Waste and Resources Management Expert Among UKZN’s Newest Fellows

Waste and Resources Management Expert Among UKZN’s Newest Fellows
UKZN Fellow, Professor Cristina Trois.

Professor Cristina Trois, South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Waste and Climate Change and interim Acting Director of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development (WASH R&D) Centre, was awarded a UKZN Fellowship during the Autumn Graduation ceremonies.

Fellowship of the University is awarded to professors or senior professors in recognition of distinguished academic achievement and the production of high-quality scholarly work that demonstrates originality and creativity.

Trois, UKZN’s first female Dean of the School of Engineering, has been at the University for more than 20 years, making considerable contributions to research and teaching in environmental and sanitation engineering. Over the past two decades she has been the principal investigator and project co-ordinator of a variety of feasibility and R&D waste management projects with municipalities in South Africa and Africa.

The C1 National Research Foundation (NRF)-rated researcher has authored more than 150 publications in high-impact journals and books focused on aspects of environmental and geo-engineering, waste and climate change in sustainable cities, waste and resources management, control, management and treatment of landfill emissions, renewable energy from waste and greenhouse gas control from zero waste in Africa and developing countries, and alternative building materials.

Trois has supervised more than 120 postgraduate students and scholars, developed and co-ordinates the first Master’s Programme in Waste and Resources Management in South Africa, and through her SARChI Chair leads a dynamic research group that specialises in waste and climate change in sustainable African cities; waste and resources management; control, management and treatment of landfill emissions; renewable energy from waste; and climate change mitigation through zero waste in Africa and developing countries.

Trois has driven innovations in waste management, waste minimisation, waste to energy projects, and wastewater engineering and treatment with municipalities in South Africa. She developed the WROSETM Model, an innovative decision-making tool for local authorities, and advises on waste management strategies and waste to energy projects of international governments. She uses her experience to advise national and local government and the private sector on their waste management strategies.

She also works on several international research teams, including chairing the southern Africa region for the International Waste Working Group (IWWG) and the United Nations International Partnership for advancing waste management services of local authorities, and has collaborators in Italy, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, France and Switzerland. Trois is an editor and reviewer for numerous journals and institutions, and a Fellow of the Global Engineering Dean’s Council and active member of the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa, the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management in the United Kingdom and the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies.

Trois has established multi-disciplinary research centres and laboratories to focus on environmental engineering research, and developed initiatives that encourage the participation of women and young girls in science and engineering.

Originally from Sardinia, Trois completed her studies in Environmental Engineering at Cagliari University in Italy, graduating summa cum laude. She is a registered professional engineer in the country, and her achievements led to conferment of the title of Dame of the Italian Republic (Order of the Star of Italy) by the President of the Italian Republic for her outstanding contribution to the development of research and human capital in Africa.

Trois has won recognition in South Africa for her efforts - she was a first runner-up for a Department of Science and Innovation Women in Science Award in 2016 and is a Fellow of the South African Academy of Engineers and a Member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Distinguished Teachers’ Award for Acclaimed Chemical Engineer

Distinguished Teachers’ Award for Acclaimed Chemical Engineer
Distinguished Teacher, Professor David Lokhat is congratulated by Acting Chancellor, Professor Albert Modi.

Receiving a Distinguished Teachers’ Award (DTA) from UKZN is a career highlight for Associate Professor and Academic Leader in Chemical Engineering Professor David Lokhat as it acknowledges the years of hard work and dedication he has put into honing his teaching skills.

Lokhat says he knew engineering was the career for him from childhood. ‘I always enjoyed discovering how things worked and was fascinated by phenomena such as electricity, motion and the phases of matter.’

The Durban local chose to study at the then University of Natal, with his first choice of Chemical Engineering being arbitrary, but leading him into a vocation that has brought fulfilment.

In his final year of undergraduate studies, he visited the Lódz University of Technology in Poland as part of an industry-supported project that cemented his passion for research and paved the way for master’s studies under the supervision of Professor Matthew Starzak at UKZN - he graduated cum laude.

His PhD at UKZN won him awards and a patent for a new process he developed with his supervisors.

In 2013 he joined the staff of UKZN as a lecturer in Chemical Engineering and has developed his research focus in catalysis and chemical reaction engineering, work which is aimed at developing new materials and technologies for sustainable and efficient chemical processing. He specifically works on process intensification in reactor technology to develop and apply advanced materials for more efficient, environmentally benign reaction and separation systems for process industries.

Lokhat’s research is especially applicable to the fields of energy and water, and he advances his research as head of the Reactor Technology Research Group and as an associate member of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development (WASH R&D) Centre.

He has received several accolades, including the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE) Innovation Award for outstanding and innovative contributions to the profession or industry, and a Royal Academy of Engineering Leader in Innovation Fellowship for his research. He was inaugurated as a member of the South African Young Academy of Science in 2021 and is a rated scientist with the National Research Foundation.

He is also president of the SAIChE, and an editor for the South African Journal of Chemical Engineering.

At UKZN, Lokhat has twice been among the top 10 young published researchers and received the College of Agriculture Engineering and Science Distinguished Teachers’ Award in 2017, having received the Best Lecturer Award for the Discipline of Chemical Engineering from the School of Engineering for five consecutive years prior to that.

He has supervised seven doctoral students and 24 master’s students to graduation, and has 57 journal papers, 13 peer-reviewed conference papers and 11 book chapters to his name, in addition to having edited a book.

Teaching forms a vital component of Lokhat’s work as he transfers knowledge to the next generation. His lectures have an intentionally conversational flow and he links the concepts and ideas he is introducing to those students that will already be familiar with, thereby expanding on their established understanding.

He grounds his lessons in global perspectives and the skills required of professional engineers, equipping students with techniques and methods and facilitating their learning.

‘The greatest teacher is the one you never knew you had!’ said Lokhat.

‘The main goal of my teaching is to prepare students for lifelong learning, to instil in them the enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge, to help them evolve into self-creating, self-determining authors of their own lives. Having this goal in mind makes the task of teaching Chemical Engineering much easier,’ he said.

Lokhat is elated and humbled at the recognition, saying the award was one that was truly special.

‘Seeing my students grow in knowledge, confidence and strength to take on the challenges that our country faces is the greatest reward - I feel pride in playing a role in students’ development from grade school to graduate,’ he said.

Coming out of a global pandemic that transformed aspects of teaching and learning, Lokhat sees opportunities for curriculum development, teaching innovations and technological advancement in new online or hybrid teaching arrangements, which he believes will remain an integral part of teaching and learning strategies going forward.

‘I found relevance in the use of Problem- and Project-based learning approaches and corresponding methods of instruction in my design-based modules and piloted a new peer-to-peer bonus system, which leverages the knowledge-sharing potential of the student network,’ said Lokhat.

For chemical engineering, where process industries are increasingly digitised, new methods of learning and assessment will advance rapidly and, says Lokhat, should be embraced to maintain quality and integrity.

