School Produces Bumper Crop of Maths Boffins

School Produces Bumper Crop of Maths Boffins
Students in the Disciplines of Pure and Applied Mathematics within the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science who graduated with summa cum laude BSc Honours degrees.

Five students in the Disciplines of Pure and Applied Mathematics within the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science graduated with summa cum laude BSc Honours degrees. 

The graduates were Mr Byron Brassel, Ms Cara Govender, Ms Ejaba Mustafa, Ms Heather Prince and Ms Cerene Rathilall. 

Brassel worked in the field of relativistic astrophysics, which basically entails solving a system of highly nonlinear differential equations known as the Einstein field equations. The honours project involved solving these equations to model the physics of the inside of a star or star-like object in space time. 

‘The study of mathematics is an art form which requires care, subtlety, sometimes immense intensity and always, imagination,’ said Brassel, who is now undertaking his Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics working in Relativity and Cosmology, supervised by Dr Gabriel Govender.  

Cara Govender was supervised in her honours project by Dr Rituparno Goswami in the area of Relativity and Cosmology. ‘She studied the gravitational collapse of a homogeneous spherical star to a Black Hole end state. She investigated the formation of trapped surfaces and horizons in the process of collapse. She also studied the matching of interior stellar space time to an exterior static Schwarzschild geometry.’ 

Mustafa is currently a Masters student in Applied Mathematics working on Noether’s Theorem in General Realtivity. She is being supervised by NRF-Department of Science and Technology Chair in Gravitating Systems, Professor Sunil Maharaj, and Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Professor Kesh Govinder. 

Prince’s honours research was on gravitational lensing of the cosmic microwave background. The research focussed on finding real-space estimators for CMB temperature and polarisation lensing reconstructions, as an alternative to the harmonic space estimators currently in use. ‘I really enjoyed working on my honours project. It was challenging at times but the learning experience was invaluable’.  Prince is currently a Masters student in Applied Mathematics working on a topic in Observational Cosmology. She is being supervised by Professor Kavilan Moodley. 

 Rathilal’s research focused on the Triangulation of Compact Surfaces.  Triangulations are fundamental tools in understanding the topology of surfaces.  Rathilall was able to show that compact surfaces are indeed triangulable, by appealing to classical graph theoretic results such as the Jordan Curve and Jordan Schonflies theorem. 

‘It was an enjoyable yet extremely challenging year. For the first time as a student you are exposed to research methodology and are faced with the responsibility of presenting your honours project,’ said Rathilall, who acknowledged her two exceptional role models, Professor Dharms Baboolal and Professor James Raftery.  

Rathilall is now a Masters student in Pure Mathematics working in the area of Topology, dealing with the theory of Hyperspaces, supervised by Dr Paranjothi Pillay. 

Said Professor Govinder: ‘It is a great testament to these graduates that they have obtained their honours degrees with the highest award possible. As mathematicians, they have been trained in problem solving and are perfectly equipped to work on a variety of problems in diverse areas. 

‘We are especially pleased to have produced an Honours graduate in Pure Mathematics.  This is perhaps the most difficult field to work in and to have achieved such an outstanding pass is commendable. We could not be prouder of these graduates.’

-          Leena Rajpal

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Physics MSc Examines Efficiency of Solar Cookers

Physics MSc Examines Efficiency of Solar Cookers
MSc cum laude Physics graduate, Mr Heiko Heilgendorff, with his family.

MSc Physics graduate, Mr Heiko Heilgendorff, examined the energy efficiency of solar thermal cookers in his cum laude dissertation.  Heilgendorff worked on a solar cooker that collects sunshine to heat up a thermal storage.

The research involved designing and testing a receiver for a small scale concentrating solar cooker that was kept on the roof of the Physics building, with the performance and efficiency of the project’s receiver being compared with that of the original receiver.

‘Mr Heiko Heilgendorff successfully revised a prior design that uses a semicircular dish that tracks the sun throughout the day,’ said UKZN’s Dr Alan Matthews.

‘The dish is an array of mirror tiles that was carefully arranged and tested for accuracy of focus. The research involved testing two coiled copper pipe receivers onto which sunshine is focused to heat up special oil that circulates through the pipe. The oil carries the solar energy to a storage device that consists of a drum filled with pebbles.

‘Mr Heiko Heilgendorff was successful in designing, constructing and testing the system, and characterising its efficiency, and his well-written thesis earned him an MSc cum laude. Heiko demonstrated an ability to work independently and think of creative solutions to problems, making use of a wide range of theoretical and technical skills,’ said Matthews. 

Heilgendorff acknowledged his father, who served as an inspirational role model.  ‘The research was challenging but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The role of a physicist is to keep pushing the boundaries of knowledge and to produce top-quality science. It is also important that we make this knowledge accessible to others through teaching and through the media. Perhaps the most overlooked role is that we should use our skills to improve the lives of the community around us,’ said Heilgendorff, who is currently working on a PhD in radio astronomy.

-          Leena Rajpal

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Geology Cum Laude Graduate Explores Underwater Secrets of KZN Coast

Geology <em>Cum Laude</em> Graduate Explores Underwater Secrets of KZN Coast
Masters Geology graduate in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Ms Leslee Salzmann focused her cum laude thesis on the evolution of the continental shelf of KwaZulu-Natal between Durban and Kosi Bay.

Masters Geology graduate in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Ms Leslee Salzmann focused her cum laude thesis on the evolution of the continental shelf of KwaZulu-Natal between Durban and Kosi Bay.  

Salzmann says the submerged shorelines comprise beaches and dune barriers formed about 12.7 to 11.6 thousand years ago across the east coast of South Africa when sea levels were lower than they are at present.  

‘The shorelines seem to have all formed coevally (at the same time) and over a large area suggesting that the sea-level was standing still for the time in which they were developing. The sea-levels then appeared to have rapidly risen as glaciers in the northern hemisphere rapidly melted and as the climate warmed. This rapid rise in sea-level caused the shoreline to migrate rapidly up and over the shorelines and to preserve them in place upon the continental shelf,’ said Salzmann.  

The rarity of submerged shoreline complexes allowed Salzmann to document how periods of sea level stasis, punctuated by rapid pulses of sea level rise, left indelible marks recorded in both the morphology and composition of the continental shelf.  

‘Due to current fears about global warming and rising sea-levels, any study of shoreline behaviour under transgression (sea-level rise) is not only topical but vital. They add to our understanding of how current and future coastlines might behave if sea-levels were to continue rising,’ said Salzmann. 

