – the Banana Bat (Neoromicia nana).

‘Studying biology has helped me to understand the natural world we live in, and the processes that govern it,’ said Naidoo. ‘To a biologist, there are interesting traits to study in every organism. My special interest in bats, however, was sparked during my first field encounter with them. In particular, I was interested in the physiology of bats and their capacity to cope with environmental stress.’

Naidoo explained that despite all the myth and bad press that surrounds bats, they play a vital role in providing ecosystem services and also exhibit unique adaptations such as true flight and echolocation which make them ideal models for scientific study.

Naidoo’s research was multidisciplinary and produced interesting findings at various levels. ‘Wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) provide profitable foraging areas for insectivorous bats because of particularly high abundances of pollution-tolerant insect prey,’ she said. ‘The bats feeding on these insects, however, may also accumulate pollutants in their tissues. Wastewater pollutants are not only affecting the ecology and foraging behaviour of the species but are also causing sub-lethal physiological damage, which includes high DNA damage, whole organ effects, and reproductive impacts.

‘My research results suggest the potential for serious long-term health risks, negative fitness implications and ultimately, population effects for these top predators,’ said Naidoo. ‘These are worrying results, as anthropogenic pollution sources such as WWTWs, are ubiquitous within the urban landscape.’

Naidoo said various organisms, including humans, may be exposed to these pollutants. She hopes her research will highlight the consequences of urbanisation and its associated anthropogenic pollution on ecosystems and the environment.

‘Samantha’s research has resulted in three publications in high-impact journals, with a fourth manuscript currently under review,’ said her supervisor, Professor Corrie Schoeman of UKZN’s School of Life Sciences. ‘One of the thesis examiners predicted that these papers would have a major impact in the field of environmental health and toxicology for wildlife and be cited for decades. 

‘I rank Samantha in the top 2% of undergraduate and postgraduate students that I have taught and advised,’ said Schoeman. ‘She has become an expert in an impressive number of field and laboratory skills, and is one of the few scientists who enjoys and excels applying multi-disciplinary approaches to solve research questions. 

‘Most importantly, she has incredible passion, and routinely demonstrated the perseverance and initiative needed in the field and in the lab to succeed,’ said Schoeman. ‘I predict that Samantha will have an exceptionally successful career as a Biologist.’ 

Co-supervisor, Dr Dalene Vosloo, agreed.  ‘All three of Samantha’s examiners were complimentary about her study and recommended her thesis be accepted without change which is a further indication of her passion for and dedication towards her research.’  

Naidoo thanked both Schoeman and Vosloo. ‘They provided invaluable input and guidance during my postgraduate career,’ she said. ‘They equipped me with all the necessary skills to succeed in my future career, and I feel privileged to have been mentored by them.’  Naidoo also thanked her parents for their love and constant support during her studies. 

Naidoo chose to study at UKZN as the School of Life Sciences offered modules and research topics that specifically cater for her interests spanning biochemistry to cellular, organismal, population and community ecology. ‘During my time at UKZN, I have interacted with great thinkers and these interactions inspired me to answer interesting and topical research questions,’ said Naidoo. 

‘I was able to answer these questions using the excellent facilities and equipment available to me at the University.’  Naidoo also enjoyed the chance to teach and communicate her knowledge to others, to give public talks and to present her research at local and international conferences. 

Naidoo has recently started a joint postdoctoral Fellowship under the supervision of Professor Andrew McKechnie at the University of Pretoria, and Professor Antoinette Kotze at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa. Her postdoctoral research will focus on thermal tolerance and phenotypic flexibility in bats, investigating their capacity to cope with heat stress. 

In her spare time, Naidoo enjoys art and music – ‘which has probably helped in developing my scientific thinking,’ she said. ‘Contrary to the popular notion that science is a rigid discipline, it is by far one of the most creative and beautiful subjects, and is interlinked with all aspects of life.’ 

Sally Frost 


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Top Achieving Trio

Top Achieving Trio
The top-achieving trio, BSc summa cum laude graduates (from left) Ms Kajal Reedoy, Ms Shinese Ashokcoomar and Ms Jananee Padaychee.

Leading the way in the 2015 class of Bachelor of Science graduates in the Life and Earth Sciences (LES) stream were Ms Kajal Reedoy, Ms Shinese Ashokcoomar and Ms Jananee Padaychee who all received BSc degrees (Genetics and Microbiology) summa cum laude

‘It feels surreal to graduate summa cum laude,’ said Ashokcoomar.   ‘I still can’t believe that I have achieved this. I’m glad all my hard work has paid off – it’s truly an elated feeling!’  

Reedoy agreed.  ‘Seeing the words “Degree Completed - Summa Cum Laude” after my third-year final exams brought about an indescribable feeling of exhilaration, relief and gratitude.’ 

Ashokcoomar said practicals were the most interesting part of her degree and helped a lot in understanding theory. ‘The pracs intrigued me and it made studying theory worthwhile. It was nice to see how what I learned could be applied practically and in the real world.’ 

Reedoy says studying Microbiology and Genetics has broadened her perspectives as a young scientist. ‘Merely learning about the ways in which such minute organisms impact the human population globally has kept me captivated, intrigued and wanting to know more,’ she said. 

Padayachee said what she enjoyed most was learning about techniques such as RNA interference and genome editing, that could be used to help cure diseases and disorders. 

While Ashokcoomar and Reedoy are currently continuing with their Honours degrees in medical microbiology, Padayachee has opted to specialise in genetics.  

All three had advice for students keen to be high achievers:  ‘Set reasonable short term goals and make sure you do whatever is required to achieve them,’ said Ashokcoomar. ‘Don’t procrastinate because the work will just pile up and you’ll end up more stressed than you were originally. Manage your time efficiently and make sacrifices if necessary because they will eventually pay off.  Surround yourself with people who help you grow and push you to achieve your full potential.’ 

Said Padayachee: ‘Stay organised and plan ahead. Finish assignments and reports in advance, so you don’t get stressed by the due date, and have enough time to study for tests.’ 

‘The key to getting anywhere in life is to love and enjoy what you do,’ advised Reedoy. ‘As a young scientist, be passionate, ask questions, but most importantly take time to understand everything around you. Never stop challenging yourself; you will be surprised at what you are capable of.’ 

The three top achievers thanked their parents, family and close friends as well as their lecturers in UKZN’s School of Life Sciences. 

Sally Frost

 


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