His journey to becoming a distinguished teacher has been guided by the input of Starzak as his mentor, colleague Professor Indresan Govender, and his students who he thanked for the influence they had on his development.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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African Cities of the Future Explored in Doctoral Research

African Cities of the Future Explored in Doctoral Research
Dr Antonio Blanco-Montero at his graduation (left) and on site with UKZN Engineering students.

Dr Antonio Blanco-Montero - a Spanish national resident in South Africa since 2014 - has been awarded a PhD in Civil Engineering from UKZN for his thesis which focused on the development of an integrated model for urban sustainable resilience through smart city projects in the southern African context.

Blanco-Montero was supervised by SARChI Chair for Waste and Climate Change Professor Cristina Trois, Dr Claudia Loggia and Dr Vittorio Tramontin.

‘Antonio sought to identify sustainable ways for long-term implementation of up-to-date technologies in southern African cities for an effective leapfrog that can bring them up to current standards without losing local references,’ said Trois. ‘His original contribution identified gaps in the methodological approach in transitioning from a typical southern African city to a sustainably resilient one through smart initiatives, using the case study of the Umgeni River catchment in Durban.

‘I am particularly proud as Antonio is the first PhD graduate under the flagship programme “African City of the Future”.’ 

Blanco-Montero was an experienced professional architect when he arrived in South Africa. ‘I felt I needed to get back into academia and get in touch with avant-garde thinking and cutting-edge approaches to problem-solving,’ he said, referring to his decision to register for a PhD at UKZN.

‘I also wanted to understand a social environment that was completely new to me. South Africa has very little in common with the European realities that I was used to. I thought the best way to immerse myself fully in this new world was through a PhD. And if I had any doubt about kicking it off, Professor Cristina Trois pushed me into the unknown with her cheering and positive spirit, and it all started.’

Blanco-Montero’s research aimed to determine the capabilities of southern Africa’s urban environments to embrace policy-making, projects and initiatives on smart cities that tackled specific regional issues, specifically related to social and environmental matters.

His critical analysis of historical and recent theories and findings on Smart City concepts and models examined two components: ‘Firstly, the understanding of the meaning of “smartness” by extracting a taxonomy of the concept “Smart City” from the scientific literature; and secondly, the identification of the main features, barriers and challenges of urban environments in the southern African context through the review of recent reports published by international organisations working actively in the African continent.’

Blanco-Montero said countries in southern Africa showed similarities in the urban realm. His research identified sustainable ways for ‘an effective leapfrog that would bring southern Africa up to nowadays standards without losing local references.

‘It is important to strengthen the link between common features for a better understanding of the region and a better rating on the feasibility of future projects,’ he said.

‘Africa is considered the last frontier of development. Looking at the future of African cities may be key to understanding urban synergies that have an impact on future generations. I find the sub-Saharan region interesting, particularly southern Africa due to its common history and lack of urban heritage as we know it in the Mediterranean basin,’ said Blanco-Montero.

The research undertaken acknowledged the reality of the southern African urban realm as it is.

‘During the process, I have found that many narratives of development overlook localities due to the ambition to catch up and become a modern society,’ said Blanco-Montero. ‘Top-down imported solutions clash with the social fabric, leading to an inefficient use of resources.’

‘The unveiling and understanding of the needs of African people in urban environments today is as important for development as the knowledge of the latest technologies available. There are opportunities of leapfrogging for southern Africa to achieve sustainable cities.

‘I think my research underlines the need for inclusion in our cities, by considering all members of society as key actors in the planning of sustainably resilient cities in southern Africa.’

Whilst Blanco-Montero would like to stay in the Higher Education academic and research space in South Africa, red tape regarding the employment of foreign nationals poses a challenge. He is therefore looking at either pursuing an academic career elsewhere, or engaging with organisations with a strong research component, in both cases focused on urban issues in developing countries, ideally in sub-Saharan Africa.

He paid tribute to his parents: ‘When looking at the Global North from southern Africa, it is easy to be misled by the high rate of college graduates in Europe. In reality, we are only one generation apart. My father, similar to the majority of people of his age, is a first-generation graduate in the family, much the same as about 80% of South African university students.

‘He understood the power of education to provide a better life for the next generation as well as making an impact on the evolution of society.

‘I also have a very supportive mother, who understood that I had to leave my comfort zone to experience personal and professional growth.’

Blanco-Montero thanked his life partner, Ms Khayakazi Matangana, who he said played a crucial role during the difficulties of finishing a thesis during COVID-19 ‘I know that I would be still struggling in front of the computer if it wasn’t for her support.’

After nine years as a resident in South Africa, Blanco-Mantero offered his impression of the country: ‘I see South Africa as one of the most beautiful places in the world. I have experienced extreme events, good and bad. In the early stages of my research, I realised that my thesis could contribute to help this place to be where it deserves: a world reference where nature encounters cities in exemplary ways; and where a plural society finds and defines places for understanding. My wish is for South Africa to become that place.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photographs: Rajesh Jantilal and Supplied


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Graduate Aiming for a Career in Building Bridges

Graduate Aiming for a Career in Building Bridges
Dr Ganiyat Salawu with her children, from left: AbdulMalik, Toyeeb, AbdulHazeem and Waliyullahi.

The impact of disruptive technology on the manufacturing process and productivity in an advanced-manufacturing environment was the focus of a study which secured Dr Ganiyat Salawu a PhD in Engineering.

Salawu - who wants to be a bridge builder - completed most of her school and tertiary education in Nigeria where she attained a Higher Diploma in Mechanical Engineering, a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education in 2010.

She started work in 2013 as a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic Offa in Kwara, Nigeria, continuing her studies and being awarded a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2015.

The desire to gain more knowledge led to her starting doctoral studies at UKZN in 2018 under the supervision of Professor Glen Bright.

‘Studying at UKZN gave me the rare opportunity to develop highly valued skills and get experience with new equipment and new research methods. UKZN has a reputation for cutting-edge research and learning,’ said Salawu.

Her research focused on Advanced Manufacturing, with the spotlight on the impact of robots as a disruptive technology in an advanced manufacturing environment.

Robots were used in her study to carry out a “pick and place” task in a virtual manufacturing environment. Salawu said if managed appropriately the “pick and place” strategy assists manufacturers obtain an efficient system with a higher throughput rate.

The selected manufacturing scenario studied used classical mathematical models. ‘These models were analysed using related mathematical expressions, and simulated using MATLAB to obtain results that were represented graphically. Outcomes from the graphical presentation showed the suggested models can be useful and implemented when the throughput rate of a manufacturing process is required to be improved,’ she said.

‘Suitable equations were developed to obtain an efficient throughput rate. Furthermore, the design parameters of a conveyor system were modelled and simulated to determine the best working parameters to be considered when designing a conveyor system for optimal throughput.