Dr Andrew Green, Senior Lecturer in Geological Sciences, said: ‘Ms Leslee Salzmann’s dissertation was particularly far reaching in its innovation; providing a model for how aspects of the continental shelf geology can be preserved in circumstances where global scientific thought considers this impossible.’ 

‘Ms Salzmann has published two papers in international peer-reviewed journalsthe most recent of which was in the highly prestigious journal Geology,’ said Green. 

One of the examiners said: ‘The results are a significant contribution, not only to our understanding of the postglacial sea level history of the region in question, but also of potential sea level signatures globally.’ 

Said Salzmann: ‘I would count anyone who pushes the boundaries of science and exploration as a role model and more especially Ms Sylvia Earle, who was one of the pioneering women in oceanography.

‘Studying for the Masters degree was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I was lucky enough to have really good guidance and input from my supervisor Dr Andrew Green, who is passionate about what he does and about helping his students to succeed.’  

Salzmann is doing her PhD at UKZN. ‘My PhD is a continuation as well as a broadening of my masters and aims to constrain the sea-level curve for eastern South Africa by dating a number of beachrocks at various depths. 

Salzmann wants to get involved in oil and gas exploration projects happening off Mozambique and Tanzania. ‘If that fails, I am interested to test the waters in Australia where a lot of South Africa’s geologists seem to be drawn and a great deal of oceanographic research is done,’ she said. 

-          Leena Rajpal

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UKZN Student Explores Continental Shelf Ecosystems

UKZN Student Explores Continental Shelf Ecosystems
How marine sediments contribute to the ecology of the Natal Bight continental shelf was the subject of Ms Candice Untiedt’s Masters of Science degree in Biology.

How marine sediments contribute to the ecology of the Natal Bight continental shelf was the subject of a thesis by Ms Candice Untiedt of the School of Life Sciences who completed her Biology Masters degree through UKZN.

Her study formed part of the larger African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP II) Natal Bight Project. 

Untiedt, who did her undergraduate and Honours degrees at UKZN, chose to continue with her Masters study at the University because of its affiliation with world-class research institutes such as the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI), where she was based for the duration of her masters. Her work was supervised by Ms Fiona MacKay. 

‘Untiedt’s masters formed a wonderful study, said MacKay. ‘She looked at the ecosystem and functional attributes of small animals living in marine sediments - work which contributed greatly to the multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary ACEP II project.’ 

Said Untiedt: ‘I was very fortunate to have Dr Fiona MacKay as my supervisor and mentor during my masters degree. She disseminated years of knowledge to me and I have learnt a great deal from her, not only in terms of this field but also in terms of being a professional. I feel incredibly lucky to have studied under such a renowned macrobenthic ecologist who works ethically with integrity and passion. 

Untiedt pursued the field of Biology because she wanted to make a difference in the world and contribute to something greater than herself. I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the beauty and intricate design of the natural world and feel that through understanding it we better understand ourselves.’  

Untiedt’s research involved the challenging task of sorting, identifying, counting and weighing of the enormously diverse macrobenthic samples she collected along the unique, highly diverse Natal Bight shelf habitat off Richard’s Bay, Durban and the Thukela River mouth during two cruises. 

The ecosystem of the shelf is influenced by local oceanographic features and out-welling via one of the largest rivers in the country. 

Untiedt found that the Thukela feature area supported the most abundant and nutrient-rich macrobenthic community, suggesting that Thukela River outflow has a significant effect on the functioning of the Natal Bight ecosystem.  

The benthic fauna studied by Untiedt are important for their contribution to the productivity and functioning of the central shelf as they provide food for human populations and are prey for commercially important, bottom-feeding fauna. The identification of the effect of the Thukela River outflow on the functioning of the adjacent shelf also has implications for the management of the river mouth, especially given that commercial fishery operates on the inner shelf of the central Natal Bight. Untiedt explained that the abundance of fishing stocks increases during periods of high river flow and decreases during low outflow.  

Untiedt’s study is important given the fact that most studies on macrobenthos previously undertaken in South African waters have concentrated mainly on the country’s west coast, making Untiedt’s work important in filling in the knowledge gap in terms of the benthic biodiversity on the subtropical east coast.  

Her work also yielded many new, possibly undescribed taxa and new distribution information. 

Untiedt hopes that the research she has produced will play a part in highlighting the importance of marine research on the east coast of South Africa and she plans to continue her studies specialising in macrobenthic taxonomy and the development of taxonomic tools for ecologists. 

-          Christine Cuénod

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Research Findings May Reduce Waterborne Diseases Scourge

Research Findings May Reduce Waterborne Diseases Scourge
Seen with his family, PhD graduate Mr Obiora Collins of the School of Statistics, Mathematics and Computer Science focused his research on developing new mathematical models to understand the dynamics of waterborne diseases.

The findings of doctoral research completed through UKZN have assisted in developing possible control strategies to reduce the spread of waterborne diseases.

The research, done by PhD graduate Mr Obiora Collins of the School of Statistics, Mathematics and Computer Science, focused on developing new mathematical models to understand the dynamics of waterborne diseases.

Dean and Head of the School, Professor Kesh Govinder, who supervised Collins, said: ‘Waterborne diseases are a scourge in many developing countries.  In spite of world-wide attention, progress in managing and predicting the dynamics of an outbreak is minimal.

‘Mr Obiora Collins developed a series of models to help understand the evolution of water-borne diseases,’ said Govinder. ‘He was able to predict the dynamics of the Haiti epidemic very accurately.  By applying different control strategies and interrogating their usefulness he made useful recommendations for public health interventions,’ said Govinder.

‘The work needed for the doctoral degree was challenging but the knowledge and experience gained through the entire process was priceless,’ said Collins, who has presented his work at local and international conferences where the impact of his analysis was lauded.

Collins acknowledges Govinder as his greatest role model. ‘Despite his hectic administrative load both internally and externally, he still found the time to attend to all his students’ queries.’

Collins is currently exploring using the skills he acquired during his doctoral studies in other areas of Mathematical Biology.

-          Leena Rajpal

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African Medicinal Plants Reveal Anti-Diabetic Properties

African Medicinal Plants Reveal Anti-Diabetic Properties
Dr Auwal Ibrahim (right) with his supervisor Dr Shahidul Islam.

The study of anti-diabetic herbal remedies and the identification of novel anti-diabetics derived from African medicinal plants earned Dr Auwal Ibrahim his PhD in Biochemistry.

Ibrahim studied at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria and chose to pursue his PhD through UKZN because it is a high ranking university and met his criteria of having easily accessible, modern research facilities and affordable tuition fees.

