In September, the University of KwaZulu-Natal congratulated its top performing researchers for 2016. Of the 30 researchers honoured, 16 are based in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, where they are conducting important research in the Schools of Chemistry and Physics (SCP), Life Sciences (SLS), Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), Engineering, and Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES).
Top Published Researcher Professor Sreekantha Jonnalagadda in the SCP has featured in the top 30 for the past decade, recognised for his work in green chemistry to reduce the environmental impact of chemical enterprises. The prolific author and C2-rated National Research Foundation (NRF) researcher’s work is contributing to the development of methods to ensure safe drinking water for rural communities. Jonnalagadda finds his motivation in the joy his students derive from their achievements. ‘My prime aim is to impart skills and human resource development,’ said Jonnalagadda, who is a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, UKZN and the South African Chemical Institute.
Professor Hussein Shimelis, SASRI Chair of Crop Science, Associate Professor and Academic Leader of Research in SAEES and Deputy Director of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) said he was highly honoured to be included in the list and proud of his achievement.
Shimelis acknowledged academic and research support of UKZN, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and NRF, the Technology Innovation Agency, and the Generation Challenge Programme (GCP). He noted the contributions of postgraduate students and colleagues, and thanked his family for their support.
Shimelis’ collaborative research involves phenotyping, genetics and breeding methodologies of food security crops. The widely-published author has supervised and mentored 86 past and current postgraduate students.
Professor Precious Sibanda of SMSCS pursues research in applied mathematics, specifically theoretical fluid mechanics and numerical analysis. He has over 18 years’ experience and has graduated more than a dozen masters and PhD students.
‘I believe the research productivity is a reflection of the hard work of the many people, including PhD students, that I work with,’ said the C2-rated researcher.
He noted that this recognition reflects and rewards the time he spent mentoring students, reading current research and identifying niche research areas that can yield new ideas and results.
From the School of Engineering, researchers in disciplines like Chemical Engineering are making their mark. Two top researchers, Professors Amir Hossein Mohammadi and Deresh Ramjugernath in the Thermodynamics Research Unit (TRU) are contributing to the research of the TRU, which produces up to 40% of its School’s research output. Ramjugernath is a recipient of the Neale-May gold medal from the SA Institution of Chemical Engineers (SAIChE), and a Fellow of SAIChE and the African Academy of Sciences. He believes strongly in a collaborative approach to human capacity development and has received many national and institutional awards. Mohammadi has a string of academic qualifications from Université Paris 13, École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Tehran, known for pioneering research. He has been associated with UKZN since 2010 and his research focuses on Chemical Engineering, in particular Thermodynamics, Gas Hydrates and Petroleum Engineering. He has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Calgary and Université Laval, an Adjunct Lecturer at École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Nantes and was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for supervision accreditation from Université Paris 13. He is the recipient of a prize from the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining (IOMMM) and an Outstanding Research Award from UKZN. According to a 2014 report from the Essential Science Indicator released by ISI Thomson Reuters, he is a top 0.01% researcher. He has authored and co-authored over 400 peer-reviewed papers in international journals.
In Life Sciences, Professor Johannes van Staden, Director of UKZN’s Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development (RCPGD), has made a name for himself in a career spanning more than 40 years. He credited his RCPGD team for their sterling work and for maintaining a very high output to keep the Centre competitive internationally despite resource constraints, and also acknowledged input from very generous foreign collaborators.
Broad themes emerging from the RCPGD’s research reports and publications include research into the medicinal properties of indigenous plants. Other research includes the effects of smoke on plant growth, the development of natural bio-stimulants instead of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, the pharmacological and phytochemical potential in micro-algae and the potential of seaweed in multiple industries.
Words: Christine Cuénod