‘Further research was conducted to manipulate the robotic arm to determine the best angle of pick and place giving the highest throughput rate. From the studies, it was discovered that when the robot arm (manipulator) is allowed to be at an angle of 88 degrees, the efficiency would be higher and the throughput rate increased.’

Salawu’s research will help companies to find suitable solutions to manufacturing problems in terms of quality and efficiency. Disruptive technologies can be optimised to benefit both the business world and society, enabling business and technology leaders to build new markets for technologies and products.

With motivation and support from Bright, Salawu was able to publish five journal papers between July 2018 and November 2020 and presented at four conferences. Additionally, she tutored in the Discipline of Mechanical Engineering at UKZN.

Salawu faced many challenges, including being a widow and a mother of four children at the age of 30, meaning that she had to cope with the challenges of bringing up her young ones on very little income with the help of their aged grandmother.

Life was hard but she managed to achieve her goal of graduating with a PhD and is now proud to be working full-time in Nigeria. She says she knows her family are also proud of her achievements.

Said Bright. ‘Ganiyat has been amazing and has grown so much as a researcher. Her family and country can be very proud of her.’

Salawu - who thanked Bright for providing her with all the guidance and support she needed to succeed in the PhD programme - is now working in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Federal Polytechnic Offa in Nigeria.

She hopes to become a ‘bridge builder, and an academic-cum-industrialist par excellence’!

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Olanrewaju-OluwaToyin


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Method Used by Retail Outlets to Store Amadumbe Focus of Master’s Degree Study

Method Used by Retail Outlets to Store <em>Amadumbe</em> Focus of Master’s Degree Study
Mr Demian Mukansi graduated with an MSc degree in Agricultural Engineering cum laude.

Research into the conditions under which retailers store amadumbe secured Mr Demian Mukansi an MSc degree in Agricultural Engineering cum laude.

Mukansi’s research involved studying the effect of different storage conditions on the quality of amadumbe corms (Colocasia esculenta) as well as flours and starches extracted from stored quantities of the vegetable.

Statistics on food losses and scarcity in Africa motivated Mukansi to pursue the research to find ways to reduce food losses.

Mukansi says he found that the current storage method used by retail outlets to store amadumbe leads to excessive quality losses. He therefore recommends that storage of the vegetable for long periods should be at high chill temperatures.

After matriculating from Volkrust High School, Mukansi completed an Agricultural Engineering degree at UKZN - the only institution offering such a degree accredited by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).

Supervised by Professor Tilahun Seyoum Workneh, he went on to complete his Master’s degree in Agricultural Engineering, expanding his expertise in food related work.

During his postgraduate studies, Mukansi was elected as the College Representative of Agriculture, Engineering and Science on the Pietermaritzburg campus in 2020 and 2021. ‘Considering the fact that this was during the time where we had COVID-19 restrictions, leading students was very challenging and we had to adapt and be dynamic in our approach as student leaders,’ he said.

‘My story goes against the narrative that student leaders don’t do well academically, or that you can’t be a Science student and be involved in student governance,’ he said. ‘I do encourage every student who wants to serve through governance to do so without any fear because it’s possible to excel in both. But always remember that your primary focus should be learning or research.’

Mukansi won the Engineering Industry Impact Award and was placed second in the Best Oral Presentation section at the 2021 Postgraduate Research and Innovative Symposium (PRIS).

Mukansi thanked God, ‘who I believe has blessed me with knowledge of all kinds of literature’ and his family and friends for supporting him during his academic journey. He also thanked his Science teacher at Volksrust High School, Ms M Smit, for her assistance and support. ‘Growing up I wasn’t the smartest kid around, so I will forever be grateful to her for motivating me from being a 50% student in Grade 9 to an A student in matric. It was this inspiration that changed my academic journey.’

Mukansi is now busy reading for his PhD at UKZN. ‘The next time I share my story I will be wearing a red gown as I am now busy with doctoral research into floods,’ he said.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Passion for Plant Science Drives PhD Graduate

Passion for Plant Science Drives PhD Graduate
Dr Bonga Ngcobo celebrates with his aunts, Petronella Ngcobo (left) and Tholakele Jili.

Dr Bonga Ngcobo is the proud holder of a PhD in Horticultural Science after developing new combinations of pre- and post-harvest treatments, which he says could form part of a green economy in South Africa and help poor rural households and subsistence farmers achieve greater food security.

The innovative and environmentally friendly practices Ngcobo developed as part of his studies involve using Moringa oleifera, a versatile tree native to northern India, as a treatment to enhance the quality and yield of nightshade crops. By applying moringa extracts directly to the soil or leaves of crops, Ngcobo says he found that small-scale farmers could cultivate healthy, saleable produce on a relatively small piece of land.

He also proved that the combination of foliar moringa application with fertiliser reduces the amount of fertiliser necessary to produce high-quality capsicum pepper fruit.

Ngcobo’s method to extract the moringa phytochemicals involved using hot water, making it an accessible and environmentally friendly solvent for subsistence and poor farmers in rural areas who would benefit from chemical-free protocols using only plant compounds.

Ngcobo said his research further revealed a new pattern of lighting technology, using various LED (light-emitting diodes) wavelengths to improve the quality of fruit and vegetable crops grown in a controlled environment.

‘I learned a lot during my PhD and mastered techniques that are relevant to research. I am willing to learn more and work with other researchers to progress and build a brighter future for generations to come,’ he said.

Supervised by Professor Isa Bertling and Professor Alistair Clulow, Ngcobo received several awards for his research including the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) Young Minds Award for the best poster presentation at the Second International Symposium on Moringa; an award for the best Horticultural Science PhD paper presented at the Combined Congress of three agricultural societies, and the ISHS Professor Jens Wünsche Young Minds Award for the best poster presentation at the VIII International Symposium on Fruit and Vegetable Effects on Human Health.

He also won a Three Minute Thesis Competition in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) and second prize for his oral presentation in the PhD category at UKZN’s 2020 Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium. His research has been published in various peer-reviewed journals and as conference proceedings.

Despite challenges that included delays and the need to repeat experiments due to COVID-19 regulations and ageing laboratory instruments, Ngcobo completed his PhD in three years.

‘If you are passionate about your research, you find a way to overcome any challenges,’ said Ngcobo.

He hopes his research findings will contribute to addressing issues faced by both commercial and small-scale farmers in rural areas, in particular advancing the skills of smallholder farmers and the sustainable production of food.

Originally from Ncwadi in KwaZulu-Natal, Ngcobo spent part of his childhood in Elandskop and developed a love of agriculture while assisting his late grandmother to take care of a small vegetable garden at home, benefitting from her indigenous knowledge. He selected science and agricultural subjects in high school, and chose to study horticultural science to further his understanding of the complexities of plant growth and development.

Ngcobo completed both his BScAgric and MScAgric at UKZN, receiving a distinction for his BSc project and graduating cum laude with his MSc which he completed in a year. He found doing all of his degrees at UKZN ‘a joy’, believing that studying at a research-driven institution with a reputation for academic excellence provided him with a competitive edge.