Ibrahim said he had always been a very inquisitive student, a trait which led him to study Biochemistry because it unveils the mysteries of life at a molecular level.

His research focused on the development of newer, more effective and less toxic remedies to combat type 2 diabetes, a global health threat, which could overcome the limitations of clinically available drugs. In his identification of the potential of African medicinal plants to provide new chemical leads, he used a number of in vitro and in vivo techniques to demonstrate the anti-diabetic activity of some African plants as well as their mechanisms of actions at molecular level.

The work involved the challenging task of guided isolation of the pure active compounds and the interpretation of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data. 

Ibrahim is the first person globally whose research has identified the bioactive pure anti-diabetic agents from those plants which could serve as chemical leads for developing new anti-diabetic drugs.

His PhD work has yielded four research articles which were published in ISI-indexed journals and a book chapter, with more than 10 articles currently at various stages of the publication process.

He credits the influence of his late father with inspiring him to succeed academically, as well as his instructors over the years. One of these instructors, his supervisor Dr Shahidul lslam, said that Ibrahim’s study was remarkable not simply for its innovation, but also because two of his three PhD thesis examiners suggested accepting his thesis with no corrections whatsoever, while the third examiner recommended only a few minor corrections.

‘This study will strongly contribute in developing novel anti-diabetic medicines particularly from African plant origins, which will have lower or no side effects with better efficacy compared to the conventional chemical originated drugs,’ said Islam of his first PhD student’s research. ‘Ibrahim is a very hard working, obedient, honest and motivated individual with a strong potential as a future African scientist.’

Ibrahim is currently lecturing at the Department of Biochemistry at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, and plans to pursue a career in academia, allowing him to further his research.

‘I hope my research leads to the development and commercialisation of anti-diabetic herbal-based products that will be beneficial to poor diabetic patients,’ said Ibrahim. ‘I also hope that the identified pure compounds will be further exploited by the relevant stakeholders for the development of novel plant-based anti-diabetic drugs.’

-          Christine Cuénod

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Top Marks for Microbiologist

Top Marks for Microbiologist
Ms Amanda Wellmann graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree specialising in the area of Microbiology.

Ms Amanda Wellmann graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science Honours degree specialising in the area of Microbiology. 

The Honours programme consisted of five course work modules and one research project module with course work modules running individually for a series of six weeks at a time and covering  a range of concepts and skills required in Mycology, Bacteriology, Biotechnology and Molecular Genetics. The research project module ran for the entire year.

Wellmann’s project was on microbial source tracking which aimed at identifying strains of the bacteria Bacteroides fragilis, via the presence of host-specific bacteriophages, which could be used as specific indicators of human faecal pollution in various water sources. The project was highly relevant in a South African context as faecally-contaminated water sources can give rise to a variety of harmful human diseases. Many rural settlements in South Africa unfortunately rely on these hazardous sources of water. 

Despite the importance of microbial source tracking in preventing the dissemination of infectious diseases, an optimal method has not yet been identified and no method is currently being implemented within the National Microbial Monitoring framework of South Africa. Different strains of B. fragilis have found success in microbial source tracking studies in other parts of the world and the aim of the project was to determine which host strains would be applicable to South African waters.

Wellmann elected to do a general microbiology course in order to gain exposure to a diverse range of laboratory and molecular techniques, which would best equip her for future research projects.

She said she found the journey through her Honours year exciting and challenging. The excitement was in working independently in laboratories, deriving her own research methods and most importantly, developing unique and rewarding relationships between classmates and supervisors. The challenge was managing the workload and perseverance.

‘In no way would I have been capable of achieving the results I did without the support of the classmates who I now consider friends,’ said Wellmann.

Wellmann is currently busy with a masters degree at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV (K-RITH), studying populations of innate lymphoid cells, and their fates in TB-infected individuals, in the presence and absence of HIV co-infection.

‘It is very exciting to be granted the opportunity to pursue such important research, which has grown to become a passion of mine and from which I gain great satisfaction. Although I consider research to be highly important, the battle will not be won by research alone. I feel that as a scientist, added benefits can also be achieved by raising awareness, preaching the importance of knowledge of these diseases, and reaching out to community.’

Wellmann acknowledged that her motivation to succeed stemmed from the standards her grandmother, Mrs Margaret Calder, maintained whilst being a Microbiologist and Hematologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).   ‘Professor Ade Olaniran has also been a great mentor throughout my academic career,’ said Wellmann.

Similar positive sentiments were echoed by Professor Olaniran: ‘Amanda is a well-motivated individual who has demonstrated an excellent level of intelligence and scholarly aptitude at the various levels of her studies at the University. She is a very diligent, dedicated, reliable and hardworking person with good interpersonal and communication skills. Mentoring such a willing, intelligent and budding scientist like Amanda is academically fulfilling and I have no doubt that her academic ability will be nurtured and developed into full potential. I wish her well in her newly found passion on TB and HIV research.’

-          Leena Rajpal

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Honorary Doctorate for SKA Head

Honorary Doctorate for SKA Head
Honorary graduand and Project Director of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa Telescope Project, Dr Bernard Fanaroff, with staff and students from UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit.

Project Director of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) South Africa Telescope Project, Dr Bernard Fanaroff, has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from UKZN. 

Addressing fellow graduates at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Graduation ceremony on the Westville campus, Fanaroff said of his degree: ‘It’s recognition of two things – first, that South Africa is paying more and more attention to the important role of science and technology in the country’s development and is helping provide a better life for South Africa’s citizens. 

‘And second, it recognises the team that has made the SKA project possible, including academic and international collaborators, scientist and engineers.  ‘UKZN has been so enthusiastic and committed to working on this project, but goes further than simply looking for support from SKA; it has been prepared to make a substantial investment which is a great example for other universities. 

‘I also have a long historical connection with Durban through my early work with trade unions, so it’s nice to be associated with the university there; it’s almost like coming home. 

Fanaroff assisted in the creation of the Metal & Allied Workers’ Union, later known as the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), and also became a member of Cosatu’s Executive Committee. 

He was nominated by Professor Sunil Maharaj, Director of UKZN’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit (ACRU), to be awarded the doctorate which recognises ‘distinguished services in the advancement of one or more of the branches of learning recognised by the University’. 

‘Fanaroff’s training, industrial experience, organisational skills, and a deep scientific interest in radio astronomy were the ideal combination for South Africa’s bid to host the SKA project,’ said Maharaj. ‘The preparation of this proposal involved years of work, including the co-ordination of information from a wide range of areas.  His organisational and analytical skills were key to the success of the award.  