Ngcobo is a keen soccer player, and was actively involved with UKZN’s soccer club as an executive member, coach and player in the campus league.

Ngcobo, a tutor and voluntary assistant to other students during his studies, plans to become an academic and wants to get involved in activities to help eradicate hunger through the sustainable production of food.

Currently part of the Kgotsofalang Farms and Projects CC which uses available land in KwaZulu-Natal for farming operations, he was nominated by the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Science for the Global Excellence Stature Fellowship 4.0 to develop his experience, skills, and expertise by working on innovative solutions to problems related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and finding ways to exploit 4IR technologies to address the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ngcobo thanked Bertling for her professional and financial assistance and guidance, and Clulow for his technical assistance. He also paid tribute to his mother and late grandmother for playing a vital role in his life.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Huawei’s Investment Reaps Rich Dividends

Huawei’s Investment Reaps Rich Dividends
Mechanical engineer, Mr Bevan Naidoo graduated with top honours.

Summa cum laude BSc Mechanical Engineering graduate Mr Bevan Naidoo chose to study at UKZN despite receiving numerous offers from other universities.

‘I knew the University was respected both nationally and internationally for producing quality engineers, and believed the Durban campus would be very convenient for me,’ said Naidoo.

Four years later - his academic journey sponsored by Huawei Technologies (Pty) Ltd who he now works for as a Graduate Network Performance Engineer - he is among the University’s top achievers.

For his final year Mechanical Engineering project, Naidoo joined forces with UKZN’s highly acclaimed Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). ‘My group’s task was to research, design and manufacture a fuel storage and injection system for gelled propellants,’ he said. ‘In other words, we had to create a solution to inject and atomise gel-based fuels at high pressure and speed sufficient for combustion in a rocket propulsion system.

‘To do this, we designed a test rig with a storage chamber, and using a hydraulic actuator and modular injectors, we performed injection tests at varying pressures, speeds and impinging jet angles. Following these results, we could determine the spray characteristics and fuel droplet sizes that are most favourable.’

In addition to being the team leader and directing most of the project, Naidoo focused on designing the injectors.

‘I have always had an interest in engineering and then became fascinated with the way aircraft work, which led to my dream of becoming a pilot. As I grew older, I took a liking to the physical sciences, mathematics and astronomy, with aerospace providing a unique mix,’ he said.

‘Naturally, I am ambitious and always curious about how everything works. That is why choosing an aerospace project provided a balance of engineering, science and astronomy, and fed my curiosity. Ultimately, working on this gelled monopropellant test stand was an exciting journey that brought new and interesting challenges.’

The goal of Naidoo’s very relevant research project was to investigate the prospects of using gelled fuels in propulsion systems, and to prove that combustion of gel or high-viscosity fluids is feasible. ‘At present there is no commercial propulsion system that uses gelled propellants, so our research was unique and we had to be creative because only a few experts around the world have ventured into this domain,’ said Naidoo. ‘Furthermore, using gelled-based fuels is a new idea, therefore, much more development is needed in the field.’

Using gelled fuels comes with many benefits, said Naidoo, including better storage and handling capabilities than its liquid counterparts. ‘The fuels may also provide a leak-free system with improved throttle control, which may prove to be more sustainable than liquid fuels,’ he explained. 

‘We know that liquid fuels can atomise easily and at lower speeds, however, gelled fuels are stubborn and require higher pressures to achieve higher speeds.

‘Our solution proved that we can successfully atomise gelled fuels and produce fine droplets as with liquid fuels. So, there is potential to prospect gelled-based fuels, but the choice often comes down to which solution is cheaper.’

‘Apart from my journey with Huawei, I hope to continue my engineering career and work to get my Professional Engineering licence (PrEng) from the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA),’ said Naidoo. A part-time MSc is also possibly on the horizon.

Naidoo thanked his parents, Mr Dhanabalan and Mrs Vanilla Naidoo, and his sister Camille for keeping him focused and on track as well as his good friend Mr Darshan Govender, who graduated alongside him, and his final year project supervisor, Mr Timothy Velthuysen.

‘I am thankful to UKZN for giving me this opportunity and grateful for all the lecturers who dedicated themselves to developing our talents and for sharing their invaluable work experiences.’

Naidoo had this advice for students: ‘You can achieve excellence if you are self-disciplined, dedicated and set yourself goals. Take advice from seniors and lecturers because they were students once.

‘And most importantly, do your tutorials!’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Graduate’s Research on Smallholder Farms Takes to the Skies!

Graduate’s Research on Smallholder Farms Takes to the Skies!
Ms Snethemba Helen Ndlovu graduated with a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from UKZN.

Research by Ms Snethemba Ndlovu not only secured her a master’s degree; it also earned her certification as a drone pilot!

Ndlovu used Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology to monitor crop water status in smallholder farming systems as part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) project and during research for her Master’s degree in Environmental Science from UKZN.

She is now a certified unmanned aircraft systems remote pilot, having obtained her certificate through the African Drone and Data Academy powered by UNICEF.

As a pupil at Raisethorpe Secondary School in Pietermaritzburg, she attended UKZN’s Open Days and science exhibitions as well as a weekend tutoring programme facilitated by the University, which were more than enough to convince her that studying geography and environmental science was the way to go.

Aiming for a career as an environmental scientist, Ndlovu’s undergraduate studies at UKZN soon progressed to a master’s degree in the discipline, doing research she hoped would contribute to a more sustainable environment while improving South African livelihoods.

‘I want to be able to translate environmental and scientific research into implementable solutions for people and the environment,’ she said.

Her honour’s work had explored the use of advanced satellite technologies in monitoring various vegetation ecosystems, including invasive species detection. For her master’s degree she got involved in a WRC project which used drone technology to monitor the state of crops to improve water use productivity with precision agriculture and improved irrigation scheduling.

She received funding from the National Research Foundation and was supervised by Professor John Odindi, Professor Onisimo Mutanga, and Dr Mbulisi Sibanda.

Ndlovu used UAV-based proximal remote sensing to develop a comparative estimation of maize leaf moisture content in smallholder farming systems, focusing on the rural community of Swayimane in KwaZulu-Natal - an area identified by the Umgeni Resilience Project as a climate change hotspot region with climate projections indicating an increased risk of climate-driven events.

‘To efficiently monitor crop health and develop early warning systems to optimise smallholder farmers’ agricultural productivity, data on maize moisture conditions from the specific crop location are necessary, but remain elusive in South Africa because of the shortage of the necessary information and algorithms to process it,’ said Ndlovu. ‘As UAV technology becomes more accessible and the machines can be equipped with multispectral sensors, they can be useful tools in determining various aspects of crop health at a farm scale.’

Findings from Ndlovu’s research are important for the development of a monitoring framework for maize water status as a proxy for crop health and overall farm productivity, with data that is specific to the crop’s spatial and temporal variations.