‘Under his careful direction the SKA South Africa programme has grown and is now taking concrete shape. The results flowing from the project will yield a wealth of information and the international scientific impact will be profound.’ 

Fanaroff is well-known for his scientific contribution to radio astronomy, specifically the classification of radio galaxies with jets into FRI (Fanaroff-Riley type I) and FRII (Fanaroff-Riley type II) sources. The development of this classification system worked on together with Julia Riley formed part of his PhD while at Cambridge University and is used ubiquitously in the study of radio galaxies. Part of the SKA galaxy evolution science case is to understand the distinction between FRI and FRII radio galaxies. 

Fanaroff was appointed Project Director of the SKA project in 2003 after leading South Africa's successful bid to establish the multi-billion euro telescope initiative and secure the nation’s place in global “megascience” projects. He is an internationally respected figure in the science community, known for his sustained contributions to developing a strong base in various branches of science and its applications in South Africa. 

‘Dr Bernie Fanaroff, the driving force behind South Africa winning the major part of the SKA, has ensured that with the SKA will come a technological revolution, world-class science and inspiration for a new generation of bright young scientific minds. Bernie has had the vision and perseverance to make these a reality,’ said Professor Kavilan Moodley, Associate Professor at the ACRU. 

Fanaroff is no stranger to the world of academia. He studied Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand and received his Doctorate in Radio Astronomy from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He lectured at the University of the Witwatersrand in the 1970s before moving to work on labour unions.

Fanaroff is also a Visiting Professor in Physics at the University of Oxford, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, a member of the International Astronomical Union and a founding member of the South African Academy for Science. 

‘UKZN is proud to honour Bernie Fanaroff – a truly engaged South African who continues to work to improve the lives of his fellow citizens through his scientific work,’ said Professor Kesh Govinder, Dean and Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science at UKZN. 

‘We have strong links with him through the SKA and he has continued to support our efforts to strengthen our (already considerable) national and international footprint in Astrophysics and Cosmology.’ 

-          Christine Cuénod

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Graduate Always Finds Time for Fun while Achieving Academic Excellence

Graduate Always Finds Time for Fun while Achieving Academic Excellence
BSc Honours degree summa cum laude graduate Ms Heather Prince says she always finds time to have fun away from her hectic academic schedule.

BSc Honours degree summa cum laude graduate Miss Heather Prince says she always finds time to have fun away from her hectic academic schedule. 

Prince received the Rhodes University Foundation Scholarship in 2012 and was also awarded a bursary from the SA Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project last year. 

Currently pursuing a Masters degree in Astrophysics at UKZN, she developed an interest for astrophysics at the end of her third year of studies when she ‘became interested in galaxies and the various phenomena in outer space’. 

She has a history of academic excellence and matriculated as one of the top 10 learners in a public school in the National Senior Certificate examinations in KwaZulu-Natal in 2009. Her numerous academic achievements include being awarded the Dean’s Commendation, the David Williams Memorial Prize for Mathematics, the Alexander Ogg Prize for Physics in recognition of Academic Achievement, the Physics Award for Outstanding Excellence, the Investec Rhodes Top 100 Award for Academic Excellence in Science in 2012 and the Rhodes Governors Scholarship for Top second year student in the Faculty of Science or Pharmacy in 2011. 

‘My success is based on the fact that while I do work extremely hard, I am also able to find a good balance between work and play. I would not be able to study effectively if I didn’t have enough time to relax.’ 

After completing her Master’s degree, Prince intends registering for a PhD and joining the world of academia as a lecturer and researcher. 

-          Strini Rajgopaul

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Invasion Biology the Field for Cum Laude Master’s Graduate

Invasion Biology the Field for <em>Cum Laude</em> Master’s Graduate
Interaction between native and alien invasive aquatic snails was the thesis subject of Master of Science student, Ms Jacqueline Raw (centre), who graduated cum laude in the field of Invasion Biology.

Interaction between native and alien invasive aquatic snails was the thesis subject of Master of Science student, Ms Jacqueline Raw, who graduated cum laude in the field of Invasion Biology.  

Her research adopted an experimental approach to measure the behavior of the snails as they responded to chemical cues released naturally into their environment. 

The experiment was repeated using five native snail species at different localities within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as well as in the laboratory at the School of Life Sciences on the Westville campus with the goal being to determine whether native snails had a specific or different response to the alien invasive species, Tarebia granifera.   

The study found that native snails actively moved away from the chemical cues of the alien invasive species thus establishing important ecological implications which potentially explains the success of T. granifera as an invasive species. The native snails are displaced from their habitat once T. granifera becomes established and this allows the invasive species to have access to more food and space resources. 

Professor Renzo Perissinotto said: ‘The novel study undertaken by Jacqueline Raw during her MSc investigated the role of interactions driven by chemical cues between aquatic gastropods, as a factor influencing the spread of alien invasive species such as Tarebia granifera, at an alarming rate throughout the coastal region of KwaZulu-Natal.  

‘This was a continuation of her earlier work carried out in 2012 during her Honours year. The results obtained in this latest study are important as they confirm earlier suggestions that in aquatic systems alien species are using chemical cues to enhance their invasion success, thereby displacing native species from their ranges. As usual, Jacqueline completed the study with great diligence and attention to detail, producing a manuscript of primary literature standards which is now under review in the prestigious journal PLoS ONE,’ said Perissinotto.  

Said Raw: ‘I was motivated to pursue a Masters degree in biology because I have a passion for the natural world. The fields of biology and ecology continuously provide answers to the intriguing curiosities of the world which we live in. Obtaining the Master's degree allowed me to carry out research based on observations of what is happening in ecosystems at present. Working towards the Masters degree required a lot of commitment and the experience was rewarding when everything was pulled together.’   

Raw felt one of the most important roles of a biologist in South Africa was  providing useful information about the natural environment which can be used to make informed decisions regarding the management of protected areas, the development of land for agriculture or industry and the regulation of activities which impact the environment.  

‘Biologists also play an important role assessing issues such as sea level rise and setting quotas for sustainable harvesting of natural resources.’  

Raw is currently registered at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth for a PhD in Zoology. She is working under the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation (NRF) Chair in Shallow Water Ecosystems with Professor Perissinotto and Dr Nelson Miranda as supervisors. She is now pursuing further investigations on the complex interactions between native and alien species, including molecular genetic tests of potentially interbreeding populations.  

Raw identified Dr Sylvia Earle, the National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, as an inspirational influence and also thanked her supervisors, Perissinotto and Miranda, for their continuous support throughout the course of the project. ‘I would not have been able to complete my Masters without the funding I received from UKZN and the National Research Fund (NRF), for which I am very grateful. I would also like to thank my family for their never-ending encouragement and my dear friend and colleague Nasreen Peer for all her advice and assistance.’  