A paper from her research was published in the Journal of Remote Sensing, and she presented her work at the 2nd Drone Users Conference and at UKZN’s Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium.

‘I hope my research will be used to inform small-scale agricultural management practices and sustain rural livelihoods and local food security,’ said Ndlovu.

She thanked her supervisors for the unique elements they each contributed to the success of her project and their dedication to her academic achievement. She also thanked her family for their support.

Ndlovu is an active Member of the International Association for Impact Assessment South Africa and of the African Women in GIS organisation.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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Graduate Uses Drones in Research for Master’s Degree in Agrometeorology

Graduate Uses Drones in Research for Master’s Degree in Agrometeorology
Ms Kiara Brewer with her proud parents, Claudele and Andrew.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were used by a graduate in her research to determine crop health and water stress in smallholder farms.

Ms Kiara Brewer (23) graduated cum laude with a Master’s degree in Agrometeorology after a study which formed part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) project on using drone technology to monitor the state of crops to improve water use productivity with precision agriculture and improved irrigation scheduling.

In her work she used real-time assessments of multispectral and thermal parameters to estimate crop health and water stress.

Brewer, who grew up in Pietermaritzburg and attended Pietermaritzburg Girls’ High School, studied for a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree, going on to do her Honours in Geography and Environmental Management.

She transferred to the Discipline of Agrometeorology for her master’s degree after excelling in the field in her undergraduate studies.

Brewer used drone-derived data and agrometeorological information on crop health and productivity in smallholder farms to benefit smallholder farmers by educating them on when to plant, irrigate, and apply nutrients and pesticides to save on costs and improve productivity.

In addition to delays in the shipping of the drone and the start of fieldwork owing to COVID-19, her studies involved a lot of own initiative learning as, being part of some of the first UKZN agricultural research to make use of drones, she had to investigate on her own how to integrate the strategy with the multispectral and thermal equipment.

Her research demanded long days of data collection and navigating a language barrier as she validated the drone’s observations with field measurements in the rural community of Swayimane.

‘The fact that we got to help smallholder farmers who are using these crops for their livelihoods made the long days worthwhile,’ said Brewer.

‘Integrating rural agriculture with Fourth Industrial Technology really does assist farmers with productivity optimisation, especially when you predict crop dynamics using drone tech and machine learning algorithms,’ she said.

Passionate about knowledge transfer, Brewer also compiled information about her learning specific to drones to help future researchers.

Brewer said drone technology could be applied to many areas of academic research and incorporated into curricula to keep up with advancements in the digital age.

During her master’s degree studies, Brewer completed a certificate in remotely-piloted aircraft technology through the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) African Drone and Data Academy.

Brewer is now part of an 18-month-long graduate programme at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Johannesburg, one of only 50 graduates selected. She is applying her environmental know-how to a range of projects and industries and exploring environmental social governance and sustainability challenges facing a variety of organisations and individuals from large companies to rural farmers. She is considering pursuing a PhD later in her career.

Brewer thanked her supervisors, Professor Alistair Clulow, Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi and Dr Mbulisi Sibanda for their input and guidance as well as the WRC for funding her studies.

She also thanked her parents and brother for supporting and motivating her, and her fiancé Mr Michael Ebraham, with whom she spent long hours with studying as they pursued their degrees together.

On her success, Brewer said committing herself to her chosen course helped her do well.

‘It’s not all down to intelligence, it also demands hard work and putting in the hours,’ she added.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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Research Entomologist Proud to Add Title of “Dr” to His Name

Research Entomologist Proud to Add Title of “Dr” to His Name
Dr Lawrence Malinga with his wife Thobile and son Unathi.

A research entomologist at the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI), Mr Lawrence Malinga, can now add the honorific “Dr” to his name after graduating with a PhD in Plant Pathology.

Dr Malinga researched one of the world’s most important fibre crops - cotton - advancing sustainable approaches to managing the many factors that impact the production of the important crop, particularly major insect pests.

Cotton is highly susceptible to pest damage, and up to 80% of cotton harvests would be lost annually without the use of pesticides which account for 16% of global insecticide releases - more than any other crop.

The global challenge of reducing the use of chemical pesticides which have detrimental effects on human health and the environment drives investigations into biologically-derived pesticides, which could play a vital role in integrated programmes to address the production challenges that affect farmers’ profits.

Malinga worked at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) as a researcher for 16 years, managing sustainable rural livelihood projects in three provinces. He was intrigued by the preliminary results emerging from his research projects on the biological control of cotton pests and decided to further this research through a PhD which he hoped would produce more information to aid farmers. He chose to study at UKZN for his doctorate because of the support offered to postgraduate students.

With the encouragement of colleagues, Dr Graham Thompson and the late Dr Habtom Tesfagiorgis from the ARC Institute for Industrial Crops, Malinga enrolled under the supervision of Professor Mark Laing who has extensive knowledge of biopesticides. He thanked Laing for his insightful feedback as well as his invaluable expertise, and Thompson for his encouragement and assistance.

In his thesis, Malinga unpacked the current status of pests on cotton and production practices in South Africa as well as evaluating the efficacy of biopesticides in comparison with conventional insecticides in the control of cotton pests under field conditions. The cost benefits of biopesticides compared to conventional agrochemicals was also an important aspect of Malinga’s research.

He hoped to reveal insights that would build a foundation for the management of major cotton insect pests. While the costs of combining a spectrum of biocontrol agents exceeded the costs of a single broad-spectrum pesticide, his findings will be significant in developing integrated programmes.

Malinga used the COVID-19 lockdown period to write up his thesis from which a peer-reviewed chapter and a book chapter have been published in international journals.

He says attaining his PhD will assist in his mentorship of postgraduate students and help his efforts in sugarcane research. At SASRI, he works on research, technology development and knowledge exchange projects that require entomological expertise in the control of sugarcane pests.

Malinga manages projects on Eldana sterile insect technique and biodiversity of non-target organisms on Bt and non-Bt sugarcane.

Malinga was born in Mkhondo, Mpumalanga, and completed his undergraduate studies in Entomology and Zoology and his Honours and Master’s degree studies in Entomology at the University of Fort Hare.

He is a reviewer for the Crop Protection journal and the American Journal of Agriculture and Forestry and IntecOpen Book Publisher, and a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Modern Agriculture and Biotechnology. He was a Southern and Eastern African Cotton Forum Secretary and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Biological Sciences at the University of the Free State. In addition to his peer-reviewed publications, he has presented numerous papers at local and international conferences.

Malinga thanked his mother, Ms Thembi Joyce, for being there for his family when he needed to travel and also thanked his wife, Thobile Lorraine, his daughter Laurencia Nomathemba, his son Stanley Unathi and his granddaughter Mbalenhle for their love, support and patience, without which, he says, he could not have completed his thesis.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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E-Waste Guru Graduates Summa Cum Laude

E-Waste Guru Graduates <em>Summa Cum Laude</em>
Summa cum laude graduate, Mr Mayuren Govender.