-                     Leena Rajpal

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Saving Leopards Central to Doctoral Thesis

Saving Leopards Central to Doctoral Thesis
Dr Julien Fattebert with his parents and supervisor Professor Rob Slotow.

Saving leopards was the thrust of the thesis by Dr Julien Fattebert who graduated with a PhD in Biology.  Fattebert’s unique and challenging research examined the spatial ecology of a leopard population recovering from over-harvest; a study which could greatly impact the design of leopard conservation in southern Africa. 

Fattebert is from Switzerland and completed his undergrad studies and Master’s research at the University of Neuchatel. His interest in studying in the field of Biology stems from his appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of life, its complexity and diversity, yet its coherence at all levels, from molecular processes within individual cells to ecosystem functioning. 

His passion for biology led to him becoming involved with the MunYaWana Leopard Project, funded by New-York based NGO Panthera, which focuses on the conservation of wild felids. The organisation supported the previous PhD student on the project, Dr Guy Balme, who studied at UKZN under Professor Rob Slotow and Dr Luke Hunter.  

‘When I approached Panthera to join their project, they naturally suggested that I would study under the same supervisors, which for me was an obvious choice too. My supervisors’ support was invaluable; they were always there to assist me when I needed it,’ said Fattebert.

‘Julien’s work is the most comprehensive and sophisticated investigation of leopard socio-spatial ecology ever undertaken,’ said Hunter. 

‘With a formidable sample of 74 radio-collared leopards, he was able to shine a light on some of the least known aspects of their ecology, including their ability to navigate un-protected areas. He showed that leopards are capable of traveling vast distances and that Maputaland’s leopard population has connections into Mozambique and Swaziland.

 ‘Indeed, one of his most important results demonstrates the need to conserve this three-country region as a single, interconnected population. His work will directly impact our ability to successfully conserve leopards in this landscape and elsewhere in Africa.’

Balme’s seminal study of the leopard population provided a strong backdrop for Fattebert’s research, and Fattebert credits Balme and Hunter for making it possible for him to join Panthera’s project. Dr Hugh Robinson of Panthera also provided useful brainstorming and advice to assist Fattebert’s initiation of the spatial analyses. 

‘The project had focused on demographics of the leopard population in the Mkhuze-Phinda complex, and I used the entire 11-year telemetry data set to address spatial ecology questions,’ said Fattebert. ‘In particular, I focused on dynamics and density-dependence of the social organisation of adult leopards and of the dispersal patterns of sub-adult leopards.

‘I demonstrated through my research that under increasing population density, female leopards reduce the size of their territory to accommodate their daughter, forming matrilineal clusters of related kin. Males on the other hand, maintained their space-use patterns under increasing density, in order to increase mating opportunities while overlapping females’ territories.’ 

Fattebert recorded the longest dispersal to date in the species during his two and a half years of data collection in the field, with a sub-adult male covering nearly 200 kilometres as the crow flies from Phinda to northern Swaziland. He then modelled landscape suitability and connectivity for leopard dispersal, using it as a tool to identify an area of potential human-leopard conflicts which need to be monitored in order to maintain landscape functionality for the species. 

Studying these elusive animals proved challenging for Fattebert. ‘You end up working odd hours when you track them and capturing and collaring leopards is difficult, but I was fortunate enough to work alongside my mentor, field co-ordinator Tristan Dickerson, whose experience made it easier to capture them. I often lost contact with many leopards for periods of time. Fortunately, GPS collar technology enabled us to retrieve the data even when leopards dispersed dozens of kilometres away from their natal populations overnight. 

Said Slotow: ‘Julien generated a remarkable dataset, and identified landscapes important for leopards to successfully cross between populations. Hunting negatively affected their social patterns, including territory creation and dispersal. He developed our understanding of sustainability and viability of the population for conservation and hunting, which will help conservation of other species.’

 Fattebert will remain at UKZN for another year to do post-doctorate research under the supervision of Slotow. He will continue using the data collected in the field as well as working on other dataset to address spatial ecology questions relevant to the conservation and management of wildlife. 

He hopes to continue collaborating on projects based in Africa and South Africa in particular. ‘My field years in the bush here are among my fondest memories.’  

Fattebert’s PhD research forms part of a broader leopard conservation project aimed at improving understanding of leopard spatial ecology and dispersal in order to refine conservation strategies and assist in conservation planning that accounts for population linkages through dispersal. 

-          Christine Cuénod


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Always Persevere, says BSc Graduate

Always Persevere, says BSc Graduate
Access student Mr Kwazi Mthembu graduated with a BSc Honours degree in Applied Mathematics, attributing his success to commitment, perseverance and the support of his mother (left) and grandmother (right).

Mr Nhlakanipho Kwazi Mthembu first learned about astronomy during his orientation as a first year BSc student.  ‘I knew I wanted to study science but when the orientation guide spoke about the SKA Telescope, I was amazed. So began my love for astronomy,’ he said. 

Mthembu made a decision soon thereafter to pursue a career in astrophysics. ‘I was a first year student studying a four year BSc augmented degree. I knew that reaching my academic goals would take a lot of work but my parents always told me to persevere in the face of difficulty so I was determined to succeed.’   

With his BSc Honours degree behind him, he is now completing his Masters degree in Astrophysics under the supervision of Dr Matt Hilton at the Astrophysics and Research Unit (ACRU) at UKZN and is being funded by the National Research Foundation. 

Mthembu is fascinated with the discovery of new planets, extra-terrestrial life and the origins of the universe. ‘The highlights of my studies include learning about radio astronomy at the SKA radio astronomy workshop as well as learning how staff from my department are involved in the Planck space observatory collaboration and the South Pole telescope.’ 

He says his family, his supervisor Dr Matt Hilton, friends who are completing their PhD and the ACRU journal club are his biggest sources of motivation.  

His next goal is to obtain his PhD in Astrophysics. ‘If you know what you want and believe that you are going to attain it then it gives you the strength to persevere,’ he added. 

-          Strini Rajgopaul


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Graduate’s Goal is to Work for SKA

Graduate’s Goal is to Work for SKA
Summa cum laude BSc graduate Mr Mthokozisi Mdlalose has set his sights on working with the SKA telescope.

BSc Honours summa cum laude Astrophysics graduate Mr Mthokozisi Mdlalose says he wants to become a prominent researcher and work with the SKA telescope. 

Mdlalose, who is a recipient of an SKA bursary via the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit at UKZN, has an outstanding academic record which includes six Merit Certificates, four Dean’s Commendations and was one of the top performing students within the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.  

He plans to register for a master’s degree in 2015 and thereafter complete a PhD.  Mdlalose initially wanted to become a lawyer due to his love for debating and helping people. ‘My choice of a career changed in Grade 10 when I learnt about Newton’s Laws and found them to be extremely interesting,’ he said. 

Soon Mdlalose was reading any book on science he could lay his hands on and stumbled across astronomy.  ‘I loved astronomy and looking at the sky. I even used an empty chips packet to protect my eyes when viewing a solar eclipse.’ 

While his career choice may have changed from Law to Astrophysics, his passion for helping people has not.  He provides free tuition to Grade 12 learners in Mathematics and Physics at weekends. ‘It takes a great deal of dedication and patience but it is a very fulfilling experience,’ said Mdlalose. 

He says his family and his passion for astrophysics and cosmology are the biggest motivating factors in his life.  

-          Strini Rajgopaul

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Research Unveils Secrets of Coral Reefs

Research Unveils Secrets of Coral Reefs
Dr Phanor Montoya-Maya was awarded his PhD in Biology for his research on the use of genetics to determine whether connections exist between the coral communities found along the south-east African coast.

Dr Phanor Montoya-Maya was awarded his PhD in Biology for his research on the use of genetics to determine whether connections exist between the coral communities found along the south-east African coast.  The research has major implications for the management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). 

Before Montoya-Maya’s study, MPAs created to protect the coral communities were thought to be interconnected by the continuous exchange of coral larvae. His study demonstrated that this is not the case and also found evidence that the dispersal of coral larvae might actually be largely restricted to within reefs. 

‘I see the study of biology as an opportunity to be outdoors, to travel to remote areas, to meet different cultures and experience the way people relate to nature,’ said Montoya-Maya. ‘All of these are my motivation to study biology. ‘Particularly, I find the field of marine biology very inspiring, I get to see things that few can see or imagine they exist.’ 

Montoya-Maya’s research was supervised by Professor Michael Schleyer of the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) and Dr Angus Macdonald of UKZN’s School of Life Sciences. 

Montoya-Maya joined the ORI, who registered him with UKZN and he has since become a fan of UKZN and the work being done there. 

He completed his masters at Rhodes University in the Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, while his undergraduate studies in Marine Biology were done in Colombia at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano.

Despite finding it difficult to remain motivated at times during his research, particularly once the field work was over and the analysis began, Montoya-Maya found that there was much to enjoy about his data analysis. ‘I thought the fun part was over and it took me a while to understand that the data analysis and write-up was also fun, just a different kind of fun.

Said Schleyer: ‘Montoya-Maya is a very determined person who has put a huge amount of energy and tremendous amount of application into his research. He mastered skills which he was not familiar with and the examiners, who are top geneticists and coral geneticists in their fields, complimented him on the quality of his work, which required relatively few corrections.’ 

Montoya-Maya credits his two supervisors for encouraging him with their support for his work, as well as his family and friends, both from Colombia and South Africa.  ‘Most importantly, my wife proved the best support I could have asked for,’ said Montoya-Maya.

He hopes his research assists resource managers to ensure that coral communities are better protected. One of his goals is to get more people interested in doing science. ‘I want to make sure that non-scientists also have the training and opportunities to actively participate in marine research,’ he explained. 

Montoya-Maya hopes to continue doing research and teaching and is exploring options for post-doctoral work. 

He is currently involved in the National Geographic Pristine Seas Project in Mozambique, a month-long expedition which aims to locate and document the last wild places in the ocean in order to assist in their protection using research.


-          Christine Cuénod

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BSc Honours Graduate Scoops Prestigious National Geology Award

BSc Honours Graduate Scoops Prestigious National Geology Award
Mr Prenolan Naidoo, who graduated with a BSc Honours degree in Geology, has been selected as the 2013 recipient of the South African Institute of Engineering Geologists (SAIEG) Student Award.

Mr Prenolan Naidoo, who graduated with a BSc (Geological Sciences Honours degree, has been selected as the 2013 recipient of the South African Institute of Engineering Geologists (SAIEG) Student Award.   

The SAIEG Student Award is given to a student who has performed well academically and produced a high quality thesis.  

Thus, the award is in recognition of Naidoo’s academic performance as well as the quality of his Honours dissertation titled: “Slope Stability Analyses of the Proposed Reconstituted Slope of the Quarry Heights Drive Landslide, Durban, South Africa”, and carries a formal letter of recognition from SAIEG and a prize.  

Naidoo’s project involved a geotechnical characterisation of the materials constituting the proposed reconstituted slope followed by slope stability analyses of the proposed slope under critical groundwater conditions.  Naidoo was supervised by Dr Egerton Hingston, a Lecturer in Engineering Geology within the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences.   

Naidoo obtained his BSc (Geological Sciences) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and was accepted into the BSc Geology Honours programme at UKZN as part of a group of 12 students focusing on Engineering and Environmental Geology. Naidoo’s admiration and appreciation of the Earth and Nature fuelled his life-long ambition to become a Geotechnical Engineer. This ambition soon became apparent during the coursework and field visits to the quarries and mines.  

Naidoo is employed as an Assistant Laboratory Technician and pursuing his masters degree on a rating system for a highly degradable type of rock (shale). The masters research is extremely beneficial as houses and industrial sites are now being built on land which was once deemed unsuitable. 

‘This research could change the lives of many as very little work has been done on shale rock. In addition the research will allow me the opportunity to work on many projects in South Africa since urban sprawl has forced the relocation of people into more hazardous and steeper terrains,’ said Naidoo. 

Naidoo attributed his success to his parents and brother who supported him despite the numerous financial challenges to pursue both his undergraduate and postgraduate education. ‘They constantly reassured me that despite any adversity, success can be achieved with strong will and determination. I am truly blessed to have the love and support from my family,’ he said. 

‘The Honours year was really difficult and at times, it was overwhelming. It was the ultimate test of my abilities, requiring practical fieldwork exercises, extensive laboratory testing, academic research and rigorous computational analyses. My success was aided by my gracious and humble supervisor, Dr Hingston who has served as an inspirational mentor. His constant guidance and academic support shaped me into the analytical thinker that I am today. I feel that I have achieved the greatest personal development in my honours year and for the reasons mentioned above, Dr Hingston deserves a lifetime of grace and praise,’ said Naidoo.  