A study focused on improving electronic waste (e-waste) management at UKZN secured Mr Mayuren Govender a summa cum laude MSc degree in Engineering.

Supervised by the SARChI Chair in Waste and Climate Change, Professor Cristina Trois, Govender developed an integrated waste management plan using the Waste Resource Optimization and Scenario Evaluation (WROSE) model.

‘UKZN is one of the top higher learning institutes in Africa,’ said Govender. ‘During my undergraduate degree I had the best experience. The environment, infrastructure and academic staff are world class. UKZN was my first-choice university.’

Govender explained how the new postgraduate programme in Waste and Resource Management (WARM) offered by Trois appealed to him. ‘I believed that the WARM programme, taught by experts in the waste management field, would greatly improve the quality of my work - which it did, momentously. Prof Trois is one of the best researchers in the world and working with her was a big reason for me joining the WARM programme.

‘I selected UKZN because universities are considered to be at the frontier for research and development and often establish higher standards for social responsibility and environmental conservancy than other institutions,’ he said.

The aim of Govender’s research was to help UKZN improve its current waste management strategy to accommodate electronic waste, and assist in the creation of a green UKZN.The objectives were to investigate the current e-waste management practices, then determine, by using the WROSE model, appropriate strategies to manage the e-waste in an economical and sustainable manner.

Govender explained what motivated his research interest: ‘During my final year as an undergraduate in Civil Engineering, our lecturer in a waste management lesson, was listing waste streams - and e-waste was not mentioned. So I spoke to him after class and he told me that there was not much research on e-waste, and in particular e-waste in the South African context.

‘I thought it was an interesting angle to follow as the results of research in that area would be useful for future researchers and society. I decided the best place to start with this was at home, so I began at UKZN!’

His research - a first for UKZN - analyses the University’s current electronic waste management strategy, exposing shortcomings and deficiencies being experienced. His study has produced valuable information that will serve as a guide for better e-waste management practices moving forward.

Govender currently works for Fountain Green Energy (FGE), one of the largest engineering, procurement and construction management companies in the renewable energy sector. ‘We are currently working on the first landfill gas to energy plant in the Western Cape,’ he said. ‘My future career plans are strongly footed in renewable energy and in waste valorisation.’

He plans to embark on his PhD journey later this year, focusing on the e-waste footprint resulting from rapid urban digitalisation. ‘I will look at how much e-waste we produce as we adopt more and more technological solutions in our society,’ he said.

Govender thanked his parents for their support and guidance, especially his mother whose dream it was for him to become an engineer. He also paid tribute to Trois, ‘for giving so many people just like me the opportunity to be a part of her wonderful research group family, and introducing us to some of the best researchers in the world through the WARM Programme. My thanks also to Dr Surabhi Srivastava, Dr Jochen Peterson and Dr Tandizile Moyo for all their guidance and time spent working with me’.

When not tackling e-waste, Govender enjoys physical exercise and combat sports. He also tutors young people in mathematics, and is intrigued by the metaverse. ‘I have recently completed a course on non-fungible tokens (NFTs),’ he said. ‘I think this space is really hot and everyone should take note.’

And his final words of wisdom? ‘As Harry S. Truman said: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour”.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Agricultural Engineering Offers Exciting Career Opportunities - Says Graduate

Agricultural Engineering Offers Exciting Career Opportunities - Says Graduate
Mr Thembelani Khumalo with his agricultural engineering final-year project design.

‘I am impressed that UKZN caters for candidates like me who want to be engineers in agricultural practices and offers such exciting study opportunities in the field!’

So says BSc Engineering (Agricultural Engineering) graduate and current intern at UKZN’s Science and Technology Education Centre (STEC@UKZN), Mr Thembelani Khumalo, who chose the University for his studies because it is close to his home and is one of the few South African universities which offer an Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)-accredited Agricultural Engineering degree.

Khumalo said agricultural engineering included studies in civil, electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering spheres, which increase employment opportunities for graduates. ‘Also covered are statistics, computer science and physical hydrology,’ he said. ‘That sparked my interest. Agricultural engineering is a scarce skill that offers great career opportunities.’

For his final year research project, Khumalo worked on the design of a peristaltic-driven liquid fertiliser applicator. ‘This is a mobile fertiliser sprayer that helps small scale farmers apply fertiliser proportionally in row crops,’ he said. ‘This machine limits fertiliser wastage and promotes the precision application of fertiliser to a designated area near the root zone of the crops with reduced labour requirement.

‘The machine aims to improve small scale farming in the area of food production by improving yields of the small-scale farmer,’ he said.

Khumalo believes his design has value. ‘Arable land is diminishing as are agricultural resources. It is important to use both land and agricultural resources efficiently and effectively.

‘If Science, Engineering and Technology can help in developing devices and techniques that are capable of predicting wastage of agricultural resources and promote efficiency through precision agriculture, then the life span of agricultural resources will increase.’

Khumalo plans to study further. ‘I believe it is important for me to do that,’ he said. ‘Most opportunities in life today rely on the skillset possessed by an individual. I need to grab all the necessary skills to improve my engineering career and toolkit.’

Khumalo paid tribute to his parents for their support. ‘There were difficult times in my journey,’ he said.

‘Sometimes I felt it was too much for me but my parents were always there for me.’ He also thanked his sponsor, Sasol Inzalo Foundation for their much-needed financial support and mentorship as well as the UKZN academics, in particular Agricultural Engineering staff Professor Jeff Smithers, Dr Alaika Kassim, Dr Aidan Senzanje, Mr Vincent van Erk and Professor Tilahun Seyoum. He also thanked friends Mr Avuyile Magaqa, Mr Malibongwe Ncoshe, Ms Bongiwe Mtshali and Mr Thubelihle Manqele. ‘My list is endless, so I wish to thank everyone else who added value.’

In his spare time Khumalo enjoys browsing through online videos on artificial intelligence and the internet of things to gain knowledge of how technology and technical systems work. ‘Doing this improves my knowledge of how some modules I did in my undergraduate studies are important in solving world problems, for example, in improving security and safety in our daily activities as human beings,’ he said.

Khumalo commented on the lack of knowledge about agricultural engineering among high school pupils. ‘Many do not know that it exists as a career choice,’ he said. ‘They lack knowledge of what agricultural engineering is all about and their chances of being enrolled in this programme.’

‘The academic journey is not easy in all disciplines. You need resilience and knowing what you want,’ said Khumalo. ‘Challenges exist and make you want to quit your studies but resilience helps and if you know that your team is behind you, then you will never go wrong.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photographs: Supplied


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If at First You Don’t Succeed…

If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Summa cum laude graduate, Mr Ross Tarr.

Mr Ross Tarr is over the moon about being awarded his BScAgric degree in plant sciences summa cum laude after a challenging start to his tertiary studies which saw him overcome failure to achieve top results in a field he is passionate about.