‘During the course of his studies Prenolan Naidoo demonstrated a strong work ethic and was both methodical and conscientious in his approach to solving the problems,’ said Hingston.  

‘It is not surprising that over all, he was the best student in the Engineering Geology group 2013. The high quality of his work resulted in the submission of a research paper which has been accepted for publication to the organisers of the International Association of Engineering Geology and the Environment Congress scheduled to take place in September 2014, in Turin, Italy,’ said Hingston. 

-                     Leena Rajpal

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Strong Work Ethic a Cornerstone for Academic Success

Strong Work Ethic a Cornerstone for Academic Success
BSc cum laude graduate Ms Sinenhlanhla Sikhosana is congratulated by her very proud mother.

Fascinating topics such as “dark matter” drew Ms Sinenhlanhla Precious Sikhosana to concentrate her studies on astrophysics.  Sikhosana is currently registered for a BSC Honours degree in Astrophysics after receiving her BSc undergraduate degree cum laude.  

She learnt about astrophysics after attending a presentation at UKZN when she was in high school. ‘I became interested in the subject due to the many unanswered questions that still exist and the fascinating topics that are examined such as dark matter.’ 

Accolades include being chosen by the Golden Key International Honours society to participate in the International Scholar Laureate Programme in New York and Washington for being among the top 15% of students at UKZN; being one of the top 10 African female students in her faculty at UKZN for the past three years and being a recipient of an SKA bursary through the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit at UKZN. 

Sikhosana attributes her success to growing up in a rural area.  ‘Values and a strong work ethic were instilled in me by my family from a very young age and I have always applied this work ethic to every aspect of my life, My family are a great source of strength and continue to motivate me to achieve even more,’ she added. 

She hopes to read for her PhD in astrophysics and to become a role model for other women. 

-          Strini Rajgopaul

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National Statistics Prize for Graduate

National Statistics Prize for Graduate
BSc graduate and South African Statistical Association Third Year national competition winner, Ms Venelle Pather, with UKZN Academic Leader for Statistics, Professor Delia North.

Miss Venelle Pather, who graduated with a degree in Statistics, is the winner of the South African Statistical Association Third Year competition. 

As a result of winning the competition, Pather was awarded a scholarship sponsored by the Association to study for an Honours degree in Statistics at a South African institution of her choice. Only one scholarship is awarded in the competition and it is based purely on merit for a top-achieving student. 

Pather chose to pursue her postgraduate studies at UKZN and has registered for her Honours in Statistics on the Westville campus. 

Academic Leader of Statistics in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, Professor Delia North, commented: ‘Venelle’s excellent results are a tribute to her hard work as well as the high level of teaching she has received from all the lecturers that have guided her thus far, making this win an important achievement for all who have had a hand in teaching her. I am so proud of her and all maths/stats that helped her develop.’ 

Pather decided to pursue Statistics as a major as soon as she realised, during her studies, that Statistics was far more important than she had imagined. 

‘It contributes greatly to society's development, in the sense that it isn't just a specific field but a field that is applied and is central to vital conclusions in many other fields, such as finance and biology.’  

Pather said during her third year studies in 2013, her lecturers played a crucial role in her progress and academic development. She ensured that she would excel by making the most of the resources available to her on campus. 

‘My polite, pleasant and hard-working lecturers - Professor Glenda Matthews, Mr Chun-Kai Huang and Mr Jahvaid Hammujuddy - always made themselves available to help every student, so they also deserve credit for my achievement. Professor Delia North has also been very helpful.’ 

Pather says that winning the 2013 SASA Scholarship competition was the highlight of her time at UKZN.

‘Winning this competition showed me that anything is possible as long as you have the necessary capability, determination and patience to work at it. I believe that there is potential instilled in each and every one of us. So, my advice to every individual is that you should never let fear stand in the way of achieving greatness, and thus achieving your every dream and goal.’ 

-          Christine Cuénod

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Science Fiction Movies Influenced Graduate’s Chosen Field of Study

Science Fiction Movies Influenced Graduate’s Chosen Field of Study
Mr Warren Roberson, BSc graduate in Applied Physics and Mathematics and current SKA Honours bursary holder, with his proud sister.

All the science fiction movies BSc graduate Mr Warren Roberson watched sparked his interest in astronomy.  Now he is registered for an honours degree and is a recipient of an SKA bursary through the Astrophysics and Cosmology Research Unit at UKZN. He has also won the SANSA book prize for the best second year student in Physics.  

Roberson initially studied Engineering but in his second year, he switched to a BSc degree in Astrophysics because he found it more interesting. I wanted to learn more about the fundamental laws of science so studying Astrophysics seemed like a more suitable choice. 

‘I think all the science fiction movies that I’ve watched sparked my interest in Astronomy. The movies lead to me thinking about the possibility of life in other galaxies and also lead to me becoming interested in subjects such as black holes.’ 

Roberson says his family is his biggest source of motivation and support and they are extremely proud of him because he’s the first in his family to attend university. 

He feels his success is largely due to effective time management. ‘I prefer working consistently so that I don’t have to be stressed before an exam.’  Warren plans to register for a Masters degree in Astrophysics in 2015. 

-          Strini Rajgopaul

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Distinguished Teacher Uplifts Maths Education

Distinguished Teacher Uplifts Maths Education
Professor Simon Mukwembi, a Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science, was awarded one of only two Distinguished Teacher Awards during UKZN’s 2014 graduation ceremonies. With him are UKZN Executives Professor Deo Jaganyi, Professor Rob Slotow and Mr Convy Baloyi.

Professor Simon Mukwembi, a Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), was awarded a Distinguished Teachers Award (DTA) at a UKZN Graduation ceremony. 

The prestigious award - presented in 2014 to only two academics at the University to acknowledge and reward excellence in teaching - is designed to regularly recognise innovative teachers of a high calibre and is presented through the University’s Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO). 

Mukwembi spoke of the award as being particularly rewarding as it formed part of a long journey of consolidating, refining and perfecting his teaching techniques. ‘I am greatly delighted to have received this award,’ said Mukwembi. ‘It is indeed a huge honour to be recognised. It has brought a lot of personal satisfaction to learn that people value my contribution to the University and to society.’ 

Mukwembi’s societal contribution includes his work with high school Mathematics teachers around the province through the SMSCS’s various programmes. Most recently, he taught part of the MATH130 module, a part-time course offered in the evenings which forms part of the University Extended Learning unit (UEL). The module graduated its first 12 Mathematics teachers earlier this year. 

The module was initiated by the SMSCS, who offered it as an option to teachers in the KwaZulu-Natal area. More than half of South Africa’s Mathematics and Science educators are not qualified to teach, an alarming statistic impacting on the teaching of Mathematics.  