Tarr grew up in the Mooi River area of KwaZulu-Natal where he attended Weston Agricultural College. The son of a dairy farm manager, he also spent time living on a beef and maize farm as well as on a poultry farm owned by his grandfather and an uncle.

Surrounded by family and friends in the agricultural industry, Tarr was passionate about pursuing a career in the field.

His Matric mathematics marks were not high enough to get him entry into his chosen programmes so he decided to take a gap year to work in the agricultural sector in South Africa and in England. On his return home he enrolled in UKZN’s Extended Learning Programme to improve his mathematics which he did and was accepted at the University just before his chosen course was full.

Having not taken Physics and Chemistry at school, Tarr found the subjects challenging in his first semester - a combination of difficult new concepts and not putting in study resulted in him failing Chemistry in his first year.

Tarr was undeterred and consulted with advisors who helped him schedule his modules to finish in time. He applied himself putting in considerable extra work and participating attentively in lectures, tutorials and hot-seat sessions. He completed any past papers that were available and spent time teaching himself concepts plus interacting with tutors to get extra help when he needed it. These efforts resulted in good results for his Chemistry modules.

This bumpy start to his studies motivated Tarr to work hard generally to give himself the best chance of being competitive for future work opportunities.

Tarr had this advice for students: ‘Don’t rely on anyone else for your results. Put in the work and the hours because what you put in is what you will get out,’ he said.

Family and friends all played important roles in his success. He paid tribute to his late father for motivating him to excel in a way that would have made his dad proud, and he thanked his mother, brother, girlfriend, his brother’s fiancée, and other family members and friends for their input into his life and achievements.

Now working as a technical sales representative for biological crop protection company RealIPM South Africa, Tarr spends most of his working hours visiting farmers to advise them on methods to increase yields, decrease chemical resistance, and ultimately improve plant and soil health. He hopes to gain practical experience in his field before looking to further his studies through a master’s degree.

Further down the line, he aims to become a consulting agronomist running his own firm and developing his interest in farming by setting up hydroponic systems, beginning on his grandfather’s farm.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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Study Investigates Conversion of Meat and Bone Meal into Valuable Fuel Gas

Study Investigates Conversion of Meat and Bone Meal into Valuable Fuel Gas
Summa cum laude graduate Mr Bonginkosi Ndwandwe.

The use of organic waste such as palm kernel shells, meat and bone meal, and wooden pellets to make valuable fuels which can be used for the production of energy and chemicals was researched for a postgraduate degree.

The work rewarded Mr Bonginkosi Ndwandwe with top honours - an MSc degree summa cum laude in Chemical Engineering!

Supervised by Professor Amir Mohammadi, Ndwandwe’s thesis was titled: ASPEN Plus Simulations of Gasification Process for Various Feedstocks.

‘Owing to COVID-19, there has been a huge demand for chemicals such as ethanol, which is used as a sanitizer,’ he said. ‘It is one of the products produced from the organic waste by the air gasification process.

‘My study aimed to convert organic waste into valuable fuel gas, such as synthetic gas, using ASPEN Plus as a process simulation tool. It was able to predict the volume of waste that can be converted to energy and chemical production through chemical processes. Doing that ensures environmental sustainability.’

Ndwandwe said with climate change being a global problem, he wanted to understand and contribute to solving it. ‘Protecting the environment is something very close to my heart. I have been exposed to these challenges in informal settlements and rural areas where there are no valuable methods employed to reduce waste other than landfilling and combustion, which causes air pollution.’

Ndwandwe’s immediate plans are to register with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) as a professional engineer while he is also considering doing a PhD.

He thanked his supervisor for providing guidance during his research and for assisting him with funding. He also paid tribute to his mother and family for praying for him and pushing him to do well in his studies.

Ndwandwe was awarded his undergraduate BSc Chemical Engineering degree from UKZN in 2012. ‘I fell in love with the Institution at a very young age - I would say it was love at first sight,’ he quipped. Coming back to do his master’s degree was therefore a natural choice for him.

‘UKZN is among the best in the research field!’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal


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Four of the Best!

Four of the Best!
Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Chemical Engineering) summa cum laude graduates (clockwise from top left): Ms Alyssa Murray, Mr Mohammed Mansoor, Ms Sohana Bridgemohan, and Ms Riyantha Moodley.

Four of the 54 students awarded Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Chemical Engineering) degrees from UKZN graduated summa cum laude.

They were Ms Sohana Bridgemohan, Mr Mohammed Mansoor, Ms Riyantha Moodley and Ms Alyssa Murray.

Bridgemohan says she chose UKZN because the Engineering faculty has a reputation for being one of the best in the country - affirmed during conversations she had with Chemical Engineering alumni - and because she lives close to the Howard College campus.

Moodley agreed saying it was the reputation of UKZN’s Chemical Engineering department that attracted her. ‘Not only are UKZN degrees fully accredited with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), a signatory to the Washington Accord,’ she said, ‘but the degree has also previously been benchmarked by the IChemE (Institution of Chemical Engineers).’

As part of their four-year degree, all Chemical Engineering students have to complete a final-year research project.

Bridgemohan’s project investigated the extraction efficiency and selectivity of certain solvents to Neodymium, a rare earth metal. ‘This mechanism has the potential to facilitate the extraction of rare earth metals from waste for recycling, in an effort to meet the growing demand of these critical materials required in renewable technologies and electric vehicles, among other end use applications,’ she said.

‘The data generated from this work has the potential to assist in developing pilot scale studies, which ultimately seek to advance this technology feasibly on an industrial scale. I strongly support efforts made to minimise our environmental impact, so this area of research appealed to me.’

Moodley’s final-year research project investigated alternative solvents for extraction of rare earth metals from end-of-life waste rare earth magnets. ‘Rare earth elements / metals are used in the production of magnets, catalysts, alloys and electronics and form part of crucial components needed in green technology,’ she said.

‘Although primary ore reserves of rare earth metals are thought to be large, they are often linked to other minerals or exist in concentrations that do not promote economic viability for extraction. Consequently, secondary resources such as end of life waste magnets have gained more interest in recent years. My final-year research investigated alternative solvents for extraction of rare earth metals from end-of-life waste rare earth magnets.’

Said Moodley: ‘Living in a technologically advanced era, rare earth metals are commonly used in everyday equipment. Consequently, investigating the recyclability of waste magnets to promote an alternative source for the precious metals intrigued me due to the extreme relevance of the research. There is potential for large scale advancements in this area of research.’

Both Moodley and Bridgemohan are currently working for engineering consultancies, where they hope to further their knowledge and skills in the various technical studies consultancy firms offer.

In her spare time, Bridgemohan enjoys going to the gym, doing puzzles and spending time outdoors, while Moodley prefers spending time with her dogs and being adventurous in the kitchen.