The module assists each Mathematics teacher to qualify with first year university Mathematics, equipping teachers to teach Mathematics from Grades 10 – 12.  

Mukwembi, whose passion for teaching led him to assist with the course, said: ‘Most programmes currently target learners as opposed to teachers, whereas this programme equips a few teachers who then teach exponentially more students than we could reach, making it sustainable for the future.’ 

Mukwembi has previously assisted on projects run by the SMSCS, also offering support to high school Mathematics teachers. In 2012 Mukwembi, together with Professor Poobhal Pillay, Mr Moses Mogambery and several other academics from the School, ran the UKZN Geometry project. This involved the academics delivering Geometry lectures to over 54 teachers from the Pinetown District to enable them to better instruct their learners.

Mukwembi has over 14 years of teaching experience in the field of Mathematics, having instructed as a Teaching Assistant, tutor, Demonstrator, and Lecturer, and as a Senior Lecturer at different universities, including the University of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Open University and Masvingo State University. He has been at the University of KwaZulu-Natal since 2006. 

When asked how he has worked towards becoming an accomplished teacher, Mukwembi spoke of his vocation as a journey which is never fully complete. ‘I still think that there is room for improvement in my teaching as we live in a dynamic society where the ability of our students varies from one year to the next, necessitating constant changes in delivery techniques,’ he said. 

‘I am humbled and still in shock to hear that I have been pronounced “a great teacher”. I owe this award to my colleagues and to my students. Teaching is a very long and rewarding journey,’ said Mukwembi.

Mukwembi credits all of his colleagues as playing a role in his success, as well as a few key academic mentors. 

‘I am particularly grateful to Professor Peter Dankelmann of the University of Johannesburg, my former PhD supervisor, for his organisational excellence in lectures; Professor A.G.R. Stewart of the University of Zimbabwe and Dr M.M. Mugochi of the University of Namibia, my former lecturers, for their logical and very clear teaching; and Professor H.C. Swart of UCT, my former PhD co-supervisor, for her ability to explain intricate concepts clearly, holding the attention of the class at every moment. Finally, I also thank my friend and colleague, Professor V. Chikoko of UKZN, from whom I have acquired most ideas on education.’ 

In addition to his teaching commitments, Mukwembi has also published several research articles in his field of study and holds a Y1 NRF rating. He is also Managing Editor of a leading international, Department of Education accredited journal, Utilitas Mathematica.  

-          Christine Cuénod

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Student Aims for Vice-Chancellor’s Post

Student Aims for Vice-Chancellor’s Post
Mr Ayanda Zungu won a bursary from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project for his BSc Honours degree as well as his current Masters studies in Astrophysics.

I want to be the Vice-Chancellor of UKZN one day, says Masters student Mr Ayanda Romanis Zungu.  Zungu, who is completing a Masters degree in Astrophysics, won a bursary from the SA Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project for his BSc Honours degree last year as well as his current Masters studies. 

 He developed a love for astronomy from watching his favourite cartoon series Dexter’s Laboratory.  ‘I thought that Dexter was cool and I wanted to be like him!’ 

Zungu read books on astronomy when he was in high school which further developed his passion for the subject.  

‘My passion is learning about how stars are formed and how they evolve to create galaxies. I am also very interested in studying the Big Bang theory and its implications.’  

Zungu’s academic record is impressive - he was awarded his BSc degree summa cum laude winning the NITheP Prize for best third year student in 2012. ‘I have a deep hunger to be an expert in Astrophysics and this has always motivated me to work hard.’ 

Ayanda intends registering for his PhD, becoming a lecturer and eventually taking over as Vice-Chancellor of UKZN. ‘I feel that I am a good leader and as Vice-Chancellor, I would work tirelessly to ensure that the University grows,’ he said. 

-          Strini Rajgopaul


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Students Graduate with Summa Cum Laude Honours Degrees

Students Graduate with <em>Summa Cum Laude</em> Honours Degrees
Brainy Statisticians summa cum laude Honours degree graduates, Ms Tiffany Mari, Ms Telissa Pillay, Ms Santhrika Pillay and Ms Vahini Nadar.

Seven honours students in the Discipline of Statistics within the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science graduated summa cum laude.

They were: Merisha Debipersadh, Vhini Nadar, Santhrika Pillay, Telissa Pillay, Roman Poonsamy, Kireshan Royan and Tiffany Mari. 

Ms Tiffany Mari’s research topic was: “Cox Regression and the Cox proportional hazards model”.

The main aim of the study was to evaluate a protocol change of treatment and its effects on the infection of burn wounds. The Cox regression method and other methods of survival analysis were applied to data collected on burn patients from a case study.

The results of the analysis indicated that the treatment reduced the risk of infection of burn wounds thus creating an infection-free hospital stay for burn patients. ‘I had extremely supportive and motivating lecturers during my studies. The experience gained has helped me grow academically and individually,’ said Mari, who is employed by the Mr Price Group Ltd as a Location Planner.  Mari intends to pursue a Master’s degree in Statistics.

Professor Glenda Matthews said: ‘Tiffany Mari is a conscientious student who showed initiative and dedication to her Honour’s studies. She went the extra mile in everything she did and hence the summa cum laude result.’

Ms Merisha Debipersadh’s research project focussed on long memory and fractional differencing. Long memory is a modelling topic which refers to a data series which depicts a trend over a long time period. This trend has to be taken into account when trying to fit a model to this data. Long memory can be found in a variety of topics, such as stock markets, exchange rates, temperature and others. The research was applied to the flow of the Nile River.

Debipersadh said: ‘Honours is very time consuming and demanding but at the same time very rewarding. I have built strong relationships with my lecturers which helped me gain a lot of knowledge and inspiration for my career.’ Currently Debipersadh is working in the Capital Markets division at Deloitte.

Professor Glenda Matthews said:  ‘The Honours students of 2013 were extremely committed to their studies and the summa cum laude results were due to hard work and the knowledge that outstanding results have their rewards in excellent job opportunities.’ 

Professor Kesh Govinder, Dean and Head of the School Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science said: ‘I am very pleased UKZN continues to produce honours graduates in Statistics who are among the best in the country. It is absolutely crucial for the country that we produce statisticians of the highest calibre as their expertise is crucial to the critical analyses that drive our economy.

‘They also have a vital role to play in mitigating the many problems that plague our society. These graduates have already brought honour to UKZN by their outstanding performance.  We look forward to them having a great national and global impact in this challenging area.’

-          Leena Rajpal

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