And behind every successful chemical engineer? Why, a supportive family, of course! ‘My family were definitely my biggest motivators,’ said Moodley. Bridgemohan agreed: ‘I am extremely grateful for everything that they’ve done for me, particularly during the challenges of studying remotely.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photographs: Rajesh Jantilal


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Graduate Believes His Research Results Will Help Improve Food Security

Graduate Believes His Research Results Will Help Improve Food Security
Dr Victor Chingwara.

Dr Victor Chingwara, Acting Director of Crops in the Agricultural Research, Innovation and Development Directorate (ARID) of Zimbabwe’s Public Service Commission, graduated with a PhD in plant breeding that he believes will help him answer food security problems.

Supervised by UKZN’s Professor Julia Sibiya and Professor Edmore Gasura of the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), and funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Chingwara investigated the genetic and agro-morphological diversity of sweet potato and conducted genome-wide association studies in sweet potato accessions from Zimbabwe.

The research aimed to assist in closing the gap in breeding characterisation or conservation of available germplasm in the country. The study was a first and is important in identifying genetically diverse genotypes that possess farmer-preferred traits and are high yielding.

Chingwara was successful in identifying new potential sources of useful alleles for different traits to initiate a breeding programme.

Having completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture, his Honours and Master’s degree in Crop Science at UZ, Chingwara always wanted to complete his PhD to advance his career. He chose to enrol at UKZN because of its focus on innovation and academic offerings that were suitable for addressing the critical challenges in Zimbabwe and across the continent. He was also inspired by UKZN’s rich heritage of academic excellence and the high calibre of staff that motivate students to succeed.

His time at UKZN was enriched by the support he received from his supervisor and the hospitality and assistance from staff. Chingwara said he benefited from swift responses and a conducive learning environment where supervisors ensured that practical skills were taught alongside theory.

Chingwara said completing his PhD had improved his understanding of the world and his own personal and professional development, resulting in his appointment as the Acting Director of the Crops Research Department.

‘I feel empowered technically and emotionally, thus boosting my confidence level to contribute towards the development of my country,’ said Chingwara.

‘I now feel better positioned to set relevant research agendas in line with Zimbabwe’s developmental initiatives. My critical thinking skills have been enhanced in a way that helps me mentor my team members in our effort to develop technologies to meet the challenge of food and nutrition insecurity that is exacerbated by climate change.’

The process of his PhD studies heightened Chingwara’s breeding skills leading to plans to create a breeding team for strategic crops such as sweet potato and small grains that are better adapted to low input and stressed environments. He also took the opportunity to improve his writing, editing and presentation skills for his own benefit and that of the team he monitors, co-ordinates and evaluates.

Having created links with a network of researchers during his studies, Chingwara plans to further collaborative research with several institutes under his leadership to meet the challenges they are tasked to help solve.

Despite completing part of his PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chingwara said he was fortunate not to have encountered major challenges. Aligning his research with the goals and activities of ARID enabled him to complete his research effectively alongside his other responsibilities. Scheduling his activities had made the task a manageable one while funding from AGRA alleviated any financial burdens.

He said his graduation was a ‘big accomplishment’ after what had been a challenging journey. Chingwara thanked Sibiya and Gasura for their guidance and support, UKZN and his colleagues, family and friends for their assistance, and AGRA for the funding that assured the completion of his studies.

He also thanked Ms Andile Mshengu at UKZN for her administrative assistance, and acknowledged ARID for affording him the opportunity to complete his degree.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied


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Working Towards Helping Keep SA’s Lights On

Working Towards Helping Keep SA’s Lights On
MSc cum laude Engineering graduate, Mr Ethan Pillay.

‘My love for mathematics and physics put me on the right road to realise my long-held dream of becoming a civil engineer,’ says Mr Ethan Pillay who graduated from UKZN with a cum laude MSc degree in Civil Engineering.

Pillay describes the study required for his undergraduate degree as ‘eye-opening’, revealing very clearly the amount of work, dedication and knowledge required to be successful in the Engineering field. ‘This quest for knowledge is what spurred me on to complete my master’s degree,’ said Pillay.

More than proud of completing his degree with high honours, his study involved dealing with the built environment and the world in general. ‘The work has deepened my understanding of civil engineering, specifically the connection it has with technology,’ said Pillay.

‘My research has enabled me to bridge the gap between new methods of analysis using sophisticated computer algorithms and traditional methods of analysis and first principles,’ he said. ‘The degree led to me being employed by a very reputable engineering company, making the hard work, late nights and endless sacrifices all worthwhile.

‘Being awarded an Engineering degree from UKZN is a major achievement as the University is at the forefront of engineering research in South Africa,’ he said.

Pillay has successfully published papers in reputable journals and is now publishing more of his work under the guidance of his supervisors.

His current research is on the automation of optimising the placement and setting of pressure reducing valves to minimise water loss in distribution networks and simultaneously generating renewable energy from excess pressure in the networks using pumps operating as turbines.

The motivation for his research arose from the lack of access to water and electricity South Africans are currently struggling with. Water losses are of great concern in South Africa due to increasing population density and scarcer water supplies. The country’s water network leakages account for about 30% of the total water supply.

‘The current state of water shortages will only worsen unless something is done to conserve the finite resources we have, such as reducing our water distribution networks’ leakage rates,’ he said. The reduction of leaks and the generation of renewable energy as a by-product impacts communities positively by increasing water availability as well as providing much-needed energy.

‘Water saved from leakages reduces the need to process and treat greater volumes to meet increasing demand. By reducing leaks in water distribution networks, water scarcity becomes less of a problem for communities, thus increasing their standard of living.

‘The use of pumps as turbines is a real opportunity for communities to generate renewable energy using existing infrastructure, to help combat load shedding,’ he said.

Pillay - a registered candidate engineer with ECSA - works as a structural engineer undertaking the design and analysis of various greenfield and brownfield steel and concrete projects.

Pillay had this advice for students: ‘At UKZN I have come to realise that hard work, dedication and perseverance may sound clichéd, but they are definitely worth it in the long run. With a goal and a positive mind-set, anything is possible.’

In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, learning and spending time outdoors.

Words: Swasti Maney

Photograph: Supplied


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Double Dose of Joy for Dlomo Household

Double Dose of Joy for Dlomo Household
Twinning and winning together are sisters Bongekile (left) and S’Bongile Dlomo.

It was Joy x 2 for the Dlomo household when twin sisters Bongekile and S’Bongile Dlomo graduated together with Bachelor of Science degrees in Dietetics and Human Nutrition.

‘Graduating feels so surreal and a dream come true for my sister and I,’ said Bongekile. ‘It has been a hard four years of studies but we made it through together.’

The twins, from Umlazi, Durban, said being a UKZN graduate was humbling.

‘To every girl out there we want to say everything is possible. South Africa needs more educated women, especially from humble beginnings,’ said Bongekile.

The sisters are doing their community service, Bongekile at oSindisweni Hospital and Sbongile at uMphumulo Hospital.

They plan to set up a practice together.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan


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